Tilt Republic. Johannesburg. New York. Cape Town. London.

Tell a joke today, save a life tomorrow…

Comedy is important. It matters. A society without jesters or fools or some kind of sanctioned ‘say what you really think but funny’ quickly turns into a place where everyone takes themselves too seriously and end up going full retard. Maybe if somebody had been allowed to make fun of his ridiculous mustache Mr Mugabe would’ve got rid of it and ended up less Hitlerey and more Mandela-ey? We’ll never know, because nobody was allowed to tell that joke to his ridiculously attired face, and that’s a crying shame.

I don’t know how many of you remember the bad days, but I do. There was a time around 2005/2006 when there were no comedy gigs in Cape Town: no Zula Mondays, no Jou Ma Se, no Chilibar, no Armchair in Obs. Oh there were the big festivals at places like the Baxter, but there were no comedy clubs. There was nowhere where a new comic could get his first five minutes or take the time and receive the guidance to grow that five to a twenty. There was no family of comics to join, nowhere to go. A few of us tried, myself included, but eventually the gigs sputtered out due to bad sound, bad lighting and the fact that trying to be a comedian and trying to be a gig promoter are two vastly different things.

When Rustum August and Gino Fernandez started up Monday night comedy at the old Zula Bar, something special was born. A regular gig in a venue with reliable sound was a gift, sure, but what later became the Starving Comics was the real treasure. Rustum and Gino spent their meager door earnings printing fliers then going up and down Long Street night after night, week after week, handing them out. Not just because it was a great way to meet the many good looking lady tourists that flood our fair city but because they knew if they didn’t get the word out there they’d have no audience the next Monday and their gig would die. They would focus on the gigs and their material, which left them time for precious little else.

To their credit, they built what was to become the longest running gig in Cape Town with a massive regular audience. A comedy night that eventually hosted the likes of Chris Rock, David Kau, Riaad Moosa, Nik Rabinowitz, Mark Lottering. A night that splintered into other gigs, creating the demand for more gigs, inspiring other promoters: a catalyst for the entire comedy club scene in Cape Town today. Once there was nothing and now there is something. They did that.

To support new gigs however, you need new comics and new jokes. Every week. This is where Rustum excelled. He brought the family. Nobody was turned away, everybody got a shot and everybody was told they were kak when they were kak. And Rustum was up there every week living and dying alongside us. A one-liner ninja in a rumpled suit with the eyes of a well-read baby seal: the man you could talk to about any joke, or anything really, at any time. Someone who was always writing, always questing, always thinking. Every scene needs a magnet like that and Rustum was ours.

Last year he was diagnosed with leukemia and was taken from us fairly quickly in August. We all felt it. We all feel it. He’s left a big old hole.

He’s also still here; his family, his ideas. We want to celebrate them. That’s why Utopia Festival this year will feature The Rustum August ‘Eat Life’ Comedy Stage. It’s a place where you can go to see some of Cape Town’s top comedians, but it’s also a space where an aspiring comedian can come to workshop their jokes and unleash five minutes of material. Whether festival goer or one of the many new comics we’ll be bringing with us, between set shows the stage will be a place to see jokes and comedians take their first few steps and usually fall flat on their faces. Such is the nature of the beast. Come join us.

“Eat Life”: sometimes it’s bitter as hell sometimes sweet as a peach, but it’s the only fruit on the tree.