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99% Zulu/xhosa barrel of laughs

serious businessman: Monwabisi Grootboom will host the 99% Zulu Comedy for the first time this month. Photo: TEBOGO LETSIE
serious businessman: Monwabisi Grootboom will host the 99% Zulu Comedy for the first time this month. Photo: TEBOGO LETSIE

THE 99% Zulu and 99%Xhosa Comedy series played to a packed house when it kicked off in 2005 at The Bat Centre's Sipho Gumede Hall in Durban.

The shows founder and producer, Monwabisi Grootboom of Wow Entertainment, was realistic and smart enough to realise, that it was more the star-studded line-up that attracted the crowd than the idea behind his show.

Among his comedy series objectives is the idea to contribute to preserving indigenous African languages and to affirm a strong sense of pride in African identity, heritage and culture.

He also wants to encourage the commercialisation of African languages.

"I had Kenneth Nkosi to MC a line-up comprising Roni Modimola, Sindani Mbatha, Sthe Khumalo and Kagiso Lediga," says Grootboom about the very first 99% Zulu Comedy show.

"Though the 700-seater venue was full, people were mainly attracted to celebrities such as Kenneth and Kagiso," he says.

Grootboom then began the hard work of cultivating a genuine and loyal audience and added development workshops to the concept.

The eight years that passed before he brings the show to Johannesburg is enough indication that he was not in a hurry to gloat over his success, nor was he impatient about hitting the spotlight.

"We needed to locate and solidify the show's identity in some of the areas that still espouse great value when it comes to language and culture." he says.

"When we recently staged the show at the Durban ICC in front of a 3000 sell-out crowd before being overwhelmingly received in the Eastern Cape, we knew this [show] was ready to go to other provinces. The positive feedback also resulted in a possible television show that we are currently busy negotiating," says Grootboom.

While he points out that the market share for his concept is still small, Grootboom believes there are opportunities for growth.

"Some of us resigned from our highly influential full-time jobs in order to pursue some of those opportunities. Our property is the only one of its kind in the country."

Grootboom is the former head of arts and culture at the Ethekwini municipality.

He graduated with a degree in media and communications from Nelson Mandela Metro University in 1998 and also studied drama at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The married father of two girls and a boy is convinced African families are currently faced with the big cultural challenge of indigenous languages becoming extinct due to urbanisation.

"Many children whose parents live in the suburbs are unable to converse in their mother tongue even at lower primary school levels," he says.

But how will the 99% Zulu and 99% Xhosa Comedy series reach and influence children at primary school so that they will develop an interest in indigenous languages when the series' target audiences is in the 25 to 50 age group?

"We support a couple of comedians locally that have schools outreach programmes across KwaZuluNatal in their individual capacities," says Grootboom.

"Through our annual four-day festival in September numerous workshops are also targeted at schools and among young people."

The 99% Zulu Comedy will be staged for the first time in Gauteng on February 16 from 8.30pm at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City Casino.

Featured in the line-up are Felix Hlophe, Celeste Ntuli, Simphiwe Shembe, Tall A$$ Mo, Isaac Gampu, Siya B Radebe and Skhumba Hlophe.

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