South African-Indian comedian Ruven Govender is crafting a strong, influential career in stand-up comedy. The comic kicked off his career from an early age, sneaking in to comedy clubs at 16 and 17 years of age before finally being allowed in through the front door. His love of stand-up blossomed, graduating from the Class Comedians program with enough confidence and support to succeed. By 21, he had written and performed 5 shows for the NZ Comedy Festival.
Along with touring solo throughout Australia and the world, invited to TED X last year amongst many phenomenal successes throughout his career, Govender runs Laugh Mob Entertainment with tour mates/co-stars Sam Kissajukian and Kyle Legacy. After hit show The Black, The White, The Beard, Govender and co. return to Perth’s Fringe World 2016 with Comedy Boxing. Govender referees as Kissajukian and Legacy go head to head in a battle of scathing insults. The show puts the ‘punch’ back into ‘punchline’ over several nights of colourful, unique Fringe mayhem.
Reshoot & Rewind recently caught up with Govender about Comedy Boxing, life on the road, and the comedy’s scene’s welcoming aura.
How did you first get into stand-up comedy?
I got selected by the New Zealand Comedy Festival in 2004 through the Class Comedians program. The first gig I thought went horribly but I actually got signed to an agency after my first ever spot in the town hall. Charlie Pickering, the guy who used to be on the 7pm Project, he was actually my mentor and helped me write my first set and get my jokes out.
I got on stage, delivered my lines, and got these massive laughs straight away. I did the first few lines, got big laughs, and got really nervous because I didn’t expect such a wave of laughter. Then, I just forgot everything that I was supposed to say within the first 30 seconds. I then ran off stage and threw up. Everyone was like: “ok, that’s the end of that” and thought I had to get back on to finish my set and save face.
I got some really good gigs to begin with, but the age factor really caught up quickly. It was a challenge to be 16-17 and try to get into a comedy bar, and obviously wasn’t 18 years of age. That actually proved to be a huge problem, but once I was able to walk into pubs, bars, and clubs that’s when things really started to kick.
What have been some of the highlights and lowlights of performing on stage?
Last year, I was invited to speak at TED X. That was fantastic, it was 1000 people in an auditorium and an absolutely great gig, that was probably the highlight of last year I’d say.
A low point would probably include when I ventured out of New Zealand, which is a nice, little environment for stand-up, and into a market where I wasn’t well know, didn’t have connections, and didn’t have the backing of the New Zealand festivals. That was when I really got a taste of what it’s like to really do stand-up – hustle for gigs, having to beg, steal and borrow for stage time. That’s when I really got to understand how difficult it can be for comedy, because apart from that everything was kind of handed to me on a silver platter.
Coming into a market where nobody knew my name and no one was willing to really help me that was a big challenge. It’s a necessary evil to get me to start my own rooms, get a set-up, and hold hands with other comedians and local people.
Yourself, Sam Kissajukian, and Kyle Legacy run Laugh Mob Entertainment and perform together, how did you first realise your dynamic worked so well?
I actually found Kyle Legacy at a comedy club, I just found him to be a very funny human. I was surprised because I thought: “You’re very funny, you’re English etc.”, but he wasn’t getting any stage time. I saw him at a few clubs, he wasn’t going well, and I had a chat with him about what he’d done, where he’d been. I found out he was a writer for Russell Brand, he was on season 1 of Brand X and junior writer for Brand in that season.
As we did the rounds of the open-mic rooms I bumped into Sam. Was very much anti-working with anyone else, he didn’t want to work with anyone else, and wanted to his own thing. Myself and Kyle thought he was really funny, had a lot of doubts, was very intelligent. He had started comedy after us but got very good very quickly, and I thought: “This guy is definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with”. We started to gig more, wore him down a little bit, and morphed into us three working as a very well-oiled, comedic trio.
What can you tell us about your latest Fringe world show, Comedy Boxing?
Comedy Boxing is probably one of the most hilarious, ridiculous shows I have ever seen. Part of running our own agency is, Laugh Mob, is having the creative freedom to do these really wacky shows. If we were assigned to one of the other agencies, we probably wouldn’t have as much creative freedom. The show is basically Sam and Kyle full-on insulting each other in a structured format, which is the best thing. It’s pretty much the ‘why’ of Fringe and it’s just entertaining watching them insult each other.
Now, we have managed to put that format into a structure that everyone can enjoy. The biggest part of the stand-up is making it contextual to the crowd, generally, if people thought they were up there just insulting each other, people would think they weren’t friends and didn’t actually like each other. It’s quite the opposite, all three of us are best friends, and now Comedy Boxing has allowed a format that contextualises that for the audience and that’s why it’s so funny.
Diversity in mainstream media has been in the spotlight recently, where do you see this conversation going over the next year?
You’ve got key people that are really pushing for that, people like Kevin Hart – you’ve got people touring and working a lot harder at these things to breach those barriers. I think the non-white market for comedy is ready to explode and ripe for the picking. Seeing people like Kevin Hart, to me personally, is a massive inspiration. Seeing a short, black man go out there and do it and everyone love him gives me enough confidence to think that there is a market for it.
I feel I have a lot of this advantage in the comedy scene – people want to laugh at the racial stuff and when I get up there, whether I want to make fun of Indians or Africans whomever it may be, being South African I feel I may have the range to do that. Having that generally separates me from the crowd, when you go to a comedy club 99% of time it’s single, middle-class white guys complaining about stuff. The more diversity that you add to that I think separates you from the pack and elevates you from the crowd.
Comedy Boxing hits The Hidden Bar, Northbridge for Perth’s Fringe World 2016 from February 12th – 21st.
Photo credits: YouTube, Laugh Mob Entertainment