The much loved and feted Edgar Langeveldt, inimitable star of Zimbabwe stage and screen, for whom, international success came long before most Zimbabweans had even travelled abroad – sat down to complete our Q and A. He gives an honest take on his life, inspirations and the aspirations that allowed for such a full and varied existence in a political climate that did not do him any favours. He remains one of Zimbabwe’s most well known and loved celebrities!
Edgar, please describe yourself in less than 20 words …..
” Zimbabwean personality, 32 years in Arts, Culture & Development, Multiple Awards for Music, Stand Up Comedy, Father of Three.”
What are your childhood memories of growing up in Zimbabwe? Lol
Born in 1969 in Bulawayo, raised in Harare, Headlands and Chiwundura, educated at Arcadia Nursery and St. Martins Primary till 1979, Hartman House Preparatory School for Boys, A-Level Arts 1987 St. George’s College.
I recall the daily horrors of the war for independence, its impact on the coloured/mixed-race community, and Zimbabwe’s evolution as a young, newborn nation.
I come from a large family and remember being top in academics, track & field and my beloved football. My dad was a Teacher and mother a Post Office employee, essentially civil servants. I was dragged from playground fun to be reluctantly trained in classical piano – Liszt, Bach, Mozart – and percussive instruments. A mix of Europe and Africa. I loved radio and T.V. and always followed popular music, the period 1930-1990.
What schools did you attend, and was school an enjoyable time for you?
Schools as Above. I was a rambunctious, independent-minded and enthusiastic pupil in all subjects and fields of endeavour. We had to deal with serious race tensions and the political consciousness was awakened to the need to make a difference in our society. As official class clown, I kept the multi-racial student body in fits and stitches: teachers dished out lashes.
Oppression of expression comes at all levels. I had many strong friendships and adventures, including skipping classes, bunking detention and avoiding homework! Corporal punishment only strengthened my stubborn resolve. Kekeke ndine nharo chaizvo.
After obtaining 12 points at A-Level in English, French and History, I enrolled at U.Z. for three years of LLB (Hons) Degree and was attached to Magistrates and High Court for practicals (1998-1990). After winning the Commonwealth Youth Song Contest and representing Zimbabwe in New Zealand, I quit Law and became a full-time writer, singer, musician, theatre, film and T.V. professional. I obtained a London Chamber of Commerce & Industry Marketing Diploma in 1995. I have other Certificates in Bible Studies.
Were your talents recognised early by your teachers and peers, and if so, can you remember any that had a particular influence on you?
Early on, my abilities were noted to the point of inspiring jealousy at my birthrights, inheritance, and ease of excelling at any challenge. Lol, I invented new challenges to raise the bar. My mother took all credit; my dad demonstrated humility. Almost like a showpiece scholar, I was developed in music, choir, public speaking, classical studies, athletics, chess, computers, theology, Latin, Greek society, cross country, swimming, diving, and saving a drowning person…
I was influenced by Catholic nuns – Sister Nativitas, Sister Veronica, and later teachers such as Hedley Layton, Farai Mhonyera, Dan Kalan, Roy Cook, Ray Bachelor, Trevor Pugh, and Schuaib Masters (Open Learning Centre).
Who inspired you as a child?
Charlie Chaplain, The Three Stooges, Benny Hill, Safirio “Mukadota” Madzikatire, Loony Tunes, e.g., Bugs Bunny, Mighty Mouse, Lassie, Little House on the Prairie, Buck Rogers from the 21st Century, Space 1999, The Six Million Dollar Man, Star Trek, Muhammad Ali, Pele, Jesse Owens, and the Gospel of Jesus.
You began training as a Lawyer at the University of Zimbabwe; tell me about that?
1988, aged 18, I arrived on campus, a 10 000 population unprepared for several culture shocks: tribal tensions, Marxist Leninist lecturers, the burden of early adulthood. I made strong friendships, was popular in football. Select action, but above all, I was noted as an outstanding student destined to be a Supreme Court judge. Given the poisoned politics of the day, I opted out: imprisoning people and sentencing others to death? I’d rather kill people with laughter, thanks. Sing a Motown song till they drop from dancing, not from a gallow! 😉
Being a Comedian as a career – when did this become the dream?
In 1997 Book Cafe owner and saxophonist the late Paul Brickhill of Luck Street Blues was on the hunt for local stand-ups, the idea being brought back from Canada’s Yuk Yuk clubs by a young Zimbabwean. Paul wasn’t convinced Charles could pull it off and as the day approached, Paul tasked Philip Machingura to headhunt.
