To make it as a comedian you need to be prepared for long hours of traveling, little sleep and even less food.
South African comedian Tshireletso Phasha, popularly known as TT Phasha, is a radio co-host on YFM’s midday show Krunch Time. In the evenings and on weekends, he performs at clubs and corporate events.
“Comedy cannot yet pay all my bills. I sometimes do gigs to get exposure but there is no landlord who accepts exposure as a payment method,” he says.
Phasha has been in the comedy industry for three years and has performed alongside some of the best comedians in the country, such as the Goliath and Goliath trio (Jason, Donovan and Nicholas), Sifiso Nene and Skhumbuzo ‘Skhumba’ Hlophe. He has also appeared on Comedy Central’s show for up-and-coming stand-up comedians, Savanna Newcomer Showcase. Yet, with all this exposure, he is still trying to make ends meet.
As an only child growing up in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, Phasha never realized comedy could be a full-time career.
“I’ve always thought I was a funny guy but I never thought it would be a full-time career. As soon as I found out that there are people making a living off it, I’ve wanted to become one more than anything else in the world,” he says.
His comedy career started at Comikazi, an open mic competition at Parker’s Comedy and Jive, in Montecasino, Johannesburg, after a friend suggested he do so.
“I felt I was as good as some of the best comedians in the country and I just wanted to be counted as one of them,” he says.
It has not been easy for Phasha. He still struggles to book decent gigs and he also started to doubt his talent.
When he started as a comedian, Phasha was living in Mpumalanga, a province in northeastern South Africa.
“Getting to shows was a mission. I had to plan days in advance. Then getting stage time was a challenge because I didn’t know anybody.
“I moved to Johannesburg but I still don’t have a car… I still worry if my jokes are funny but now at least I get stage time,” he says.
The fear of not being funny enough is something that haunts him every day.
“If I’m not funny then it ruins everything, doesn’t it?”
He remembers one gig where the audience wasn’t laughing at his jokes.
“I was at a club and I noticed that everyone was just walking around and not paying attention to me. So, I started telling them that I don’t care if they’re laughing or not, because I’m getting paid either way. I told them that they better laugh otherwise they’re wasting their own money. They started laughing.”
Phasha’s biggest battle right now is with promoters.
“I think the biggest mistake I make in the industry is allowing promoters to pay me peanuts. It’s always a challenge knowing how much to charge people, since we provide a service. But it’s about knowing what you’re worth,” he says.
Earning meagre amounts has not changed his mind about being a comedian. He says believing in himself is his greatest achievement.
“You need to work to earn a name for yourself. I can’t charge much yet, because people don’t know me. It’s a great industry to be in. One of the toughest to crack, but the most fulfilling once you see all your dreams and ambitions come true. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would be doing it,” he says.
One of South Africa’s most well-known comedians, Mongezi ‘Tol A$$ Mo’ Mahlangu, has faced similar problems. He says promoters tend to negotiate lesser fees for him.
“They tend to undervalue us. We always have to negotiate our own rates, unlike musicians. I wish they would take us as seriously as they take them, considering the intellectual process that goes into preparing our work,” says Mahlangu.
Mahlangu made his break in 2010 when he was featured on the reality television series Opening Guys, in which Kagiso Lediga mentored emerging comedians.
He has come a long way since then. He is mostly known for his appearances on numerous television series, including Mo Love on Vuzu, in which he starred with his wife, Mome. He also does stand-up internationally.
Mahlangu has achieved success in a short space of time. He can make R50,000 ($4,186) per one-man show, but most of his income comes from endorsements and television shows. He recently bought a house in Sandton, one of Johannesburg’s most affluent suburbs, proving that comedy can be lucrative.
Bright Okpocha, better known by his stage name Basketmouth, is one of Africa’s best comedians but it was a hard slog to make a name for himself. The Nigerian, from Lagos, says he started with a one-man show which would earn him one naira per set. He now makes between $7,000 and $11,000 per month. In February last year, he became the first African to headline the Wembley Arena in London.
“Ever since I was 20 years old, I have never done a nine-to-five job. I don’t know what that feels like and I wish I did so I could appreciate what I do more,” he says.
