Johannesburg – The successful comedian Trevor Noah has come out guns blazing with a big warning for not just South Africa's entertainment industry but for everyone, saying South Africans "underpay and over-enjoy" and that it needs to stop.
Noah said South Africans – from businesses in the entertainment industry to elsewhere, as well as ordinary citizens and consumers – need to start paying each other what they deserve "from a domestic worker to a petrol attendant to all the people where we take for granted how cheap we're paying for these people."
The South African comedian is back in the country during his holiday from The Daily Show on Comedy Central (DStv 122), to do a new stand-up show, There's a Gupta On My Stoep, in Johannesburg and Durban.
Noah is also back in business with M-Net and will be hosting a new 13-part comedy TV series for M-Net (DStv 101), Trevor Noah Presents... that will be broadcast in 2018.
Shortage of large venues in SA
He was responding to criticism from a journalist at M-Net's press conference on Thursday about how seemingly expensive some of his concert tickets are.
"One thing I've never taken for granted is the cost of doing business and one thing that was tough is that I wanted to do a show, and I wanted to come back to South Africa and perform for as many of my fans as possible."
"In the time that I have allocated, with the venues that I could find, The Dome was probably the only place that I could do that. In South Africa we have a shortage of large venues and it's something that anyone in entertainment knows."
"So if you want to get more than a certain number of people into a room, you only have these few places."
"I don't want you to come to a venue and not see me, I don't want you to come to a venue and not hear me. And I don't want you to come to a venue and not have an extravaganza because that's what I believe it should be."
"I put together the show and I remember, funny enough, when Cassper Nyovest did #FillUpTheDome, I remember Cassper said 'You can sell out The Dome and lose money,' and I didn't understand what he fully meant at the time. It's an extremely expensive thing, and that's the cost of doing business."
"What I've done in the pricing of my tickets I've always made sure that according to what you can afford, you can come to a show. So I have tickets that range from a very affordable ticket to some people who want to pay a premium price and they want to sit right up front at that show."
"And that's the best way I can amortise the cost and make sure that I can put on the show that people want me to put on. Is it expensive? Definitely."
"The cost unfortunately is going to be borne by some who are willing to pay it. Some people have the money. For those who don't, they can still make it to the show."
"I have surprise acts. I have more than just comedy at a show. I will say as a South African and a performer we have to value our own. When I was touring with Julio Iglesias seven years ago in my career – and the price of tickets then – and people went: But it's Julio Iglesias."
"And I thought: When do we pay for our own?"
"If we pay for our own, our own are more likely to stay here because they feel appreciated."
'I was exploited when I was new in the industry'
Noah said working with M-Net has been a "wonderful experience for me" when it comes to the payment of artists.
"I think a lot of the time in South Africa we take for granted how easy it's been to underpay people."
He said people read all the time how artists die poor – people who were legends.
"You read stories about the Brenda Fassies and you wonder how did these people die without a penny in their pockets when we saw them selling out stadiums? And then we've come to realise over time that in South Africa we've become used to paying people way below what they should be getting paid".
"One thing I'm proud of, any comedian who works for me – I don't care whether you're unknown, or a new comic or a new face – I will make sure that you are earning an income that will help sustain you as a person."
"I don't want to exploit you. I remember that I was exploited when I was very new in the industry. I made almost no money for doing what I love."
"But I'm proud that today I'm in a place where I can say that if you work for me, you're going to feel a difference in your life as a South African comedian. I'm not going to, because you're unknown, not pay you what you deserve," said Trevor.
"In South Africa we must get better at paying each other what we deserve and I'm talking all levels - not just entertainment. Everyone from a domestic worker to a petrol attendant to all the people where we take for granted how cheap we're paying for these people."
"I realised it when I went overseas. I was 'Wow, in South Africa we underpay and we over-enjoy."
M-Net CEO: 'Focus on making African entertainment a big thing'
"We have to value who we are, we have to value what we do," said M-Net CEO Yolisa Phahle.
"We can't be prepared to spend money and run after things which are outside of our country but when it comes to our own investment in our own country, in our own languages, in our own communities, in our own musicians, have double standards," said Phahle.
"It doesn't cost a different amount of money to hire The Dome if your name is Kendrick Lamar, than what it cost if your name is a local artist. The costs are the same."
"I think sometimes we are very hard on ourselves. What we actually need to do is to support ourselves and focus on making African entertainment the big thing it should be."
"Hollywood was built on its own hype. People in Hollywood said: 'We're coming here, we're building an industry, we're supporting this industry, we're reporting on this industry, we're funding this industry – and those are the lessons that we can learn," she said.
"There's no shortage of talent, there are no limits for our industry. It's down to us to do every single thing we can to make sure it happens."
'Not just local, but quality local'
Speaking about Trevor Noah's upcoming Trevor Noah Presents... that will be broadcast in 2018, Yolisa Phahle said South Africa needs to make television that is not just local, but television that is of the quality that will be appreciated all over the world.
"We want to make television that will showcase South African talent, television that will bring to the fore the incredible diversity of comedy in the country."
"At M-Net historically, we've been very good at dramas – if you think about kykNET (DStv 144), if you think about Mzansi Magic (DStv 161). We've made a lot of drama, we've made a lot of telenovela."
"The one genre where we have under-invested is comedy. And maybe it's because comedy is very difficult. It is actually, possibly, one of the most difficult genres to write and one of the most difficult genres to deliver."
"But we do have that comedy, we do have the amazing dynamics in our country which ultimately you can cry over but also you can laugh a lot because we're together and we've come a long way."
"Trevor Noah Presents... is a 13-part series. It is something which we are taking extremely seriously," said Yolisa Phahle.
"We really want to make sure that we do bring through new comedians and that Trevor Noah is able to give them the profile that they deserve so that they too can go out, and they too can earn a good living that they deserve, and to put the spotlight on South Africa globally."