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When Mzansi Magic’s household reality show Our Perfect Wedding announced comedian Tumi Morake as the show’s new presenter in 2014, the audience wasn’t sure what to expect from her. At the time, she was taking over from TV presenter and actor Phumeza Mdabe and she was also stepping into the big shoes of season one presenter and actor Brenda Ngxoli.
Morake quickly wormed her way into Our Perfect Wedding fans’ hearts with her bubbly personality and innuendos.
And although the show is back with a new season and new presenter, fans on social media feel she was a perfect fit for the show.
“Would I present Our Perfect Wedding again? Absolutely, because now I know what’s coming. I spent half of the first season figuring it out, and I got it right and in the second season, just as I was settling in, it was over. That was my only heartbreak. I should’ve considered the possibility of one more season,” Morake tells the Mail & Guardian.
The high of stand-up comedy
Her plan after high school was to become an actress but when she found herself on the same stage as heavyweights of local comedy, such as Joey Rasdien, David Kau, Riaad Moosa and Kagiso Lediga, for her first-ever gig, she experienced a high from stand-up – a high she has still not come down from.
I find Morake, 33, sitting in the boardroom, eating cereal when I introduce myself to her at the Whacked Offices in Milpark, Johannesburg. She had a rushed morning that included making sure her children were ready for school and then rushing to her meeting with Whacked management, a talent management and production company in Milpark.
She looks different from the last time I saw her on TV. She’s shed some kilos and now has short hair. A health scare prompted her in 2014 to lead a more healthy and active lifestyle. She collapsed while working on a production and, with her cholesterol levels sky-high, her doctor told her she was on the verge of a heart attack. But she insists that this is an ongoing journey and aims still to lose two more dress sizes.
She also believes exhaustion contributed to her collapse. Her plate seemed pretty full with running a production company with her husband, actor Mpho Osei-Tutu, performing on stage and presenting Our Perfect Wedding. Morake felt overworked and her mother’s death hit her hard.
Her mum’s hardened black accent
She often channels her late mother when she is on stage. “I channel my mother because the personality I am on stage is very close to who I am in real life but there is [a] certain larger-than-life element about it that I get from my mother. Whenever I’m about to say something poignant I’ll say it in my blackest of accents because every time she used big English words she would harden her black accent, so that’s what I do on stage and when I do that I feel so much closer to her.”
Morake refers to her family quite often in her stand-up set. No topic is out of bounds for her – this mother of three doesn’t mind getting on her knees on stage in her pretty dress to drive a message home. Sex and cross-cultural marriages are some of the themes she often tackles. She is a Tswana woman married to a Ghanaian man – an aspect of her life that several people who find themselves on a continent that has a calabash of cultures will be able to relate to.
Morake and her husband have been together since she was a student at Wits University, in 2000, where she was studying drama. He invited her to do a stand-up set at a comedy show he was hosting with the aim to raise funds for charity. This was Morake’s first performance at a public show.
Being centre of attention and making people laugh excited her and, even as she recalls her journey, she talks about comedy with her eyes lit up. In 2006 she began performing at shows organised by legendary comedian Joe Parker.
Comedy is like discovering gold
Morake’s diligence, in an industry that was still in the budding stage 10 years ago, has paid off. She has since featured on the line-ups of shows such as Blacks Only, and festivals such as the Just Because Comedy Festival and the Tshwane Comedy Festival, to name a few. In 2013 the Comedy Central channel aired her one-woman show, Her Story – a benchmark in her career.
Her current show is the 2015 Nando’s hosted Mass Hysteria, where she shares the stage with comedians such as Nik Rabinowitz, Chester Missing, Mpho “Popps” Modikoane, John Vlismas and Marc Lottering. She holds the latter two in high regard.
“The comedy industry is exciting at the moment. For me it’s like discovering gold in South Africa and now the mines are going to start opening. There will be those that are duds and those that are lucrative,” she says.
She has been the only female on the show’s line-up for three years in a row. Is the local comedy industry still a boys’ club?
“I don’t know why I’m the only female on the line-up. It just ends up working that way, doesn’t it? I’m sure it will be different in future. But also I pride myself in that sometimes they forget that I am a female comedian.”
Female comics and cougardom
What she has noticed in local comedy is that women don’t have predecessors, but more and more “bankable” women, like Mel Jones and Celeste Ntuli, are paving the way for those who wish to pursue a career in comedy.
For the first time ever, a woman comedian, Khanyisa Bunu, won the Savanna Audience Choice Comic award 2015 – an award that Morake feels is a reflection of transformation in the industry.
In preparation for Mass Hysteria each comedian received a ministerial portfolio, which they build their material around. It’s a bit hard saying Morake’s portfolio with a straight face. She can’t elaborate on it without getting into her ministerial character. She is the minister of Ben 10s, Yolo (You Only Live Once) and homesteads.
“I’m getting to that age where one is going to qualify for cougardom. So I understand the need for Ben 10s and the need to regulate this issue because some people are rolling with Ben 2s and that is risking jail time.”
Doing the slaap tiger dance
One of the topics covered in Mass Hysteria by comedian and actor Modikoane is gratuitous local adverts and a question that often pops up with the topic is: Why is that black people are always seen dancing in adverts?
Morake has also been spotted dancing in a slapstick Vodacom advert for the “slaap tiger” campaign.
“I took a risk with the slaap tiger advert because I knew it would be perceived as borderline blackface and which is why I told the team that, if we are going to be silly, let’s be silly but let’s not play on any stereotypes, which I feel we didn’t.”
Morake says she is the first woman to do a Vodacom campaign. “I’m up there with the Vodacom meerkat,” she laughs.
“There are people who generally don’t like slapstick and they will of course hate the ad but my benefit from that ad is the number of kids who [can] do the slaap tiger dance for me. It makes me smile.”
Other things that make her smile are her upcoming one-woman show in December 2015 and her shows in London in November.
Even if Morake’s fans don’t see her back on Our Perfect Wedding, they can catch her on TV, in series and on a talk show – which she can’t elaborate on at the moment.