Mthabisi Tshuma, Showbiz Correspondent
SOMETIME in March 2014 while relaxing at his home in Bulawayo’s Pumula suburb, 19-year-old Mandlenkosi Simbarashe Mathe watched Trevor Noah host his The Daywalker show, and thought to himself “I can do this”.
And indeed, he could and did. The numerous National Arts Merit Awards (Nama) and Bulawayo Arts Awards (BAA) Mathe has managed to clinch during his seven-year career as Mandla Da Comedian are testimony of his success in his role as a comedian.
Saturday Leisure caught up with Mandla Da Comedian who took time to reflect on his seven years as a comedian. Shockingly, his career has not all been rosy as he opened up on how it has been filled with depression and car accident experiences.
“The dream started in 2014 and the first comedy special I ever watched was Trevor Noah’s Daywalker. My brother had bought the DVD and we watched it via his laptop. I was immediately captured by this art form and how Trevor Noah used it to portray social issues in form of jokes.
“That’s when I decided to venture into comedy and so I started learning, researching, and practising the craft using the Internet. I also looked for local comedians to see whether we had such an industry in our country. I came across performances online of Zimbabwean comedians and I liked what I saw, hence why I ended up joining stand-up comedy,” narrated Mandla Da Comedian.
He said he was inspired by the likes of Clive Chigubhu, Ntando Van Moyo, Doc Vikela, Keith Nkosi, Long John, Carl Joshua Ncube and Simba the comic King after watching their works on YouTube.
After gathering the guts, he performed at The Vista (former Horizon) where he shared the stage with veteran comic Edgar Langevelt, Marshal Eando, Libo and Ntando Van Moyo. This was his first show.
“On my first performance, I was very nervous till I got on stage and started cracking jokes to the audience. From a joke about Highlanders and Mcheznana, I’ve never looked back,” Mandla Da Comedian said.
“However, the journey hasn’t been an easy one because in order to get my name known, I had to do a lot of traveling around the country doing five-minute slots using my own personal funds.”
He said in 2015, things started looking up as he got his breakthrough when he entered and won a national comedy competition.
“In 2015, in Harare, I won a competition called Top comic which was a brainchild of Simuka Comedy Club and Shoko Festival. Winning this three-day competition meant the world to me as I was the only and first comedian from Bulawayo to win it.
“I walked away with a good cash prize and earned a slot on the main stage of the 2016 Shoko Festival which was amazing,” he said.
But, that same year, Mandla Da Comedian was involved in a car accident that almost shattered his dreams.
“A very tragic car accident after a show almost claimed my life. I sustained numerous head injuries that caused memory loss and my right ear was damaged. Up to today, it’s not working properly.
“I was admitted for two weeks at Parirenyatwa Hospital and was told that I had lost my mind, only to recover a week later after I was discharged,” said Mandla Da Comedian.
He said in 2017, things began to normalise as he started getting big bookings around the country. It was at this point that he began to get eager for accolades.
“My performances started trending, especially the one I did impersonating the former late President Robert Mugabe. I became a household name and got brand ambassadorship from certain big companies around the country.
“In 2018, my dreams came true as I won the Nama and BAA for Outstanding comedian thus making me the youngest and only comedian to win these accolades in the same year, a record yet to be broken,” he said.
Mandla Da Comedian added that he then held a solo debut show dubbed “Am I dreaming?” which was dedicated to his awards and blooming career.
“The show was held on the 18th of August 2018 and was hosted by Nyasha Diva Mtangamira. It had performances from Prosper the comic pastor, Msiz’kay, and the late Cal Vin,” he said.
Shockingly, as things seemed to be going well for the comedian, depression struck.
“2019 had its up and downs and I went quiet for a while as I was suffering from depression. I realised that I was depressed after I couldn’t surpass the level I had set in 2018 of becoming the national outstanding comedian and getting nothing from it yet I had invested time and money, only to get famous, but broke to live up to the expected level of fame.
“I only got back on my feet in 2020 and just when I was about to have my first African comedy tour starting in Botswana, Covid-19 struck and halted all my plans. At the end of 2020 though, I managed to scoop my 4th comedy accolade which was the Pumula Royal Arts and Community Awards for Best Comedian.”
Two years later, the comedian is still recovering from depression.
“I’m still suffering from it, but not as much as it was when it first hit me. I even lost weight from 90kgs to 73kgs as I thought fame was going to bring me fortune.
“But for now, I’m doing just fine, all thanks to my family and friends for their support system. My fans have also been helpful as I even have a support group on WhatsApp called Mandla & friends where we communicate.
“These people meant the world to me as they support me spiritually and financially as they believe in my talent,” he said.
Looking at his seven-year comedy stint, the Bulawayo bred comedian has done very well. Some of his works have been documented by Kwese iflix, Bustop Tv with the comedian doing performances and presentations on Magamba TV and Cite’s Gags galore.
Sharing his plans for this year, Mandla Da Comedian said: “In 2021, I’m planning to pick up from where I left last year and get back on my feet. My main goal is to do regional and international shows, win the South African Savannah comics choice awards for pan African best comedian which I have been nominated twice in a row among the best comedians in Africa.” — @mthabisi_mthire