Although Okpocha leaves his fans giggling, he is the one laughing all the way to the bank.
“I know that I just need to ensure that I get that one show for the month to ensure that my budget is met… I can proudly say that one gig sustains me for the month,” he says.
However, he is not always in the mood to crack jokes.
“Most people think that comedians are always happy and that we don’t live a normal life, but the truth of the matter is that we are like every other person out there. We also have ups and downs and mood swings like everyone. The pressure for us is too much because of the expectations that everyone has. I can’t meet up to the demands [that people have], so I do my very best to stay private as much as I can,” he says.
Another established comedian can be found in an unlikely place – the lecture halls of Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein. Hailing from Lesotho, Tshepo ‘Masapo’ Mpiti prefers to keep his act clean.
“I don’t use profanity and I avoid derogatory topics that may leave people offended,” says Mpiti.
His rate was $125 for a 15-minute gig at clubs. As a master of ceremonies he would charge between $500 and $1,000. After being nominated at last year’s Savanna Comics’ Choice Awards for the pan-African category, he is being booked for more gigs and is able to ask for more money.
He, however, says that Lesotho did not always see value in its comedians.
“My country did not have an accepting atmosphere towards comedy, mainly because there has never been anyone who really put it out there. Because I work in South Africa, I got to witness the magnitude in which comedy can be turned into a lucrative career. I pushed myself for seven years, then I started to get calls from restaurants and pubs for shows in my country. I even received a contract for six months to perform at one of the local malls,” says Mpiti.
Mpiti spends a lot of time traveling between South Africa and Lesotho, which can be tiresome, but is grateful that most of the money he charges goes straight into his pocket. He also encourages emerging comedians to be firm when negotiating their rates.
“Payment for logistics, like transportation and accommodation, are not included… If, as a comedian, you still perform for food, alcohol and exposure then you might as well drive a taxi,” he says.
Who knows, there may be a taxi driver rumbling along the roads of Africa, waiting for their chance to crack a joke – and be paid for it.
Harry And Meghan Need $3 Million-Plus To Be ‘Financially Independent.’ Here’s How They May Do It.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would like to “become financially independent,” they announced Wednesday—and that may have to happen sooner rather than later, as Prince Charles, Harry’s father, is reportedly threatening to pull the millions he gives them each year. How they plan to replace those funds remains a subject of feverish palace intrigue about which the couple remains mum.
But what is clear: By stepping away from their duties, they likely are no longer prohibited from earning income the way senior members of the royal family are, clearing the way for them to take real jobs. What will those be? And how much will they actually need to make in order to live in the style to which they’ve become accustomed?
Annual Costs: Roughly $3 Million A Year (Not Including Renovations)
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact amount that Prince Harry and Markle earn from the various royal mechanisms each year—and a spokesperson for the Sussexes did not respond to questions about on the couple’s finances—but 95% of their annual income comes from Prince Charles, Harry’s father, via the Duchy of Cornwall. A trust that consists of 131,000 acres of real estate and more than $450 million in commercial assets within the United Kingdom, the Duchy of Cornwall was established in 1337 to support the direct heir to the throne.
That estate paid a combined $6.5 million (or £5.1 million) to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate Middleton) and to Prince Harry and Markle in the fiscal year ending March 2019, according to the latest financial report. The funding for the princes and their families didn’t change much from 2018 to 2019, although both reports were prior to the birth of the Sussex couple’s son, Archie. Let’s assume the brothers split that income from the Duchy (though William and Kate, with three children, are likely taking a bit more). While the Duke and Duchess did not immediately surrender this income, reports surfaced Friday that Charles is threatening to cut them off completely.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex did announce that they will “no longer receive funding through the Sovereign Grant,” which we know covers an additional 5% of their income, and used for their official duties. It covers official business such as international tours, travel to official events and the upkeep of their homes and offices, and comes from about 25% of the revenue from the Crown Estate (£85.9 million or $112.2 million for the 2020–2021 fiscal year), a portfolio of investments controlled by the monarchy—though not by the royal family or the government—and includes properties across the United Kingdom. (For example, the Queen herself does not own Buckingham Palace.)
