Bongani Ndlovu, Showbiz Correspondent
Coming from a village in Chimanimani, comedian Long John believes he has a story to tell the world and the continent of Africa has listened and acknowledged that he does.
Last week, Long John, real name (Learnmore Mwanyenyeka) added a feather to his cap, when he was awarded the Savanna Pan-African Comic of The Year Award at the Savanna Comics Choice Awards.
This is a great achievement for Long John as he is mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Anne Kansiime, Basket Mouth; fellow Zimbabwe USA-based Alfred Kainga and Zambia’s Chingliz.
His award follows his landing of the National Art Merit Award as the Outstanding Comedian in Zimbabwe.
Long John’s breakthrough in Zimbabwe was in 2012 when he performed at Simuka Comedy Night at the Book Café in Harare. A chair was thrown at him as he was booed off stage!
Two years later the lanky comedian would shuttle between South Africa and Zimbabwe for gigs. In 2014 he shared the stage with big names such as Loyiso Gola and Joe Parker. In 2016 he moved permanently to Mzansi to pursue full time a career in comedy. Three years later he has landed a national and a continental award.
Saturday Leisure reporter Bongani Ndlovu (BN) spoke to Long John about his journey in the industry.
BN: Last year you said you wanted to take Zimbabwe comedy global, what’s next and how are you going about it?
Long John: All these years I’ve been working on global material and I have managed to write a Show titled “The Village Boy From Chimanimani”. I can perform this show anywhere in the world and people can relate and laugh. So with these awards I can now easily travel with my show and perform it in big comedy festivals like Edinburgh fringe festival, Just For Laughs Montreal Festival and more.
BN: This year seems to be a great one as this has been your second gong, first nationally and then continentally. What is the secret to Long John’s success?
Long John: Well it won’t be a secret if I tell people. However, I always make sure I produce quality comedy and the secret is quality stuff. This will always market itself and I spend a lot of time improving my craft sometimes I don’t sleep for weeks working on it and I sacrificed a lot to be where I am right now.
BN: I remember when you started off in Zimbabwe and people and even the media would say, Long John is boring and untalented. What did you think at that time when these words were being said to you?
Long John: Well comedians are the most the judged people on earth, so when the media said I was boring and untalented I took it as a challenge to work harder on my art. To be honest I prefer it when people are honest so that I know what to work on and improve.
BN: I once spoke to fellow SA-based comedian Q Dube about you that you would fund your own travels around the country just to perform? Why did you do that and at what cost for how long.
Long John: Well I still do that (laughs). It’s because I love comedy that how much I’m willing to do anything for it. Also as a comedian you need to be seen first by comedy clubs, promoters etc for them to book you. It’s very important to perform as much as you can to improve as a comedian so I understood that from the onset. I could raise money and go to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban.
BN: When did you leave for South Africa and what informed your decision to go there?
Long John: I found out that comedy was still growing in Zimbabwe and it grew very slowly, in fact it was not an industry yet, so I needed to go somewhere with an industry that I can learn from and SA was the only choice because the South African comedy industry is a big and established industry. I had to move there to discover my voice as a comedian.
BN: What is the hardest part of your first years in South Africa after performing in 2014?
Long John: The hardest part was adjusting from local based material to global material that everyone can understand I had to start from scratch again in order for me to learn.