Gigs And Giggles: Comedic Duo Goliath And Goliath Are Living The Dream

Gigs And Giggles: Comedic Duo Goliath And Goliath Are Living The Dream

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Vital stats

  • Players: Donovan Goliath, Nicholas Goliath, Kate Goliath and Jason Goliath
  • Company: Goliath and Goliath
  • Launched: 2011
  • Visit: goliathandgoliath.com

When Donovan Goliath and Jason Goliath first met, Donovan was in advertising and Jason was unemployed. It was a Sunday night at the Underground, a weekly comedy club launched by John Vlismas and run from the basement of Cool Runnings in Melville.

Donovan was there because he’d started doing open mic nights. He thought comedy would be a fun way to express himself, since all comedians really did was tell their life stories. “I can do that,” he said, and so far, he had, although strictly as a hobby.

Jason was there because his insurance brokerage business had imploded, and his cousin, Nicholas Goliath, had convinced him that it would be fun to try stand-up comedy. In Nick’s case, this was a brave move. Five years earlier he’d tried his hand at three open mic nights. The first was incredible. The second was the worst night of his life, and although the third wasn’t too bad, he wasn’t convinced that he could survive comedy. Instead he went back to his job at a call centre. Fast forward a few years and he was willing to do anything for some relief from his ‘real life’ as a call centre agent. Even comedy.

To make ends meet as a failed entrepreneur, Jason was MCing at Makro on weekends, and he’d secured a few acting jobs on TV commercials, most notably an SAB Castle Lager ad campaign. It was through these circles that he was first made aware of ‘that other Goliath’, who many people in the ad industry assumed was his brother or cousin. It irritated Jason, who was a born and bred Eldorado Parkian.

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Donovan was an adman; he wore fedoras and converse sneakers. Jason felt he was giving Goliath a bad name. But when they met face to face, it quickly became apparent that they had a lot in common, mostly their love for comedy, and values and ethics that would become the bedrock of their comedy partnership.

Within a year Goliath and Goliath had been formed. Today it is one of the most recognisable names in comedy. What started out as a comedy duo is now a four-man team that runs a comedy club, an eventing business, and is a content production hub amongst other things. The success of the Goliath and Goliath brand and team did not happen by accident. Hard work, discipline and a vision bigger than three comedians and their manager/boss lady, laid the foundations for a robust and ever-growing business. Here’s how they did it.

1Create Your Own Reality

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Jason and Nicholas realised after their first few shows that to become respected comedians, they needed to look like comedians and network with comedians. “We spent any spare cash we had at the end of the week buying drinks for comedians after shows,” says Jason. “After a while, the ‘real’ comedians just assumed we were comedians too. We’d done about three open mic slots, but we were treated like we belonged, like we’d always been there.”

Lesson: Sometimes legitimacy comes when you behave as if you deserve to be there. In entrepreneurial circles it’s called the ‘fake it till you make it’ strategy.

2Create A Market

An important consequence of the ‘fake it till you make it’ strategy was that comedians started to know who Jason and Nick were, even though they hadn’t spent much time on stage. This would be vitally important when they launched their own comedy evening.

“Nick noticed that there were very few coloured people in comedy audiences,” says Donovan. “The coloured community loves to laugh. We thought that the problem might not be the comedy itself, but rather a lack of awareness, and not knowing how to access stand-up comedy shows.”

Donovan, Jason and Nick decided that this presented the ideal opportunity to start their own comedy night, and create a market for themselves. “We called every coloured comedian we knew, and asked them if they’d like to join us on stage for a show pitched to the coloured community,” says Jason.

They found a venue in Hillfox, Roodepoort. Cappello was willing to give them Wednesday night. The three Goliaths could take the revenue from ticket sales and Cappello would make their money from food and drinks. “Wednesday isn’t a traditional comedy night,” says Nick. “But I was determined that the evening would be called Awednesday, so that was the night we needed.”

With a venue and line-up secured, they marketed through social media channels. The response was incredible. The restaurant was filled to capacity and beyond with a solid coloured audience, including comedians who wanted to come and watch the newbies fall flat on their faces.

