POPULAR comedian Jem Atkins has had his plate full last year with a snowballing stand-up career and achieving a solid footing for his company, On Fire Comedy, which is largely responsible for solidifying a number of comedy clubs in and around Durban.
They include clubs such as Corner Café and Amsterdam Bar in Glenwood – where On Fire Comedy will also be hosting two featured comedy events this week.
Tonight wanted to get to know what drives Atkins in an industry that’s never guaranteed to keep the laughs or the money rolling in.
“I love it. Comedy comes quite naturally to me. Being funny and being on stage just feels right.
“It’s kind of what I’ve always done… even as a child. I love the rush that performing gives me.
“I used to do skydiving and I can honestly say that the rush I get from doing a big show is comparable to jumping out of a perfectly working aeroplane. It’s crazy really.
“The only difference is, when it comes to comedy, I don’t always know that my ’chute’s going to open.
“Truth be told, I think I’m addicted to the high… a normal, everyday profession just seems boring in comparison.
“I also love that I have to constantly keep pushing and testing myself to be a better comedian.
“Stand-up comedy is very challenging but that’s part of the attraction for me. It may not make me a millionaire any time soon, but it makes me happy and I feel like I’m part of a growing scene in Durban.”
A while back, Atkins took the plunge into stand-up comedy full-time, leaving behind a corporate career. Looking back on that decision, he said the risk was worth it.
“Leaving the corporate world was the scariest decision I have ever made. But I persevered and 2013 turned out to be a fantastic year with a number of successes, both big and small. It hasn’t always been easy but I’m finally doing what I love… 2012 was probably the hardest year of my life.
“I wasn’t really sure where I was going or if I could even make it. But nothing worth achieving in life is ever easy, so I kept at it and kept true to myself and I feel like I’m a stronger person, and a much better comedian and businessman than I was two years ago.
“Durban is a tough little nut to crack. It’s not easy getting bums on seats but I feel like I’m slowly building my brand and getting decent support.”
Atkins, a proud single dad, also credits his 5-year-old son, Jayden, for much of his grounding.
It was in his debut one-man show, The Single Dad, that we got to know a bit about Jayden, and as Atkins explains, their relationship has grown profoundly since – and inspired a sequel.
“My son has taught me so much about the things that really matter in life… family, friendship, unconditional love.
“He’s my favourite little man. We are very close and I’m just so proud of how he’s turning out. He’s given my life so much more meaning and perspective… and he gives me a wealth of comedy material too.
“I’m busy writing the sequel to my debut one-man show, The Single Dad II, due for April this year. I’m excited.
“I love chatting with him and just marvelling at how his little mind works and tries to make sense of this world – more often than not the results are hilarious.
“He actually has a great sense of humour too, which naturally makes me proud.
“His latest joke goes like this: ‘Daddy, did you know that a fish once saved my life?’ I go: ‘Really? How?’ His response: (serious face) ‘I ate it!’ … cue 30 seconds of uncontrolled giggling,” he laughs.
With a new year ahead of him and On Fire Comedy, Atkins said his mantra was to “forget fear”.
“I spent most of my adult life not doing the things I really wanted to out of fear.
“Well, I took that giant leap and 2013 turned out to be one of the best years of my life. Bring on 2014.”
• On Fire Comedy presents the popular Who’s Line Is It Anyway? event at Corner Café and Amsterdam Comedy Club. This week it’s at Amsterdam Bar. Both venues are in the Glenwood area. Check out details for each show in the Boardwalk listings below.