Free Your Mind all the way to the bank

By Rosalia David
November - December 2015

Free Your Mind (FYM) is a comedy show which was established by a group of nine friends as a hobby, and has grown into a company which makes up to N$50 000 per show.

FYM was established in 2008 by Popyeni Kaxuxwena, Ndemufayo ‘Chicken’ Kaxuxuena and Onesmus Upindi, known by his stage name ‘Slick the Dick’.

Currently, Popyeni is the General Manager, Onesmus is the Performance and Arts Manager as well as a comedian and Ndemufayo is the Media and Marketing Manager. One year after FYM’s inception, the three founders hosted their own shows and shared all the profit made after catering for key expenses such as paying for the venue and DJs. Seven years later, FYM has a complement of nine permanent employees who run the company on a daily basis, along with 16 comedians signed to the brand.

“We were a group of friends, and we came together at the Bank Windhoek Theatre School, where we would tell each other jokes.

Later on, this became known as the ‘One Mic’ show, where anyone who is funny or can rap would get on stage and perform. It eventually grew to a point where it was right to start charging at the door,” Popyeni explains on how the group started.

Over the past few years, FYM has taken great strides in the comedy industry, and as one of the first comedy companies in the country, it has managed to make a difference in the lives of many young Namibians pursuing comedy as a career.

“Comedians can easily go home before Christmas with N$20 000, especially at the end of the year when many companies have their year-end functions, but it depends on how many gigs they have been booked for”, he notes.

“Being a comedian can actually pay rent because comedians get paid per minute. Every minute a client books a comic has a price to it. A comedian can make over N$6000 for 30 minutes of being an MC. Now, imagine if a comedian is booked by over three companies in one Month, that’s almost N$20 000. It all depends on how good the comic is and how dedicated they are to improving”, he adds.

In addition to the financial appeal for comedians, Popyeni explains that FYM’s commitment to fostering Namibian talent has enabled the company to grow in the manner that it has over the last seven years.

”Almost all comics who joined started off rocky or not funny, yet we allowed them to learn and further groom themselves to be the best at what they do”, he adds.

Since 2009, FYM has not postponed or cancelled a show, which is something that the company lauds as a key accomplishment.

“We have been very consistent with putting on a show month after month, and at the same time, we’ve become very creative in having different stage sets, which are always better than the last”, he beamed.

Decentralization is a facet of growth for any organization and to this end, FYM comics have also performed in all major towns in Namibia such as Swakopmund, Luderitz, Ongwediva, Otjiwarongo, Rundu and Gobabis.

The company has even sent comedians to perform on an international stage. “We have also performed in countries such as Angola, South Africa, USA, Austria, Zimbabwe and Kenya”, Popyeni says.

All the success that FYM has garnered since its inception has not come without challenges.

Popyeni tells Prime Focus Magazine that “our audience started picking up heavily this year, and the Warehouse Theatre seats are limited, so we advised Computicket to only sell a certain amount.

By 17:00 when Computicket closes, we can pull a report and see how many tickets have been sold and if 300 were sold, we will only allow 50 people to pay at the door. We need a bigger venue which has all the necessities such as 1000 seats, stage lights, a good sound system and one which is not costly to hire”.

Popyeni further warns that “comedy is not a joke, anyone can make ‘Yo Momma’ jokes, but not everyone can stand in front of an audience of more than 30 people and make them all laugh for more than 20 minutes.

It requires time to write jokes and practice presentation before we put you on stage.”

“We always look for originality, as in who you are and how you are different from any other comic in the world. A lot of comedians relate themselves to an international comedian from a TV show, yet that’s just what we don’t put up with”, he says.

Like any other business with a vision, Popyeni admits that he would like to see FYM develop into a school for all sorts of artists, embracing a curriculum catering for comedy, theatre acting and music in the next five years.

“For the comedians, we wish that they expand and become big like Trevor Noah, become actors in Generations or in sitcoms in America, or have their own one-man shows within the continent and beyond so that they can inspire upcoming comics to follow in their footsteps”, he added.