“Comedians love judging other comedians,” says Donovan. “After the success of that first night they admitted it had worked, but then they said, ‘okay, but now you’ve used all the coloured comedians, what next?’”

What followed was a new comedy night that was diverse in its line-up and audience, and soon became the monthly comedy event in Joburg. “Awednesday was so successful that within months we had on average six shows at different venues around Johannesburg,” says Jason.

Lesson: You can’t wait for something to happen to you. The most successful entrepreneurs go out and create their own success. Donovan, Jason and Nick not only created a well-known comedy evening, but they educated a new market in stand-up comedy. They created customers for themselves.

Related: From Simple Idea To Sideline Business: How Nkosenhle Hlophe Spotted An Opportunity

3Create A Brand

Jason and Donovan soon recognised something that no-one else had tapped into. There were a lot of well-known comedians in the space, but no brands. Coming from an entrepreneurial and advertising background respectively, both Goliaths understood the power of a brand. Not only that, they knew that if they were to grow their own careers and make comedy a full-time job and money-earner, a brand was essential. That’s what people remember, respond to, and it’s what a business can be built around.

“As soon as we agreed on Goliath and Goliath, I designed the logo. Now we weren’t just individual comedians, we were operating under a recognisable logo,” says Donovan.

How did that logo become recognisable? The Goliaths flooded the market with it. “We couldn’t afford pamphlets, so we went for the next big thing: t-shirts,” says Jason.

By this time Awednesday had moved to Oh My Gosh, a restaurant/night club in Honeydew. OMG became the home of Awednesday (and South African comedy) for a time, and every waiter, barman and comedian who attended got a t-shirt. “We wore them everywhere,” says Nick, “and we made sure that everyone else did too. We wanted people to recognise the brand even if they didn’t yet know what it was.”

It was a lean, low-cost strategy, but it worked. While comedians laughed at first, today industry insiders and fans alike clamber for Goliath and Goliath t-shirts.

Lesson: A recognisable brand is an effective way to enter a market. Create something catchy, keep your logo bold and simple, and find innovative ways to get it seen. Plant the seeds of your brand before people experience it for the first time. This can make your company seem a lot bigger than it is while you are growing into your vision.

4Do Something Different

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“We were now doing enough corporate gigs to focus on comedy full time,” says Donovan. “But we needed a bigger reason for corporates to book us.”

Unlike other comedians who don’t relish sharing a stage, Donovan and Jason realised they could become an on-stage duo that provided both the MCing and comedic function at an event. “We charged slightly more than one MC or comedian would, which meant our clients were getting two for the price of one,” explains Jason. “Corporates saw our offering as a huge value add, and it grew our brand.”

Meanwhile, Nick was finally able to quit his day job. Enough comedy work was coming in to sustain his salary, and he’d started MCing at Makro on the weekends to replace Jason and learn the ropes. The three Goliaths were positioning themselves into a business unit, with specific and unique offerings.

Lesson: To stand out from your competitors, you need a unique selling proposition (USP) and demonstrable value.

Related: Customers Will Pay For Amazing Experiences – If You Deliver Explains Karabo Sepharatla

5Systems And Processes

As the three comics became busier, the need for systems, processes and an administrative function raised its head. Enter Kate, Jason’s sister.

A former PR officer at Primedia, Kate had quit her job to travel and teach in Japan. But a pregnancy put an end to those plans, and she found her way into freelancing. The decision to bring Kate on as their manager, booking agent and all-round organiser was two-fold. It would give Kate something better to do with her time, and it would create a much more organised existence for Donovan and Jason.

Lesson: When dealing with corporates, it is not okay to be disorganised. As a start-up you can punch above your weight and work hard to look bigger than you are, but you cannot let your clients down. The sooner you put systems and processes in place, the better. You don’t have to be big to think big.

6Innovative Marketing

From their Goliath and Goliath t-shirts to the Goliath Comedy Club, which opened in Melrose Arch in April 2016, Donovan, Jason and Nick have never taken their eye off their marketing ball. “Our comedy nights and comedy club serve as marketing tools for our corporate offerings,” says Donovan.

Jason agrees. “We host corporate events at the Club from Mondays to Wednesdays, but there has to be a comedy element. We turn clients away if they are only looking for a venue. We’d rather say no to cash than lose sight of our ultimate growth goals.”

