Ever since the end of apartheid in 1994, the South African comedy scene has exploded with many emerging comedic stars. Just look at the popularity of Trevor Noah, a comedian from Johannesburg whose humor has garnered an international following. However, there is much more to South Africa's comedic culture than the spunky Xhosa-Swiss-German stand-up comedian turned television host. Over the past semester, I researched and explored the influence of South African female comedians on the politics of the region and discovered some badass women who have made a name for themselves in this space, which has a nasty history of upholding patriarchal norms.
During apartheid, newspapers used forms of dark comedy to help actors cope with discrimination, often publishing narratives which personified the white power structure. Literary comedy was often underlined with tragedy as it followed the black commoner's narrative of struggle against racial discrimination. However, even within these narratives, the majority of characters were male. Even after the end of apartheid, South African women suffered similar prejudices as Western women, facing critics who believe that femininity is inherently unhumorous. They were often excluded from stand-up performances which were held in bars, where female presence was seen as taboo. Despite this, women have paved their way in South African comedy, often adapting and innovating to overcome unique challenges. This environment has strengthened the talents of a diverse group of women whom I believe deserve more widespread recognition.
Listed below are some of my personal favorite South African female comedians.
1. Tumi Morake
Tumi Morake has appeared in popular South African movies and TV shows displaying her infectious energy and candidly discussing her struggles with body-issues and facing racial stereotyping. Her most popular television and film appearances are in Kota Life Crisis, Our Perfect Wedding, Red Cake - Not the Cooking Show, Skin, and Point of Order.
2. Celeste Ntuli
While writing my paper on this topic, Celeste Ntuli was one of my personal favorite comedians to watch. Plus, many of her stand-up shows are available on Youtube for easy access. Something uncommon about Ntuli's style is her brutal authenticity. Instead of creating characters like many other comedians, she performs by following her own rules which often includes performing in a blend of her vernacular. She is undeniably proud of her Zulu heritage and even uses it as comedic material complaining about her difficulty finding a man, listing her supposed required abilities: cleaning, cooking, dancing, speaking English and smiling.
3. Nina Hastie
Nina Hastie is well-known for her role on The Bantu Hour and The Late Nite News. She is hilarious and has a following inside and outside of South Africa. Outside of her comedy, she is candid about her struggles with depression and experience recovering from drug addiction.
4. Jailoshini Naidoo
I discovered Jailoshini Naidoo through her role as the protagonist in Keeping up with the Kandasamys, a movie following the lives of two families living in the South African Indian township, Chatsworth. The movie is best described as a rollercoaster, centered around a fairly predictable plotline which, despite its simplicity, warmed my heart. After the success of Keeping up with the Kandasamys, Naidoo premiered a new series entitles "Imbewu: The Seed." I have not yet seen it, but am confident that Naidoo will perform with similar conviction complemented by her clever sense of comedic timing.
So, next time you're wondering which show to watch on Netflix, consider branching out and exploring the world of South African comedy beyond Trevor Noah. These are only a few favorites of the countless talented women flourishing within South African comedy, and I hope to see more and more people supporting their success in the near future.