By Sean Parker
“White people understand me differently,” comedian Siv Ngesi says to me in the plush hotel room where I’m interviewing him. Ngesi has a way of floating between classes and racial line, something you pick up immediately from his model-c accent. Wearing a tight leather jacket and even tighter jeans the lanky actor/comedian takes on a serious tone as we engage about his new show, ‘Race Card’.
“The concept came from a book that I read, called the ‘Racist Guide to the People of South Africa’”, the 27 year old tells me. He then asked the publishers to create a show about the book and they gave him the green light. For someone who exudes more confidence than Barack Obama, Ngesi reckons he still finds performing nerve-wracking and producing that first laugh from the audience calms his nerves instantly. “It’s a conversation; you read body languages and you concentrate on certain sections that aren’t feeling it. It comes down to communication between me and the audience.”
Having made his first comedy appearance at the old Zula Bar in Long Street, Ngesi has propelled himself into the comedy landscape via his bashful and charming style, poking fun at nuances.
Interestingly he talks from a perspective of being raised in a predominantly white neighbourhood, Pinelands and a black neighbourhood, Gugulethu. Ngesi says there are distinct differences between black and white neighbourhoods, but at the same time the two groups are very similar. “A lot of the issues South Africans deal with has to do with class as opposed to race. I am the same class as a white person, for instance.” His comedy comes from being a South African and grappling with our class issues in a satirical way.
When asked to comment on the way he thinks he is perceived, he says “I’m someone who has grown up and got away with murder.” Key to the show Ngesi says is spending five minutes at the beginning of the show to charm people. They come into his world.
People shouldn’t come to watch thinking he means harm, as that isn’t what the comedian is trying to portray. “There are things people will here in my show that they won’t (necessarily) hear out there (in the public sphere,” he says.
I asked Ngesi if he was trying to stir the pot with the poster for ‘Race Card’, which shows the comedian holding a card with the letter ‘K’. “It’s a play on the letter ‘K’. It could mean race kard (sic) and the King card.”
After going in depth about his show, I flung a couple more general questions the comedian’s way. What is a typical day like for a comedian such as himself, for instance? Well, apparently it’s never the same. “I’ll have an interview early in the morning then I’ll do another press event at night. So I’ll use the afternoon to catch up on sleep.”
Having acted in a string of movies and TV series, including ‘24’, ‘Invictus’ and starring alongside Idris Elba in ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’, which will be released at the end of November. the straight-talking Ngesi says comedy is in vogue and he’s jumped onto the bandwagon. The likes of Helen Zille has seen ‘Race Card’ and thoroughly enjoyed it, according to him.
Ngesi has donned a Superman shirt in the past, so I couldn’t resist changing the subject to superheroes. So, with the Superman vs. Batman movie that is rumoured to go into production next year (that will reportedly feature Ben Affleck as the new Batman), who does he favour between the two? Rather furiously Siv lays into Batman’s mortality, labelling him as someone who was born and can therefore die. He even goes as far to say that if he kisses Batman, he’ll get sick. “The real superhero is Superman. He was born a hero, and he will die a hero….wait he can’t die.”
In some ways Siv is like Superman with his enormous self belief. He has a smile that could certainly charm Lois Lane from Clark Kent. He concedes though that “they” will never allow a black Superman when I pose the question of whether we would ever see him in the famous cape, underpants and tights. Nevertheless, he’s dedicated to the brand of Superman and I’m sure many people will buy into the Siv brand after seeing his latest one-man show.
* ‘Race Card’ is showing at the Baxter from September 2 to 21.
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