The stand-up sophomore: ​Gilli Apter

Stand-up comedian and comedy writer

In some of her comedy sets, Gilli Apter makes deprecating jokes about reaching the age of 35. It’s a gag about how a woman’s worth is usually reduced to her appearance. It’s indicative of Apter’s strain of comedy, which is reflective, interactive and somewhat feminist in its bent.

She’s a veteran of the comedy scene and yet quite new to stand-up. Her poise is a product of her experience behind the scenes.

Born in Johannesburg, Apter knew from a very young age that she was obsessed with comedy. “I grew up in the Eighties, and understood television entertainment in the early Nineties from watching National Lampoon films and The Three Amigos, and actors like Steve Martin and Chevy Chase. When I went to Afda, I studied writing and directing and my goal was always to make comedy of some form, be it TV or feature films.”

Some of Apter’s writing credits include the sitcom Those Who Can’t and political satire show ZA News. “Those are the ones I am most proud of but there have been a number of sitcoms I have worked on, maybe one a year for the past six years,” she says.

Work and meaning

Apter is working with Nik Rabinowitz on his upcoming one-man show, titled Dry White, and also worked with Nina Hastie, who recently performed at the Goliath Comedy Club in Melrose Arch.

“The thing about comedy is you don’t sit and write jokes in a vacuum,” she says. “I sit with people and work with them — you do that as comedians anyway. When putting a show together it helps to have another ear.”

Stand-up, which Apter began doing about two years ago, is the next frontier in her career. “It was something I wanted to do for a long time but was too scared. In 2015 I met Jason and Donovan Goliath and they encouraged me to go on stage,” she says, recalling her first gig at the Pop Art theatre in Maboneng, Johannesburg.

Asked how bad (or how good) it was, Apter says she had aimed to be at least good enough to have the confidence to return to the mic.

“I don’t think that anything could have stopped me,” she recalls. “Because I’m older and experienced and have done a few things, I knew I was not going to be knockout brilliant, but I needed to be good enough to be able to try again. It’s so hard to be good at anything the first time round. In comedy, people bomb on the first try and never come back. I was not going to judge myself until I had done it at least 20 times.”

Future plans

This year, Apter counts getting Acting Out made into a television series as one of her main goals. The hilarious pilot she wrote and directed recounts a night gone wrong for a middle-aged protagonist who wakes up from an unsuccessful attempt at getting laid.

“In the stand-up space, my goal is to get better and be more consistent. The point of doing a show is to get to do the next one.”

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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