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Loyiso Gola wants to talk politics, but not outside of his various platforms – one of which, the popular Late Nite News, is up for an International Emmy. So if you want to hear his views, you can either go to his show or turn on the TV. Instead, we’re sitting in the soft light of the Cape Sun’s foyer to discuss the 15kg he just shed.
“I think the goal was to get rid of the tummy, which is a battle,” explains a noticeably svelte Gola.
“I was getting a bit of a hip as well,” he continues. “I still have a bit of a tummy because I fell off a little, but I think I’m gonna get back on to it again. I’m not trying to build muscle, just keeping a good BMI. I’m still a bit behind, but I’m way closer than what I was.”
The BMI calculator calls him overweight at 1.95m and 100kg, but he seems on track for his goal of 92kg. How is he getting there? In the same way he approaches his comedic projects: research and refinement.
“I’ve been reading up a lot on how the body works. Initially I read up on the Dukan Diet, which is a full-blown protein diet,” he says. “But it’s about finding the balance, and once you find that balance you’ll find it easier in general to lose weight. I mean, if you eat well you’ll lose weight just from eating. So I incorporated a lot of eating methods and a lot of lifestyle changes that I can honestly adhere to as opposed to forcing it.”
But Gola’s new diet perspective is more complicated than the increasingly popular “eat clean” mantra, instead it forms part of a much broader philosophy.
“I have this strong thing about the way you treat your body in your 20s is the way your body is gonna treat you in your 50s,” he explains. “David Kibuuka told me that. He’s like, ‘Man, the way you treat your body now…’ and I thought about it for a long time and I didn’t get it. You know how the mid-20s are, man. You’re rock and rolling… It’s non-stop partying and you’re so impressionable; you wanna go to every party and you wanna drink everything, eat everything. It’s crazy. So when I’m 60 and having an operation because my kidney’s failing… That’s because I didn’t take care of myself when I was 28.”
Making the connection
Associations are a hallmark of Gola’s humour and it gets him recognised at an international level. We’re speaking to him on the eve of his departure for the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival (the world’s largest) in Montreal to perform alongside compatriots Trevor Noah and Riaad Moosa. After that, it’s the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (the world’s largest arts fest), where TimeOut London recommended him as one of 10 international acts to watch. Impressive stuff for someone whose drama teacher once had to force him into comedy.
“It took a lot of convincing. [After opening for Marc Lottering at his high school] I wasn’t convinced. It was still like an odd profession for me,” he recalls. “Me on stage, telling jokes? And then my drama teacher was like, ‘You gotta do it, I’m gonna hook you up with these guys called the Cape Comedy Collective (CCC)’, and then it just happened that I needed to job shadow these people and boom, there they were. And I just flowed into it.”
Starting at a tender 17, he was part of memorable troupes like the CCC and the Pure Monate Show, Gola joined the ranks of a new vanguard of black comedy pioneers.
Unlike the familiar physical styles of Joe Mafela, Desmond Dube and Alfred Ntombela; Gola, Kagiso Lediga and David Kau took a more intellectual approach to black comedy – using sophisticated punchlines instead of slapstick. A by-product of this evolution is the increased use of vernacular, which is fine for local gigs but dangerous for a comedian trying to reach international heights.
“First off all I’m a big advocate of people being taught in their own language and using their own language, but using English is more beneficial,” he says of his approach to mother-tongue comedy. “I’m doing a lot more international stuff, so for me doing comedy in Xhosa is a no-no because every time I do a gig, I’m preparing for the next one. Tonight in Cape Town I’m preparing for New York, or London, for whatever. It would be to my detriment to do it in a language that doesn’t apply to the rest of the world.”
Content, however, doesn’t need to change that dramatically. “The best comedians can deal with any subject matter in any way with any crowd,” he says. Talking to different audience profiles is a challenge frequently faced on the local stand up circuit, and it always seems like the conversation defaults to race relations.
“I do get a lot of people who say, ‘You only talk about race.’ But you have to understand this legacy that we come from,” says Gola. “You can’t tell me not to talk about race when race is what I’m dealing with every f**king day. The problem is that when you are dealing with race, you have to honest. And when you are honest about race, it becomes uncomfortable to talk about.”
Politics is also a recurring theme in everything that he does, and although he isn’t willing to speak about specific topics, he does think you should pay more attention to it.
“I think politics links directly to everything we do, and everything we consume,” he explains. “Politics governs every movement; how much tax we pay, how much petrol costs, how much bread costs, it’s all politicking. So for you to not be involved in that process is highly naïve and short sighted.
“When people go, ‘I don’t get involved in politics,’ that’s the wrong thing to say,” he continues. “You have to be involved in politics. It’s like when people say, ‘I don’t cook,’ but you eat everyday, how can you not cook? That doesn’t make sense. Just being active and aware of everything around, that’s essentially it.”
The Loyiso Gola from TV and stage isn’t far from the man sitting in the hotel lobby. His divisive mass appeal seems born out of pure honesty and sober analysis. He is a genuine thinker masquerading as a fool and the reluctant voice of a cynical generation.
“With comedy, I’m really just always trying to be the funniest I can be. I don’t sit there and go, ‘I’m trying to deliver as many political statements as possible.’ Everything else – subject matter, story, whatever the case may be – is a by-product of me just trying to be funny,” he says.
“I don’t belong to any political organisations, my political views are not stringent. I’m not a liberal, I’m not a conservative, I’m not a Christian. I’m just a human being whose mind is willing to be changed. So you can sit with me and try to convince me otherwise. I’m not stuck in one way, I can update my software.”
– Lindsey Schutters