In 2018 and 2019, the couple used money from the Sovereign Grant to travel across the world, from Fiji to South Africa, on official royal business. While the royal annual reports don’t detail how much the Sussex’s travels cost in total, their trip to Fiji and Tonga cost $105,000 (£81,000), according to the latest Sovereign Grant financial report. (While it may seem that travel costs could go down as the couple steps back from royal duties, they say they plan to split time between the British Isles and North America, which will lead to new expenses.)
Based on what we know, we estimate the total of the couple’s funds from the Duchy and Sovereign Grants to be a (very conservative) $3 million—again, not including security costs.
And that’s not including the cost of their home and renovations: The Sovereign Grant covered last year’s $3.12 million (£2.4 million) refurbishment of the Frogmore Cottage, the four-bedroom plus nursery home in Windsor where the couple lives when they are in England. The home’s maintenance began before the couple decided to move in and was covered by the Queen, under existing commitments to maintain the upkeep of certain historical buildings, while the couple privately paid for the furniture and decor. Even though the house is property of the Queen, the couple plans to continue using it as their official residence when they are in the United Kingdom—meaning less rent to pay.
None of this takes into account the cost of their security, which is reportedly covered by the Metropolitan Police, and which the family is expected to continue to accept.
With all of these expenses and their easy access to funds facing a precarious future, the questions remains of how, exactly, the couple plan to earn the millions that their lifestyle demands.
What Could Make A Royal Gig: Books, Speeches, SponCon?
They do have some money to live off of: Thanks to her seven-year stint on the television drama Suits, Forbes estimates that Markle has a net worth of about $2.2 million. Prince Harry has money of his own as well, as he and his brother received the bulk of Princess Diana’s $31.5 million estate upon her death in 1997.
But it is likely that they will join other royals, like Harry’s cousins Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, and actually take paying gigs (the former works in finance, while the latter works at an art gallery). While no announcements have been made as to how exactly the couple plans to make money, it would seem natural that they take up work in the entertainment and media fields.
Markle has said that she was giving up acting for good once she joined the royal family; maybe this is an opportunity for her to change her mind. At the height of her acting career, she commanded up to $85,000 per episode of Suits, Forbes estimates, a number that would likely shoot up thanks to her royal title if she decided to return to the screen.
But it is more likely that the pair will take up shop on the speaking and book circuit. High-profile speakers like former president and first lady Bill and Hillary Clinton can earn up to six figures per speech to corporations and universities, while even B-list celebrities like Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi could command $32,000 per oration during the height of her fame.
A hit book has the potential to earn the couple even more. A seven-figure advance is typical for celebrities like Amy Schumer and politicians like Elizabeth Warren, with some high-profile authors earning even more. In 2017, former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama signed a record-breaking $65 million book deal with Penguin Random House, while Hillary Clinton scored a $14 million advance for Hard Choices in 2014, and Bruce Springsteen got $10 million for 2016’s Born to Run.
There’s also talk that the couple, which favors new media and direct lines of communication with their fans, may even start a podcast, which could be a lucrative endeavor. Last year, advertising spend on podcasts reached an estimated $680 million, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, and that number is supposed to shoot up to $1 billion by next year.
And in the unlikely chance they’re ever interested in following the footsteps of the royal family of Calabasas, the Duke and Duchess could surely earn an enormous sum doing sponsored content on their widely popular (10.4 million followers) Instagram account. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and her half-sister Kylie Jenner earn up to $500,000 per post.
Of course, the details of the couple’s future, and their future earnings, are all in flux, as Buckingham Palace’s curt statement on the matter made clear. And the wording of their own statement made sure that they can work toward financial independence on their own time. One thing is for certain: It doesn’t seem as if the Duke and Duchess will be hurting for cash anytime soon.
Forbes Africa’s Best Photographs In 2019
[Compiled by Motlabana Monnakgotla, Gypseenia Lion and Karen Mwendera]
Kabelo Mpofu, an entrepreneur, took over his mother’s shop in Meadowlands, in the South African township of Soweto. He is hopeful of making the family business a success despite big retail stores opening up in the townships and swallowing up the corner groceries.
