Who would have imagined that you could start a career on Twitter?
That’s how Capetonian comic Yaaseen Barnes first made his mark, making him a specialist in sharp one-liners. Comedy is now his full-time career, rescuing him from a life as an insurance salesman.
He’s adopted a deadpan style and steers away from the Muslim stereotypes that his background could nudge him into.
“I started on Twitter and one of the bigger comedians who saw me said ‘why don’t you try doing it on stage?’,” Barnes says. “I tried just doing normal jokes on stage and someone said no, ‘just recite your Tweets’, so that’s what I did and I just tell short jokes.”
His style saw him win the Joker’s Comedy Championship in 2013 and in 2014 he won Good Hope FM’s Laugh Master contest. The prize was a spot at a comedy club, which provided him with a regular slot.
He went on to perform at the Jive Funny Festival with Trevor Noah, Marc Lottering and Nik Rabinowitz and on Comedy Central with Casper de Vries and Deep Fried Man.
Barnes won the Newcomer of The Year award in the 2015 Savannah Comic’s Choice Awards, but wasn’t there to collect it because he was doing a gig in Durban. He remembers following a Twitter feed about the event from backstage in Durban, but couldn’t shout for joy when he won in case he disturbed the act on stage.
He’s since written material for Stuart Taylor’s stage show, opened for Riaad Moosa and performed at the Comedy Central International Festival. He also features regularly on the Nigel Pierce Show on Good Hope FM and contributes to ZANews.
Barnes loves how the more experienced comedians helped him find his feet, and he’s carrying on that tradition by running a weekly open mic night at the Armchair Theatre in Cape Town for first-time comics or established names testing new material.
“It’s a small community and whenever they see someone with potential they look after you,” he says. “I’m one of the guys now, so I’m running open mic nights to look after those who are trying. We don’t want bad comedy coming up so we look after the good ones we find. The industry only works because we look after each other and look after the industry itself.” — Lesley Stones