ARTWOLFE zine sat down with Helouis Goraseb, the comedian, actor, jewellery-maker to get her insights into stand-up comedy, amongst many other things. Read more for this hilarious and enlightening conversation.
AW: Helouis, tell us a bit about yourself…
Helouis: Well. I am an actor, comedian… person. And I also make my own jewellery and stuff. But. I think specifically, today, we’re going to talk about one thing. Only.
AW: Ok. So – you said you were a comedian?
Helouis: Oh! Is that the one thing? Great!
AW: That’s the one thing! Or maybe later, at the end, we can talk about the other stuff… (laughter). Helouis, tell us what’s on your head at the moment.
Helouis: On my head at the moment is… Well, you guys won’t have a picture of this, BUT I’m wearing stage/fake cobwebs and spiders on my head. As headgear.
Helouis: I feel inspired by Bjork today. So…
AW: Great. So – when or why did you decide, or realize you could be, a comedian?
Helouis: I guess I’ve always been born with a bit of a funny bone, and maybe an off-beat sense of humour. I didn’t necessarily know or think I could be a comedian. After the first show I did, in 2010, there came a bit of success or at least, you know, loud chuckles. And that made me believe and dream that maybe if I work hard enough, it could then happen again. That people will laugh at what I say. So after that, I joined ‘Free Your Mind’, which is the entertainment company… They create a platform in Namibia for comics, so I joined them after that and have been honing my skill ever since.
AW: So who are some of the people that inspire you?
Helouis: A lot of what I see, just you know, things that happen everyday. Observational stuff happens and that’s inspiring to me. Basically anything can make me think of something to write or create and then kind of – mould it into funniness. But a lot of my friend’s and family also inspire me. I don’t watch too much other stand-up comedy because … ugh … you know. It’s so hard to just stay original, or even motivated. And when there’s so many people doing the same thing that you want to do and you see them do it so well and so effortlessly, you can get easily discouraged. So, I kind of just, keep my mind a blank and it’s a great canvas to work on. But ja, a lot of that stuff inspires me. Also – bad service, yucky food and ugly things…
AW: Very inspiring…
AW: Why do you think comedy or humour is important?
Helouis: It’s not just therapeutic, it’s necessary I think if you just want to be a balanced-out sort of individual. I mean, it’s all fun to be broody and depressed the whole time but you have to be a bit upbeat as well and it’s just easier to laugh than it is to cry or be angry. And – ja… it’s fun. And sometimes it can’t be helped. And sometimes it’s inappropriate.
AW: What do you think about the culture of stand-up in Namibia? What do you like about it? What do you think needs to change?
Helouis: Right now I’d say it’s in its infancy. So, we’re still developing newer, better ways, more relevant ways to perform comedy… or just to interpret things? We have a little over 13 comics in Namibia right now that are working and getting paid for gigs. But… a lot of the style is a bit two-dimensional and very similar. So, I think we’re still in the process of adding different things to our individual style to make everyone stand out on their own. And then, just to strengthen comedy over all.
AW: You don’t get a lot of female comedians in Namibia, or elsewhere. Why do you think that is?
Helouis: I think a lot of girls are afraid to be funny. They’d much rather be pretty or popular or rich and well-fed. But I think it’s a matter of… They’ve kind of created comedy to be this man’s world and it’s all intimidating and you have to have the suit, and the voice and that face… But there definitely is a place for females in comedy specifically in Namibia because right now, there’s only like four or five of us doing it. Ladies specifically shouldn’t be afraid because the spotlight is glamorous, girls! And. They let you keep the shoes. (Laughs). No one’s going to give you shoes. But if you don’t have your own, you can borrow a pair of mine. (I’m a size six).
AW: Do you think it’s harder because you’re girl? Or perhaps it’s just friendlier towards men, the comedy scene?
Helouis: Ja, I think guys kind of get away with saying anything… So it’s very difficult for a woman to be either provocative or controversial because they’ll be like, “What?! Who raised you?” or “Where’d you go to school?!” or… ? Or they’ll just ask too many questions or people will feel uncomfortable when you say something racy. Ja, the perception is that maybe ladies aren’t necessarily funny just off the cuff, but I think that’s what makes it harder because now you have to not just, be funny on stage but you have to convince people that it’s okay for them to laugh at what you’re saying. So ja, it’s a lot harder.
AW: Do you prepare a set? How do you go about that? How much is improvisation, how much is structured?
Helouis: Basically you would have a five, ten, fifteen minute set. And then a bit more than that if you’re doing a one-man show, or a feature show where it’s just you and someone else, you do like a half-hour. But basically for me what I do is, I structure my jokes, I plan my things… You can’t always anticipate the audience’s reactions or them laughing even. So, That is where the improv part comes in. You know? If a joke is dead – you got to go onto the next one! Or you can be hopeless and try and revive your dead joke and resuscitate it. And force people into giving you a pity chuckle, which is not nice (laughs). But, basically I don’t freestyle too much. I kind of only do that when it’s maybe impromptu stuff. So, Ja, I do a lot of satire type stuff, a lot of acting in my comedy. A lot of character stuff and basically you feed off the crowd. If people throw something at you, it’s useful to incorporate it into your piece and not be too stuck on a script.
AW: Do you have any advice for other humans who want to be funny like you? Do you have anything you wish someone had told you about the industry?
Helouis: People don’t want to pay for comedy. It’s very hard to make a living of it. But, what people do pay for is quality. So I think just be original, really work at your things. And something that’s also very important that’s completely underplayed in Namibia is a bit of etiquette. You know, professionalism. Show up on time to your gig. Don’t be drunk, be clean. Know what you’re doing there, know what the gig is about. And also be prepared to mingle, because after your set is done, chances are they’ll give you a meal (maybe a juice on the house) but then you have to rub shoulders with all the who’s who. And if you’ve made a good impression, people might give you their business cards. Unless you ask them. Like I always do. And that’s also okay, because they still give them to you. But I think overall, be yourself, know what you want comedy to do for you and that way I think you can apply yourself affectively. If you want to be that extra spark then really go the extra mile and make the effort. And put glitter in your hair. And on your lips.
AW: What are your big dreams?
Helouis: I want to eventually, this is now my fourth year in stand-up… I haven’t completely perfected it… But what I want to do is, I want to eventually veer into television. Or some internet stuff, do a little sketch show a la Saturday Night Live. And then eventually, one day, when I’m really old (like 48) I will maybe want to have a commentary/talk show thing? Like John Stewart! Or Ellen de Generes (I love her, she’s awesome). Something like that because Namibia doesn’t really have that right now. And I really hope no one does it before me… This is my idea. Don’t steal it. I will know, Nicky will know, and everyone who reads Artwolfe will know… (laughter)
AW: Anything else you’d like to add?
Helouis: I would like to add that you can never do enough interviews. You can never do enough shows. And it’s always refreshing to have a bad gig, because there’s nothing more humbling or nothing that teaches you more, than when someone has a different opinion or a bit of a critique about what you do. So I think learn from it, grow from it, don’t let it discourage or break your spirit. And… ja! Have fun! Keep smiling. Brush your teeth, if you do.