tats nkonzo comedy interview

January 2017. Interview by Marelise Jacobs. Cover: David Perel on the race track - Photography by Xynamic Photography.

This past weekend saw the first Goliath Comedy Experience being held at Melrose Arch. Their Headliners show featuring Marc Lottering, Joey Rasdien, Kagiso Lediga, Conrad Koch and Tats Nkonzo was a sold out success. We sat down with Tats to talk about his career as comedian, where it all got started and where he is headed.

Music or comedy, which one came first?

Tats Nkonzo: Music came first I guess. Music was always what I was exposed to early on, I didn't even see comedy coming actually. In 2008 I saw an advert on tv for a reality tv show called So you think you're funny, so I was like let me try, and I've been trying ever since.

I got kicked off the show because I ran out of jokes, I'd never done stand-up before. I tried it, it's done. Then they called me back to be a guest in the final. That was when I was like, okay maybe I'm not done. So I did the song in the final and that was the first bite in comedy.

My start to comedy was on huge scale, literally on tv. It's amazing when your exposed to a whole new world, and you realise wow it's been here all this time. So I started doing little shows. I was the new guy on the scene.

“...comedy should be visceral, if there's no emotion, no heart, people know it...” - Tats Nkonzo

Where do you want to go with comedy?

Tats Nkonzo: It's weird, my mindset is changing slowly from comedian to nationbuilder. I'm starting to see it that way now. My comedy, when you break it down, is serious, it comes from a serious place. It starts with thought, emotion.

I try and write about things that make me feel something instead of looking around for something. There isn't always material but you're always feeling something. Comedy should be visceral, if there's no emotion, no heart, people know it.


Tats Nkonzo: It's funny what I find in my shows. In Cape Town recently I did a show called The Clever Black, it was an amazing experience. But you know it's Cape Town, they're very conservative concerning comedy. Capetonians flirt around issues on the comedy scene.

In Joburg we go indepth, with jokes or humour there are levels of how deep you want to go in. The deeper you go, depending on the audience, the more work you have to do as comedian because the further you go the darker the past gets.

That's what excites me about comedy, that creative challenge is what gets me going. The idea of can we go there? Nothing is out of bounds. I'm finding that once upon a time we could avoid issues, but the older I get, and country gets, the more issues get bigger and closer.

Who do you use as soundboard for new ideas?

Tats Nkonzo: Other comedians, never non-comedians. It's almost like an ultrasound, people struggle to see where the baby is, but the doctor knows, he can see the baby. It's the same with comedians. If I say a line, they can see where the joke is going, what it is, what the idea is.

Comedians are very free with advice, the only requirement is that they see that you've got something and you work hard. If you tick those two boxes I've got time for you.

If I know a comedian is secure in themselves, then it's easier to be straight forward. It's easier to get into the work if they're at a level of security in their craft. There's the artist's consistent question of am I funny. If I see a comedian is fragile in their identity, it's harder for me to engage with them, that's when I choose not to say anything and just give them time.

How difficult is it to adapt to an audience?

Tats Nkonzo: The audience is a forever shifting mystery for comedians. Someone like Eddie Izzard has found his people. When he's writing he knows who's going to get it, it's a beautiful relationship. I want to please them, but it's never a question of I'm going to get them. The audience is a forever shifting dynamic, audiences are fickle.

Unlike musicians or movie directors, comedians have it back to back. One joke is an album or a movie, the next joke is the sencond album or the next movie but the difference is that it doesn't take a year to make in between. The judgement is so much more, our's is fifteen minutes of constant you like, you don't like. That's where the nerves are.