At the time, I had a 400 strong artists hub called Nexus Talent Agency, Chesterton House, Harare CBD. In walks Philip, I go through my files: poets, musicians, filmmakers, theatre groups, circus clowns, acrobats, fire-eaters… And not one stand up comic. Young Phillip sneered that maybe Nexus was the biggest but not best Talent scouting and development Agency in Zimbabwe… Not to be defeated, I offered to do it and the rest is history. I killed my first Open Mic such that stand up comedy became the most popular main show for ten years straight. I then recruited and trained several Zimbabwean stand-up comics, who went on to international success.
What is your creative process like?
I am a low key depressive: angst and sadness at the human condition lead to deep thinking and reflection on God – the original Artist, Designer and Builder of existence. That how could infinite love be so cheaply received? Nature, harmony and growth carry on regardless of our ludicrous drive to ruin everything. The Aesthetic Intelligence works to create wealth through truth, beauty, health, living together and right-thinking … Mankind scurries and perishes in a fight for riches. Poor people work hard to be rich! Yet Wealthy people live in silence, and poor people make noise until they die rich. Is this all there is to life? Breeding damaged children to perpetuate our sense of eternity? And what’s “funny” anyway? Death? Life can be worse…
Comedy is my release from existential drift… In a laugh, I recognize faces and voices in situations. The stand up is one performer taking huge risks: no supporting cast, one microphone, one spotlight, alone onstage yet one with the people we represent and advocate for…. allowing the audience to laugh or clap but NEVER speak… Try telling a Zimbabwean audience to follow the house rules and a voice pops up from the back. And everyone laughing at the comic for being disgusted at an insurgent attack upon the craft and the craftsman.
Anger, sadness, fear, hate, disappointment, loneliness all vanish magically with laughter, the best medicine.
To be a Solo Comic is to be Pharmacist, Surgeon, GP, Gynae and Nurse. If the audience is hurting, I can heal them. If they are critical, I am rebellious and walk out unhealed, but I keep their money. If the audience is hostile, I give away chocolates, roses and drinks. If they lovingly listen, learn, laugh and locate themselves in the material we prepare? The earth literally shakes. With joy and Laughter, God’s own idea! Just read Psalms 2:4 for yourself.
Tell me about the first time you had your first real audience?
My first and best audience is my younger sister Nazlee, her teddies and dolls. During the war, I’d make her laugh so she wouldn’t be afraid of helicopters, jets, “big people’s talk,” and the news reports, whispers and gruesome scandals. Fifty-one years later, she’s still my number one fan and supporter. She lives and works in Malta with husband Dudley and my nephew Kurt Donovan.
Can you describe that feeling?
A brother, a sister, five dolls and biscuits, AND a little Mazoe juice? A full house. Me, the Jester, Nazlee and the dolls cheering wildly…! Sell out crowd! Audience in stitches, one with the storyteller. Full bar and catering. Secure car park. Then Nazlee would put two fingers in her mouth and drift to sleep. I’d run to the back to pick up gossip from the domestic workers or up and down the lane with other adventurous kids in the Southside suburbs: Arcadia, Mbare, Highfields. It was 1974-1978, the height of the war and we were only 5 and 3 years old. Comedy and pranks first worked for me as a child, the idea that you could slip on a banana and flip on your head… Coyote chased but never caught Bunny, Popeye swallowed spinach and knocked the big bad Bully Brutus, and Sylvester never swallowed Tweety bird, only to cough him out… Without dying or getting injured. Black and white T.V. cartoons were our escape from reality… Just for a few precious moments.
I was relieved aged ten by the 1979 Ceasefire… Peace seemed eerie compared to the certainty of routine violence and political inferno. Mother said, now you must be a doctor or a lawyer. Ten years later, I was hiking cities with guitars on my back and a large synthesiser keyboard. She was suitably horrified, but I was a young man in search of his destiny. I resolved to reverse the colonial apartheid class system and warn of the uselessness of corruption and social decay.
Pride, prejudice, poseurs, abuse of office, xenophobia, tyranny… All collapse under the weight of laughs. It is said: “1 minute of anger weakens the immune system 4-5 hours… Whereas 1 minute of laughter boosts the immune system for 24 hours.” 😉
What is one message you would give young aspiring comedians?
(This needs a Zoom Conference!) But all I would say is be you, do you and now no one else can be better for that job.
What would you be doing right now if it wasn’t for your current career?
