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Art, Culture

Dark Times

by Alain William van Heerden / 29.11.2013

Last week saw the return of Loyiso Gola to Cape Town for his one-man stand-up comedy show at the Baxter Theatre. On the heels of his Emmy nomination one would think that there’d have been a lot more interest in his show but what seemed to drum up more of a public reaction was his appearance on a Channel24 celebrity-interview series. A link was shared by Channel24 claiming it to be the ‘most awkward Loyiso Gola interview ever’. Predictably, the link and video were shared across social media and after the perhaps unexpected response that Channel24 received, with negative feedback directed predominantly at their inept presenter, the article has been taken down.

What is it that Channel24 were hoping to get from him? With banal, prying questions about his childhood in the ‘hood’ and how it shaped him, his personal love life and his opinion on weak pickup lines, they somehow managed to throw out an opportunity to have a discussion with Loyiso about how he has worked towards creating something meaningful and important through comedy in South Africa. Loyiso made an important observation in the interview that the interviewer was expecting a certain narrative to arise from the discussion with him, and without it going that way, she didn’t know what to do. That is precisely the issue here as well as part of the reason for Loyiso’s success.

People want their heroes, their success stories and their celebrities to fill in and to live up to certain archetypal roles that exist for us; perhaps in this case the interviewer was looking for a rags to riches story which she was digging for in his Gugulethu upbringing; but Loyiso refused to play into that which is what makes him a potentially contentious subject for interviewers and for the media in general. Why though should he entertain tabloid crap about pickup lines and dating lives when his body of work alone should provide room enough for discussion?

Beginning his career by shadowing other comedians such as Riaad Moosa during his high-school work experience, he worked his way into the SA comedy scene and created more and more of a following through both the Pure Monate Show as well as through his stand-up routine. His own show, LNN with Loyiso Gola is going into an 8th season and was just nominated for an Emmy Award (which, unfortunately, he didn’t win). He has performed in both Edinburgh and New York, and has helped to create a platform for other emerging comics in the country.

The success of everything that Loyiso seems to touch is owed in large part to his integrity and in doing things his own way. ‘People think I work at eTV,’ he said at his sold-out show on Friday evening. ‘I don’t. I film my show, give them a DVD and say ‘Here, play this.’’ Loyiso is presenting himself and his art on his own terms, against the attempts of numerous media outlets to present him in a way that will sell stories for them. Loyiso joked that recently YOU magazine wanted to put him on their cover and (bastion of credible journalism that they are) they, too, wanted a story more juicy than merely his accomplishments. He helped them out, as he did in the interview above, with a fake story about being molested by an uncle.

Backing up this integrity and drive is a sense of genuine intelligence, wit and thoughtfulness that is apparent to anyone that has seen him, be it in one of his stand-up shows, LNN, or any of the other projects he’s been involved with. Friday’s show was an excellent example of this in which Loyiso had a very interactive hour and a half show in which no formula or set seemed to be followed. Mining from topics as diverse as his childhood, crime, media, politics, race-relations and stand-up itself Loyiso delivered a solid set of observational, often improvised comedy. Given that his TV show is based predominantly on highlighting the ridiculous, inane and often angering aspects of life both socially and politically in South Africa, the tone of both Loyiso’s stand-up as well as that of LNN remains both hopeful and positive about South Africa and its future.

Towards the end of his show on Friday he took a moment to remind us all what a beautiful country we live in, and it seems to me that this is such a central part of his work as a comedian – it is unifying. It would be so easy to create an entire routine out of cynicism but his show creates a realistic portrait of South African life, a reminder of our diversity, our challenges and what we have to celebrate, as saccharine as that may sound. David Foster Wallace said it best: “Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need [art] that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good [art] could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.” And this, I feel is what Loyiso is accomplishing in South Africa, through his comedy.

The Cape Town series of shows is now over, and Loyiso is currently in New York but keep an eye out on etv for LNN, and follow him on twitter to keep up to date with when he’ll be performing next.

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