Lesson: Sometimes you have short-term pain for long-term gain. If you lose sight of your purpose you could find your business going down a different path, and miss your growth goals.

Related: Efficient R&D Puts Product Of The Year SA In The Pound Seats

7Grow Your Own Skill Sets And Offerings

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“We started feeling comfortable, and that meant it was time to stretch our legs,” says Jason. “We evaluated our strengths. We were MCs and comedians, with business and marketing backgrounds, and call centre and temping experience.

“We had a unique market offering for corporates. Our pitch is simple: we can take your business message and deliver it in a comedic fashion. You can entertain your staff while landing a message and training them. We started getting booked to facilitate staff engagement programmes and customer service training. This led to being involved in strategy, format and delivery style.

“We ring-fenced the whole process. We have amazing long-term clients in this space, including Vodacom, MTN, FNB, Standard Bank and Old Mutual.

“We tell event co-ordinators to stop stressing. We take care of everything, and this will be the best event they’ve ever hosted. It puts pressure on us because we have to live up to that, but when we do deliver, we have a client for life, because we’ve made their life so much easier.”

Taking this a step further, Goliath and Goliath has partnered with the ex-head of events from FNB to launch Goliath Events, which will curate an event’s entire experience. “We believe in great partnerships,” says Jason. “Our values and ideals are aligned, and we all bring something different to the table.”

Lesson: A good way to grow is to focus on increasing your share of each client’s work. Once you’ve proven yourself in one area, you can pitch for another. This requires building your skill set and offering, but also building relationships across organisations.

8Immerse Yourself In Your Market

Goliath and Goliath is first and foremost a comedic brand. This is the vein that runs through everything they do, from corporate events to the comedy club to The Box, their Sunday night comedy club in Maboneng.

The Box is integral to the local comedy scene. Open mic slots give new comedians a chance to test their talents, while veteran comics can test their new material. It draws international talent, like Mos Def, who wanted to try stand-up while visiting South Africa and staying in Maboneng.

“The Box is the pulse of SA comedy, and it allows us to keep in touch with the industry,” says Donovan. It is also how Goliath and Goliath supports local comedy. Kate has become the mother of comedy because she supports so many comedians, will find them gigs, assist in booking them — even though she isn’t and never will be an agent. “We love our industry, and want to support its growth. If comedy’s winning, we’re winning,” she says.

Lesson: Growth can take you away from your initial customers and in this case, fans. Once you lose touch with your market, your business starts to die. Always find a way to stay true to your original vision and purpose.

9Make Sure Everything You Do Is ‘NCA’

Nick’s saying permeats everything Goliath and Goliath do. When they were approached by Melrose Arch to partner with Tony Raciti, an industry veteran and owner of The Venue, they were excited by the prospect of running a comedy club with a top-class menu and venue.

“Everything we do has to be perfect,” says Nick. “Every touch point, every brand experience; if you can’t make it ‘nca’ you shouldn’t be doing it.” It’s the reason the Goliath and Goliath brand is so strong. When Raciti was told by Melrose Arch to partner with the Goliaths, he initially resisted. “He reached out to his own contacts to find out who were the best players on the comedy scene, and everyone said us,” laughs Jason. That’s how strong the team’s brand is.

Lesson: Think of every interaction, large or small, as brand building. Something that may seem insignificant today could be significant down the line. Use this as your mantra: if it’s not worth doing right, it’s not worth doing at all.

10Outwork Everyone Else

“Our goal is to be the most recognisable comedy brand in Africa, and this has been easier to achieve than it should have been. The reality is that no one has been pushing a brand,” says Donovan.

“But we’ve also been able to outwork everyone,” adds Jason. “We work 9 to 5, write, do our stage shows, still have personal lives… It’s a 24/7 life. And we don’t have titles. We do everything; we’re not hindered by expectations of how something is meant to be, or always has been.”

“And we’re not done,” adds Kate. “Not by a long shot. We’re never satisfied, we’re always looking for our next challenge.”

Take note

If you have a vision and a purpose, and are willing to outwork everyone else, your dream job could become your dream business, and dream life.

Nadine Todd
Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.