Manchester United F.C. Professional highly paid player, then coach, fan and legend. That or earning a million bond dollars a month settling wills, estates and divorces as a private attorney or getting USD30 – 200 sentencing rapists, car thieves and murderers as a Provincial Magistrate or court clerk!
What countries have you worked in? What shows or venues most excited you?
Auckland, New Zealand, 1990 Commonwealth Games Arts Festival, Cape Town World Cup 2010, Swaziland 2012 King Mswati Reed Festival, Lusaka, Zambia, President L. Mwanawasa National Arts Awards, Grahamstown Festival, Durban Theatre, Limbe, Malawi, E-TV Johannesburg, Observatory Theatre, Cape Town.
HIFA 1999-2004, Prins Claus Laureate – For Excellence of Achievement, Humour & Satire as a tool for Creating Spaces of Freedom – (€25 000 award) in 2005, Book Cafe “A Night with Edgar 1997-2007, Mayors Christmas Fund, National tours of Zimbabwe, Inspector Barry Green on Ztv Studio 263, the international film ” High Explosive” (IMDb), Motown Magic Review, corporate gigs, video cassettes and DVDs, live Radio with Parkie and Pozzo, Ben Nyabadza, etc. Numerous Theatre productions and performances, e.g., Reps, Theatre in the Park, UZ 1988 Drama Circle, Arcadia Community Hall.
How do you feel the Internet has impacted the comedy industry?
A lot of rubbish can garner over a million views but little downloads and instead pirated shares. Much good material disappears in the rapid flow of information. Most skits are not funny at all: production is poor, the material is shallow and acting is amateurish. There is not enough planning and preparation and most efforts are knee-jerk reactions to trending or topical issues, minus analysis and oeuvre. I am known by younger comics who followed me as “The Godfather of Zimbabwean Stand Up Comedy,” but a ruthless critic: for me, nothing but the best will do. You can win 100 “vote for me” online Awards if you have enough data to rent a crowd… That don’t make you funny; it makes you a savvy internet user. You can promote yourself as a comic, but you can die (flop) and crumble in a flash. You have to stay grounded, humble and open to the flow of a lifetime career that has highs and lows like any other.
What is the biggest life lesson you have learned?
Everybody who survives early childhood faces certain death in the long run. Hahahaha
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
Seek first God’s Kingdom… And then all other things are a bonus.
If you could change anything about the comedy industry, what would it be?
Remove the cunning interlopers and opportunists. Or live and laugh at them? Comedy is a casual, offhand way of dealing lightly with such weighty matters as charlatanry doomed to infamy, pose revealed as having no substance, and humour left flat, insipid, or groveling. Instead, seek
for excellence of preparation, performance and participation.
What do we need to do as a community to support young comedians now based worldwide?
Watch them, praise them, criticize their material or performance but never judge the person. Be gracious and they bloom.
What is your experience would make a difference?
I jumped into stand-up because I had musical talent, comprehensive general knowledge, T.V. and Radio experience, and a long spell in local and South African Theatre. We had no internet and had to buy all the newspapers all week. Nowadays, it’s too easy for anyone to pop up, promote themselves and gain a name. When I was the only stand up for a decade, I had to carry the nation through trials and tribulation… I became a household name for giving communities new fresh perspectives on confusing or troubling national challenges.
What difference has COVID made to your life?
My Shona grandmothers and aunts taught us social distancing with a peachie stick, made sure you were 100% hygienic and used our hands as masks when coughing or sneezing. Covid? Hah!
What do you think your legacy is?
When the years 1942 to 1969 and 1970-2030 are forgotten… ? So will Edgar. Till then, we rolling like that! Kekeke
What would you like it to be?
Whatever everyone agrees at my funeral, I cannot object. If I have any objections, it will be as a spirit. Since they’re alive and I’m dead, I shall enjoy a spiritual advantage. My “Legacy” will be what it is; I’ll be with God laughing!
My greatest impact has been the fearless unpacking of reality, humour as a tool for speaking to power and satire as a skilled craft.
I have been a millionaire, a pauper and settled for a common Zimbabwean lifestyle, with people and among communities. Prejudice and discrimination have not gone away, but neither has a sense of humour as a shield to the less praiseworthy attitudes.
Tell me about your plans for the future.
In future, I plan to paint like Van Gogh and sell a few oils on canvas masterpieces.
E.L.A.P.A. Edgar Langeveldt Academy of Performance and Art.
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Those there are that do… Then Teach others to also Do!”💪🏼