Africa is the youngest continent in the world. Every year, South Africa observes June as Youth Month, honoring the anniversary of the Soweto Uprising on June 16. In this image, the country’s sprawling township of Soweto comes alive with youth dancing in the winter weather to local and international music at the Soweto International Jazz Festival, an annual confluence of history, art and culture.
Women hold up placards against gender-based violence during a ‘Shutdown Sandton’ campaign; this after a spate of brutal rape and killings in South Africa.
Car dealerships were among the businesses set alight in Johannesburg’s Jules Street, during the spate of xenophobia attacks in South Africa in August this year. The spark that fueled the raging fire began in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district.
Sibusiso Dlamini, the co-founder of Soweto Ink, works on one of his regular clients at his tattoo parlor founded in 2014 with his long-time friend, Ndumiso Ramate. In 2019, Soweto Ink held the fourth annual tattoo convention, and for the first time in partnership with BET Africa, to break tattoo taboos in Africa.
Mmusi Maimane, the former leader of South Africa’s opposition party, Democratic Alliance, is about to cast his vote in front of local and international media houses who had wrestled to get the perfect shot in his hometown in Dobsonville, Soweto, during the elections in South Africa in 2019.
The brother of South African journalist, Shiraaz Mohamed, begs for government intervention after Mohamed was kidnapped in Syria on January 2017 by a group of armed men. The group demanded more than $500,000 for his freedom.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa with his body guards at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the three-day South Africa Investment Conference was held in November.
In a world that’s embracing new technology, inspiration is being found in bug behavior. The hard-bodied dung beetle is now key to robotics research, in Africa too. Astounded by this discovery early this year is Marcus Byrne, a researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who has been studying dung beetles for over 20 years. He holds up a metallic replica of a dung beetle in his hand in his office at the university.
Mzimhlophe Hostel, a hostel among many others in Soweto, erupted with service delivery protests prior to the elections in South Africa. In the same vicinity, an informal settlement was also allegedly set on fire. Brothers Mduduzi (32) and Kwenzi Gwala (22), pictured, had arrived in Johannesburg looking for employment. They sold African beer, but their shack was set alight while they were still at church. They lost all their stock and possessions.
A thrift market in the heart of Johannesburg’s central business district, not too far from a busy taxi rank, known for its pavement robberies. Despite the crimes, thousands of small entrepreneurs trade in this raucous market every day.
ANC, DA and EFF supporters dancing and chanting outside the Hitekani Primary School in Chiawelo, Soweto, South Africa, as they await South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to cast his vote in his former primary school.
Tenants in the discarded Vannin Court in Johannesburg look on from their balconies as jubilation erupts on the ground floor.
Vestine Nyiravesabimana makes money weaving intricate baskets made of grass to feed her nine children in Kigali, Rwanda.
Colors For Mandela
The world of comic books is dominated by stories from the West. Two South African brothers are helping reshape that narrative with a central character inspired by the iconic hero.
Nelson Mandela had his own following at the recent Comic Con Africa convention at the end of September in Johannesburg.
At the center of all the organized chaos at the event at the Gallagher Convention Centre attended by 71,000 visitors over four days was a comic book bearing the late South African president’s name created by brothers Phemelo, 28, and Omphile Dibodu, 25.
The comic book, Young Nelson, features an African superhero, for readers in the continent and beyond.
Co-founders of Rainbow Nations Comics, a black-owned comic book and publishing company established in 2018, the Dibodu brothers were born and bred in Rustenburg, known as ‘platinum city’, in South Africa’s North West province.
Far from their hometown, the duo were in the big city for the event, showcasing their creations to an adept audience – people dressed as superheroes, cyborgs and zombies – who crowded around their stand and were as colorful as the comic books they were thumbing through.
“Wow, that looks cool, who is Young Nelson?” asked a curious bystander.
Phemelo was ready with his answers even as his brother assisted with more queries.
