Aiming for the stars

Arlene Petersen hails from Hillview.

Hillview resident Arlene Petersen is making a name for herself and breaking the glass ceiling in the comedy scene.

Arlene is still young in the comedic world but she’s been quite busy in the eight months of her young career.

An administrator at Lavender Hill women and children rights organisation, Philisa Abafazi Bethu, it wasn’t always Arlene’s plan to become a comedian.

She started out as Master of Ceremonies (MC) at her church’s high tea every year and from there people would book her to do various other events from graduations to fashion shows and hip hop events.

Being in front of an audience became second nature to the bubbly 30-year old so the transition to the comedy stage wasn’t too unfamiliar. In October last year she decided she needed a change and instead of introducing the acts, she became the act instead.

A church friend Sirvaun Hickley, who co-hosted a church event with her and also happened to previously own the Comedy House in Sharedon Park, encouraged her to do more comedy.

“I laughed it off but he continued to motivate me to take my act outside of church. After many chats with him I finally agreed and Sirvaun then set me up with Keenan Cerff, a local comedian from Lavender Hill who was chosen to do Nationwild hosted by Trevor Noah. He gave me comedy insight,”she said.

In November last year, she had her first five-minute performance outside of church and she’s been getting back-to-back bookings ever since.

Arlene’s took part in the Kasi World Comedy Showdown in June and several other gigs where she performed with the likes of Yaseen Barnes, Barry Hilton and Shimmy Isaacs and she has plenty more lined up.

Even though breaking into the industry wasn’t difficult she still faces challenges.

“One out of five comedy gigs is paid if I’m lucky as I’m still new on the scene. I still need to prove myself before I can move from the open mic to supporting act slot where I will start earning enough to actually afford my travelling expenses. For now my day job pays for my night job,” she said.

Arlene draws inspiration from fellow comedians such as Shimmy Isaacs.

“I also definitely draw inspiration from Chantal Jax Venter who was just nominated for Audience Choice awards. She was one of the first comediennes I worked with and offered me a spot on any event she features in. I will never forget that,” she said.

In her comedy, Arlene speaks about everyday life and her problems.

“I speak about these things because people can relate. I also studied public administration which has given me insight into the Constitution which resulted into me actually understanding the daily news and now I draw from a political standpoint and link it to everyday observations which I then turn into jokes. Basically comedy has become a form of therapy for me. The stage is my couch and the audience is my therapist,” she said.

Coming from Hillview she’s had her fair share of heartache. In 2016 her twin brother, Adrian Petersen, was shot and killed opposite their home.

“That’s where everything changed for me. Losing the closest person to me has forced me to dig deep inside myself and re-evaluate my life. Walking the streets of Hillview and seeing crosses scattered on every street which represent a life that was lost made me think of that family and their pain and suffering. That’s when I knew I had to get involved in my community.”

She then started working at Philisa Abafazi Bethu as an administrator. “This allows me to help an organisation that is literally the backbone of the Lavender Hill community where people can come in time of need for victim empowerment support, court support, youth support, a senior club for the pensioners, after school care and many other programmes offered at their offices in Lavender Hill.

“This gives me a sense of achievement with the vow I made to myself to be an active role-player in my community after I lost my twin brother,” she said.

Arlene has big plans for the future and one day sees herself being a member of Parliament by day and comedian by night.

“I am working the comedy scene until I finally have the guts to have my own one-woman show at the Artscape and then finally taking my act international.”

Her advice to aspiring comedians, specifically women, is to not give up.

“It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. Decide what you want to do with your life then just consistently do one small thing that will bring you closer to your goal. I went back to school at the age of 27 and started comedy at the age of 29. Don’t be scared of a little hard work and sacrifice because starting a whole new career has come with me having to downscale my lifestyle but one day it will all be worthwhile,” she said.

Visit her Facebook page for more details about her upcoming shows.