Making you laugh is a serious business

By by Martha Mukaiwa
September 2011

When they’ve taken the Mickey out of one of the country’s foremost politicians, told their last meme joke and just about finished laughing at themselves and our fledgling nation, the founders of Free Your Mind Entertainment CC agree that comedy is a serious business.

Founded in 2004 by thespian duo Ndemufayo Kaxuxuena and Onesmus Upindi – who moonlight as Chicken and Slick the Dick respectively – Free Your Mind is an entertainment, arts and media company created by two formerly unemployed youths trying to enhance their financial well being while showcasing their lucrative talents.

Though Free Your Mind Entertainment cc is best known for its themed monthly comedy installation, co-founder and production manager, Onesmus Upindi is quick to point out that their scope of service includes graphic design, visual art, casting, acting, industrial theatre, scriptwriting, events, promotion and video production.

“We’re not a social club,” says company director, Popyeni Upindi. “The comedy itself is a job creator and we are, in fact, incentivizing all acts taking place in the company. Also by formalizing our business as a close corporation we want to show people that you can make a great living from the arts in Windhoek and in the rest of Africa.”

Like many beginnings Free Your Mind was a humble one and began on a decidedly negative bank balance. Not to be deterred, however; the founders put money together to cater for their first free show’s refreshments while theatre director, Sandy Rudd, sponsored posters and radio presenter friends took to the airwaves to promote the company’s first four acts at the Bank Windhoek Theatre School.

Fast forward to present day after two years in their current professional guise, replete with production, marketing and financial departments, and the comedy show is barely recognisable as the amateur act of old.

“Starting from the theatre school which hosts 180, then moving to the 99fm Playhouse which hosts 400 and occasionally booking the National Theatre of Namibia which hosts 470, the company and as such comedy in Namibia has grown in terms of attendance, interest and production,” says Popyeni.

The quality as well as the social and corporate marketability of stand-up comedy is further nurtured by Free Your Mind’s commitment to presenting a superior comedic product at a rate which reflects the consortium’s talent and professionalism.

“In order to be a part of the show you have to audition, rehearse your material a minimum of three times and then we do major quality control before anything goes out,” says Onesmus.

Ironically, one of the biggest challenges for the Free Your Mind team is to get the comedians to take themselves seriously.

“We try to get our comedians and affiliates to have some self-respect in terms of their profession,” says Popyeni. “If rehearsal starts at 17h00 then we expect them to be there at 17h00 because this feeds into their presentational and personal professionalism.”

With proficiency seeming to be the hallmark of what is stereotypically a slap-dash engagement, booking a comedian through Free Your Mind requires more than slapping him (or her) on the back and furnishing them with your gmail address.

“We are the house for comedians,” says Onesmus. “And just like any other company, securing a comedian requires phoning our booking agent and requesting a quote.”

In a curious reversal of the local artist-management status quo, Free Your Mind further aims to establish comedy as a profession in their 20/80 income agreement in favour of the artist.

“Our artists reap more of the profit than the company does and this is so they can develop their well being and in the best case scenario make a living from their art,” says co-founder and product developer, Ndemufayo Kaxuxuena.

“Through Free Your Mind comedians come to know and produce in terms of a standard value when doing professional or semi professional comedy and this value should ultimately cover costs while offering a decent living.”

Despite challenges in terms of funding and attaching themselves to a brand with a corresponding market share, Free Your Mind Entertainment is enthusiastic about what they deem to be a bourgeoning arts and entertainment culture in Namibia.

“People are opening their hearts and minds to what Namibians are doing artistically,” says Kaxuxuena. “My mum is one of the biggest fans of Free Your Mind and before she was just a meme wondering what exactly I was up to with all this.”

It seems then that the business of comedy is more serious and far more varied than imagined with the company’s scope of performance including dramatised conflict resolution in the workplace, the opening of corporate events as well as the provision of comic relief at media functions. However, Kaxuxuena believes Free Your Mind’s influence is far greater than laughter induced choking over a corporate sausage roll.

“Namibia is a gloomy nation, we are a post-war country and typically the ideal chill-out involves a lot of alcohol but we give something different,” says Kaxuxuena. “Stand up comedy is the best social criticism one can get and we try to tackle current affairs in a creative way while leaving people with food for thought. We think in the long run, after reflecting in this safe and humorous way, society will be more patriotic, enthusiastic and fun-loving.”

Changing the world one joke at time while introducing art as a viable profession? While we may not be certain of much we can be as sure as death and taxes that the business of “stand-up comedy is not a joke.”

Catch Free Your Mind’s latest installment ’Aegams Djunited!” at the NTN on the 8th of September at a cost of N$50.