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PEOPLE OF THE YEAR 2023

Comedian of the Year: Schalk Bezuidenhout just wants to make people happy

Comedian of the Year: Schalk Bezuidenhout just wants to make people happy
Comedian Schalk Bezuidenhout. (Photo: Supplied)

Schalk Bezuidenhout’s comedy takes centre stage at a time when we crave humour to make us laugh despite the harsh realities we face.

All Schalk Bezuidenhout (31) wants to do is make people happy. And he does, on both the local and international stage. The comedian, from Kempton Park on the East Rand, is the hit of the town.

“I just want to make people happy. I want to make people laugh. If I can make them think a bit, cool, bonus, but I’m not really out to challenge people too much.

“What’s at the heart of my comedy is that I really just want to make people happy,” he tells Daily Maverick.

Bezuidenhout says comedians perform for the people who attend their shows – unlike athletes, who perform to achieve victories. “My top priority, and all I want to do, is make people who buy tickets to my shows leave satisfied and wanting to come back.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: People of the Year 2023: The awesome, awful and truly evil

Having found his comedic voice fairly early in his career, Bezuidenhout has spent the past 10 years refining what defines him as a comedian. He dabbled in stand-up while studying drama at the University of Cape Town and soon found a passion for it.

In September, he opened for , who was on tour in South Africa.

“Every comedian needs to figure out who he’s going to be as a comedian,” says Bezuidenhout. “With every show I try to take the audience on a journey.”

Some of his shows are a tad more political or focused on social commentary, whereas others are “a bit … dirtier”.

“You walk such a journey with your audience. Some people come up to me now at a show and I’m like, ‘You don’t even have to introduce yourself, I recognise you.’”

As the curtain closes on 2023, Bezuidenhout is taking it all in. It may be because he’s getting older, he says, but he’s feeling particularly “sentimental” and “thankful” to call himself a full-time comedian.

This year, his international touring really started to pick up with shows in the UK, Europe and Dubai. In 2024, he’s setting his sights on doing more international stand-up comedy gigs.

“It’s exciting, but it’s also hard work and it’s humbling because in South Africa I’m at a level where I’m winning Daily Maverick Comedian of the Year, but overseas I’m starting from scratch. You have to just swallow your pride, start from scratch and let your comedy speak for [itself],” he says.

But no matter where he goes, Bezuidenhout says South Africans are the “masters of comedy”.

And he’s not just talking about our top-tier comedians. “I’m talking about the public,” he tells Daily Maverick.

“If something happens, on every WhatsApp group people are forwarding memes that they’re finding on Facebook and I think to myself, who’s sitting there making this stuff? It’s incredible.

“You’d swear there’s some comedy genius sitting somewhere churning out memes all day. But it’s not, it’s a tannie (auntie) in Welkom who thought of something funny and put it on Facebook… We really laugh through tough times.”

Bezuidenhout is a big believer in comedy giving South Africans two important things: escape and perspective.

“If you’re stressed, you can go to a comedy night and just laugh and forget about all your stresses and whatever’s happening in the country and whatever’s happening in your life,” he says.

That’s the escape. The perspective you get from comedy, according to him, is that you can realise that things aren’t really all that bad.

“We laugh but we also like to feel sorry for ourselves in South Africa. But sometimes when you watch comedy about South Africa, it kind of puts things into perspective, you know? It’s kak (shit) but we’re surviving, and there’s always countries, people and places that are worse off. And you realise how much we have to be thankful for here,” he says.

Bezuidenhout says laughing about something often also helps to take its power away. He explains: “Load shedding can be this super crazy, daunting thing, but as soon as you laugh and make jokes about it, when the lights go off, instead of wanting to smash your hand through the wall you can kind of just laugh about it.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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