“Young Nelson is a proudly South African black comic book inspired by the late Nelson Mandela,” responded Phemelo.
In front of him, on the table, a large poster of Young Nelson, featuring a young black male with the South African flag over his shoulders and a gold-colored map of Africa emblazoned on his shirt.
This day saw the launch of the very first issue of Young Nelson titled An Act of Kindness, for R20 ($1.3) a copy.
Phemelo, the writer, and Omphile, the illustrator, say they were inspired by Mandela and some of their own life experiences growing up.
“I think I wanted to pay tribute to the old man in a way that it would hopefully inspire others to look at him in the way that many South Africans see him,” says Phemelo to FORBES AFRICA.
In the story, ‘Young Nelson’ gets his nickname when he volunteers at a local boxing gym. The people watching him witness his skills and ability to solve problems, so they equate him to the young Mandela, who was famously a boxer in his youth.
“[The lead character] doesn’t like the nickname at first but once he sees the significance of it and his heroics, how they are taken up by the community to represent who they are, he takes the name and rolls with it and that’s his superhero name going forward with the series,” Phemelo explains.
Young Nelson’s real name in the comic is actually ‘Thabo Mo Afrika’, inspired by South African president Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela.
“ ‘Mo Afrika’ is a generic surname [which] translated into English is ‘an African’. So I wanted to see every African seeing themselves in Young Nelson,” Phemelo adds.
The young writer’s plan is to take his product to bigger markets, but for now, the African comic industry is a tough market to capture for lack of any funding.
“Imagine getting paid for what you are doing. That would [make a] big difference. Once people realize that their art can be compensated, more of us will actually start creating content the world would want to start reading,” he says.
Bill Masuku, a speaker at the Comic Con event and who is also a digital artist, shares the same sentiments.
“In Zimbabwe, where I am from, it is pretty grassroots. Everyone is self-publishing and if you don’t really have a passion for it, the book won’t come out,” says Masuku, who has been a part of the African comic industry for over three years. He is the founder of Enigma Comix Africa, and creator of Razor-Man and Captain South Africa.
“As much as new creatives are coming out every day, what really makes the comic book industry is distribution. And seeing that [Young Nelson] has such widespread potential really makes me hopeful for where we are going,” says Masuku.
For comic books to thrive on the continent, they need a big financial push from publishers, distributors or investors, unlike any other medium.
The Dibodu brothers were fortunate to have been sponsored by the Rustenburg Herald, a weekly local newspaper in Rustenburg.
“The problem with creating by yourself is that you can only create at a certain rate and you do burn out. So you find people who have been making comics who have three or four issues out and it’s easy to forget about them as a consumer,” he adds.
Globally, platforms like Weekly Shōnen Jump in Japan make it easy for Japanese creatives to publish their work as the comic book and manga industry is thriving there, making it one of the best-selling magazines. Weekly Shōnen Jump has sold over 7.5 billion copies since 1968.
But the African comic industry has a long way to go.
Kugali, a digital platform founded by three entrepreneurs and friends from Nigeria and Uganda, is designed to help people find and share the best African narratives and comics. It is an entertainment company that focuses on telling stories inspired by Africans, offering much-needed exposure to young creatives such as Masuku and the Dibodu brothers. For now, the reception the Dibodus are receiving give them some hope.
“It’s been awesome and inspirational. I didn’t know people felt the same way as me. It’s amazing when people are [reading] the story of the character and people are saying ‘you know what, that’s what we need’,” says Phemelo. At the end of Comic Con, they managed to sell over 300 copies of Young Nelson.
“People are catching onto the culture. I think it might even grow bigger than the American industry only because I think we are a very artistic community… Whether you look at the hieroglyphics in Egypt or the cave paintings by the bushmen in South Africa, we draw,” he says.
He also plans to sell his comics to local book stores in the country.
The team is currently working on their next creation – a black African female superhero called Imbokodo.
“We are looking for new creators we can partner with and create our own justice league, our own Avengers, to actually have young kids in South Africa look at their heroes the same way Americans look at their heroes in the Comic Cons to come.”
Young Nelson is a refreshing reminder that not all heroes wear capes.
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