Serious about comedy

Mamelo Mokoena, a surprisingly serious-looking comedian, sits at one of Seattle Café’s tables. Steam wafts from his grey hood as he sips a rooibos tea. He smiles and explains that, as a migraine sufferer with allergies to caffeine and chocolate, tea is his best option on a day as cold as this.

By day Mokoena works in online advertising, selling web property. By night, Mum-z, his alter ego, is one of Johannesburg’s most vibrant up-and-coming comedians. He has been rocking the Jo’burg comedy scene for a year now, having made it to the semifinals of the Jozi Comedy Festival.

Mum-z (22) was born in Diepkloof and raised in Sandton. His parents are teachers who instilled the importance of education into their children. By the age of 13, however, Mum-z was fighting to break out of the mould set for him. He elevated his oratory skills in school plays and later studied theatre at the University of Cape Town.

Mokoena’s stage name emerged from the constant mispronunciation of his name in his youth. At one point he was given the nickname Marshmallow — but somehow Mum-z stuck.

As a comedian what subjects do you stay away from or see as taboo?
I tend to stay away from joking about politics or current events, especially things happening in South Africa, such as load-shedding. I also don’t joke about Zimbabwe because I know that most of the other comedians are joking about these things. I don’t do one-liners or punch lines — I don’t push comedy on to people. In my performance I try to enlighten my audience; I don’t try to be funny, I just get them to connect with me.

What is your favourite joke?
I’m not a joke person; I don’t know any. Anybody can tell a joke and make people laugh; knowing a joke doesn’t make you a comedian.

So you’re a comedian who does not know any jokes. That makes you pretty unique, doesn’t it?
Yes, that and the fact that I have the second-longest tongue in the country. No, seriously, I also really enjoy doing accents.

Who is your favourite comedian?
Richard Pryor, because he was not ashamed of his life and was open about his experiences. He was able to laugh at himself. He was a human being first and that is how he connected to his audience.

What has been your favourite venue?
Performing at Emperors Palace for Blacks Only: Border Patrol. There were 4 000 people in the audience who had come specifically to listen to comedy. When I got there the auditorium was empty, which made me nervous, and I started thinking crazy things. I actually had an anxiety attack before that performance. Once I was on the stage I felt like a rock star.

When you’re not performing, where do you hang out?
I hang out at places like Truth and Carfax. I’m a huge fan of house music — I love to dance.

What do you do in your free time, besides partying?
When I was at university I joined the capoeira club. I connected with it on an African level and also because I studied Portuguese, so I can relate to the culture. So, if I’m in a dark alley and somebody wants to beat me up, I can say: “Hey, I do capoeira.” At least then I could say I tried. Anyway, it’s more about movement than actual combat.

What does the future hold?
I definitely have to do Europe. And I’ll be looking for a wife.

Catch Mum-z’s Gig at Canterbury Arms in Walkerville on August 10. Tel: 072 586 5900.

Nobuhle Ncube and Tabitha Dillschnitter are second-year journalism students at Rhodes University, who did a short work experience stint at the Mail & Guardian

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