Being successful in comedy doesn’t have anything to do with race, sexual orientation or gender. You’re either funny or you’re not. But gone are the days when women comedians had to take a backseat or be the warm-up acts for the “funnier” main men.
Stars like Khanyisa Bunu, Celeste Ntuli and Tumi Morake have taken the industry by the balls, and they’re twisting their way to the top, literally laughing all the way as they crack jokes left, right and centre. Who’s who in the comedy game? Here’s the lowdown on three of SA’s funniest and finest Queens Of Comedy…
Khanyisa Bunu is a one-woman wrecking crew on the stage. Her comedy special is on Showmax and the only two things you need to know are: Khanyisa is funny as hell, and she tells it like it is – this show isn’t for anyone younger than 16 and features a couple of swearwords and adult material. Nothing’s off the cards for the comedian either, whose routine features stories that every-day South Africans can relate to – from load-shedding and E-tolls, to being mugged in the street. What makes her funnier is that she keeps the same straight face while rapping to the audience. Everything from her mouth is serious and that makes it even funnier.
She’s no fly-by-night either – Khanyisa has been telling jokes for over a decade.
“I started doing comedy in 2009 after taking part in a reality show on SABC1 – So You Think You Are Funny. I realised I had it in me to pursue it as a career,” explains the comedian. It hasn’t been an easy road to the top, with her family being worried at first.
“My family has accepted it now. My mother was a bit concerned in the beginning because I had left a stable teaching job for a career that has no guarantees. But as soon she saw that I was doing well she fully supported it. My challenge has been like any other comic’s challenge, getting stage time so as to showcase my talent. Things are slowly changing but there is still a long was to go.”
Celest Ntuli is comedy royalty in SA. She got further (slightly) than Khanyisa in So You Think and was one of the country’s very first women comics to record her own one-woman DVD.
But she’s also an actress and knows how to perform, which comes through in her routines like Sex Live At The Lyric and Tripping With Skhumba, as well as in the lead role of comedies like Looking For Love. What sets her apart is that she does not hold back. If she wants to talk about something, not even the threat of jail time will silence Celeste. And that’s a good thing – because people need a laugh and they need a laugh about real-world problems.
She almost never made it to the top of comedy – and it would’ve been due to a family member if audiences had been deprived of her jokes.
Watch the episode of Trippin With Skhumba when they go back to her home in eSikhawini and they visit the tavern next door to Celeste’s house, which is run by her cousin Dick, who tells them, “No one thought she would get to where she is now. She always had jokes but when it comes to a career, even I had my doubts. She left her job as a manager at CNA. I kept the keys. She said, ‘Cuz, I’m following my career now.’ I told her, ‘No, telling jokes won’t work.’ But she taught us to follow your dream.”
Tumi Morake is comedy gold. She’s rude and crude and lewd when she wants to be – watch her tear into disgraced businessman Kenny Kunene and the other guests in Comedy Central’s Roast special – or dropping truth bombs about her life and career in Trippin With Skhumba. Tumi has been there, done that, got a wardrobe full of shirts – she’s paid her dues in the comedy industry and it’s given her loads of work and opportunity to make people laugh. Because that’s what comedy is all about.
One thing that Tumi isn’t laughing about is COVID-19. She’s been stuck in the US since lockdown and is missing home.
“We would rather be home just because it’s so much easier in an environment you’re familiar with. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. We are with family here, so the self-isolation is also an opportunity for us to get to know our extended family better,” she says, adding that she uses her social media accounts to keep fans updated – and having something else to laugh about, knowing that we’re all in this together.