Race, Social Commentary and Dick Jokes: Pushing Boundaries in Glenwood’s Underground Comedy Scene

Glenwood has long been both a home and a meeting place for young comedians. Through local institutions like the Winston Pub and Amsterdam bar, the neighbourhood has provided important platforms for both newcomers and comedy veterans to practice new material, take chances, and push comedic boundaries.

This week the Glenwood Collective chatted with promoter and comedian Bob Perfect about Glenwood’s comedy scene. We discussed the importance of developing better comedians and audiences, the ways in which community informs comedy, and some of the characteristics of Glenwood which deserve to be made fun of.

Check out the conversation below, and before sure to pitch up for Bob’s weekly event “Underground Comedy” held each Wednesday at 8pm at the Winston Pub on Clark Road.


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GC: First, can you tell us about the evolution of the “Underground Comedy” event?

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Bob: This show is something I’ve been trying to develop for a while now. It began as a monthly event but for the past two and half months we’ve been doing it every week, and each week we continue to draw bigger crowds.

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GC: What is the format and goal of the show?

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Bob: We have a rotating roster of comedians, featuring newcomers as well as established comedians. Each week we feature around 6 or 7 comedians and headline the act that performed the best the previous week. I see “Underground Comedy” as an opportunity to develop Durban’s comedy scene. It gives comedians an opportunity to try out material and practice their art. It is also a great venue for developing more sophisticated audiences who are accustomed to going to comedy shows and can help drive the development of the scene.

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GC: What is the significance of the Winston to local comedians?

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Bob: The Winston has been hosting comedy events for a long time, it’s the spot where a lot of comedians first started out or saw their first act. So for a number of us who grew up in the area, it’s a very special place. The Winston also draws a younger, diverse, and more liberal audience. They’re a bit more socially conscious, so as a comedian you can’t get away with just making cheap fat or dick jokes, you need to be smarter and be able to perform to broad demographics. There is a bit of a stigma against the Winston because people are a bit afraid to walk down here, but it’s a unique space, and I think it’s the perfect venue for the type of comedy scene we are trying to build in Glenwood.

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GC: How do the comedians at “Underground Comedy” reflect the venue?

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Bob: The comedians who perform on Wednesdays are young and diverse, like the audience. In fact, the comedians here have always been diverse. Durban does a good job of drawing aspiring talent from other parts of the province, as well as the Eastern Cape. Here at the Winston I think comedians like the challenge of performing in front of diverse crowds.

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GC: How is the Durban comedy scene unique?

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Bob: If you compare it to Joburg, the scene is much less refined than it is up there. Comedy shows in Joburg draw bigger and smarter audiences, audiences that have been going to shows longer and have more developed comedic sensibilities. As a comedian, you don’t have to pander to audiences in Joburg. The Durban scene is newer, with fewer venues and less experienced comedians. Audiences are also less developed and less accustomed to going to shows, they fall for cheaper laughs, talk through shows, and generally have less appreciation for the art of comedy. A lot of what we are trying to do with “Underground Comedy” is develop this relationship between comedians and local audiences. In Durban’s defence though, I’ve really seen the scene improve over the last few years and I’m hopeful for the future. Though currently it’s still really tough to earn a living as a comedian here. We don’t yet have a dedicated comedy club which would serve as a more solid hub for developing local comedians.

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GC: What characteristics of Glenwood contribute to a vibrant comedy scene?

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Bob: Well, Glenwood has long been a center for comedy because of Amsterdam and the Winston, which often host comedy events. I think in terms of producing comics, Glenwood is a bit too middle-class and comfortable, comedians need to struggle a bit. I’m from Umbilo and down there we have a bit more to be angry about- we’re more angsty. Being confronted with such inequality on a daily basis certainly influences a comedian’s perspective.

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GC: As a comedian, what do you see in Glenwood that needs to be made fun of?

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Bob: I sense a lot of tension in Glenwood between the lower and middle class, black vs white, young vs old. We think we are such a diverse and integrated neighbourhood, but if you just look at Davenport Road you still have predominantly white bars and predominantly black bars. With the “Underground Comedy” I’m trying to create a space where we can call out these issues and push boundaries, but it really comes down to the individual, not every comedian thinks that deeply about social issues. Personally, as a comedian I’m scared to be wrong or destructive rather than constructive. Where possible I try to raise these issues and make people think about these tensions, but I’m also wary of straight, white males who push issues with a lot of virtue signalling, and I’m reluctant to fall into that trap. I’m still trying to develop my comedic style.

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Check out Underground Comedy every Wednesday at the Winston. 8pm start, R30 entry. 

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Note: Credit to Ian Lewis for the pictures. Check him out on Instragram @ ian_lewis_onbekend

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