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Comedian Claudine Ullman takes Mrs SA seriously

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“I get to wake up every morning, model, make people laugh, shoot hilarious content, play with my baby, smooch my husband – what a life I’m living!”

These are the words of comedian Claudine Herman (previously known by her maiden name, Ullman), who recently qualified for the Mrs South Africa semi-finals in 2023. “I’m beyond blessed, and totally living the dream.”

Indeed, many young girls dream of finding their prince charming and being a beauty queen.

Mrs South Africa is the number-one pageant for married women in South Africa. Herman, an improv comic and stand-up comedian, initially entered the competition as a means to gain fodder for a comedy sketch show.

“I had a dream about it, and I thought, ‘This will be the most brilliant and hilarious thing I’ve ever done’.” However, after attending the semi-finalist’s workshop, Herman says her “why” changed. “Now, this is all about self-confidence, building my business, empowering myself and other women, and doing something that’s slightly terrifying, but so much fun.”

Herman studied Dramatic Arts and Film at the University of the Witwatersrand before furthering her education at the London International School of Performing Arts; The Second City, a Chicago based improv comedy school; and at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York.

“I try to go to America every three years to learn, perform, and enrich my own comedy. After seeing what they do there, I decided to bring it back to South Africa and into the corporate world.”

In 2011, she began her company, Jittery Citizens, which provides improv comedy training to corporates and other establishments countrywide. Thereafter, she decided to try her hand at stand-up comedy, and has since then found her comedic voice in alternative and character comedy.

It’s her background in improv and stand-up comedy that she says has largely benefitted her in the Mrs South Africa competition. “Performing is in my heart and soul. It definitely does get nerve-wracking, but my improv comedy background has helped me transform my nerves into excitement,” she says.

“I’m most in the zone when I’m performing. I just trust in that, and trust in my funny and my silly.”

The competition involves walking the runway in gorgeous clothing and swimwear, but also involves partnering with brands and organisations that are close to contestants’ hearts.

“A big part of why I’m doing this is to grow my business and empower myself. I’m going to be hitting the runway in my swimwear, and while it’s certainly no Milan fashion week – even if it’s Parys fashion week – it’s going to be hectic for me to feel okay walking in swimwear,” she told the SA Jewish Report.

“If I can get over judgement of myself and get into a space where I can completely accept and love my body, this will be the most empowering thing I’ve ever done.”

Herman describes how among competitors, it feels like a sisterhood rather than a competition. “These ladies are gorgeous. There are all different sizes and shapes, and for me what’s so incredible about this whole competition is to have all these women in a room who are so inspiring and powerful.”

She describes an incredibly supportive atmosphere, one that feels as though everyone wants each other to win instead of it being a scramble for the crown. “Nobody is oiling the runway before the girls walk down. We all see the value in having each other’s backs rather than backstabbing one another.”

Herman hasn’t just experienced this type of support from her competitors, she has also been supported by the Jewish community.

“So many people have said, ‘We have your back, we’re there for you.’ They’ve told me that they feel I’m giving them a voice and showing them that society isn’t just about patriarchy and having strong men around, that having women in the community to look up to is incredible. That’s so touching for me.”

When asked if she would do this all over again, Herman responds with a definitive “absolutely”. She says that while people – her husband, for one – don’t seem to believe she’s taking the competition seriously, she is.

“Being funny and comedic is my superpower,” she says. “I’m constantly thinking about how I can use that superpower to make other people laugh, partner with brands, help give them a voice, and ensure that my voice isn’t lost in the process.” For her, the crown is a great bonus, but it isn’t everything.

“This is more than a pageant, it’s like an MBA in life – how do you brand yourself, how can you get companies to believe in you and your offering, how do you believe in yourself. It really is a masterclass in not caring about what other people think of you and being authentically you anyway. I’ve walked on hot coals, given birth to a baby, and now I’ve entered Mrs South Africa. What in the world can I not do?”

To vote for Herman, follow the instructions on the Mrs South Africa Facebook page, and look out for her upcoming comedy show, Artificially Infeminated, on 24 March 2022. Tickets available via Quicket.co.za.

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