On September 5, I was confronted with a bizarre but poignant example of how the social atmosphere of the country can have a direct impact on creativity. Nicholas Goliath, whose one-man show (at the Melville Comedy Club) is titled The Other Goliath, has to rethink the set of his debut one-man show in the days that South Africa turned the heat up on its dual reputations as a haven for femicide and xenophobia.
Goliath says that while his show is largely self-referential, in the context of the current climate, some of the material he had amassed is best left on the cutting room floor, lest he become yet another dude to make “the list”. The list Goliath refers to is one of the various lists and other forms of bearing witness that have seen women taking to social media to out men they accuse of either of violating them personally or exhibiting other forms of problematic behaviour, especially towards women.
A comedian since 2011, Goliath was tripped up by a joke likening single men to lions hunting zebra. While innocuous at face value, the joke included imagery of said hunters sharpening their spears. Goliath tentatively asked a group of women sitting in front of him whether or not the gag could fly. He was quickly shut down, prompting him to move on to less triggering material.
In this interview with Kwanele Sosibo, he speaks of the unique dilemma comedians face in the situation, and how he perceived his responsibility as an artist with the potential to influence people.
Do you feel like your one-man show is way overdue?
To be honest, for me personally, I don’t feel like it was overdue because after ages this is the first time I have felt confident enough to do 60 minutes on my own. It’s overdue. I feel like I could have done it a while ago.
What was holding you up?
Man, I’ve never I’ve never felt like people would come out to see me do a one-man show, because I never believed I was funny enough. I worked in a call centre for 9 years and never believed that I’d be a comedian. And so I think that played a big part in that self doubt. And over that eight years, I built up confidence to a point where I did it now to test myself to see if I could do an hour show.
So how did the first night feel?
I’m relieved that the first night is done. I feel the show could have been a little bit better. I had to change a lot of material because of what’s happening in the country being related to the gag I tried. Unfortunately, as funny as I find it, it’s not appropriate. It paints the wrong picture of men.
But you did it in a different spirit, right?
I did it in a different spirit but I did it tonight as a test, because I still got three more nights. So I did it just to see what the reaction is and see how women feel about it and it’s not acceptable. The ladies in the room were like no, take it off.
It’s kind of weird for comedy now because the Dave Chappelle thing just blew up recently. A lot of people are like, ‘Fuck it, he’s a comedian. Anything goes.’ Some people feel like there are too many jokes about transgender people. Do you feel like comedians are uniquely implicated, especially with what’s happening in our country right now? Do you feel like your responsibility is shifting, or being put under the spotlight?
Oh, definitely, your responsibility has to shift. And because we are in such a big public platform, and we influence the way people think, you open yourself up to people. And I just feel like, especially with what’s happening with the femicide and rape in our country, and the way women are treated, I just feel like they deserve to have been having the respect all the years. And a joke like that just puts them in a more uncomfortable position, which is something I never want to do. But at the same time, I do feel like in the world, generally, we can’t speak about anything. We can’t speak about black people can’t speak about white people, we can’t speak about coloured people. Because everywhere, anything you speak about, somebody is going to be offended. And I feel like we’re in a heightened state of wokeness now. There’s also a lot of fake woke people that want to take offence to something. It’s like you have to stand up for something. If you’re not tweeting or instagramming about some cause, then you’re not involved. Now I feel like there’s a lot of people that sort of just jump on the bandwagon without taking the context of the story or whatever you are saying into consideration, they just attack you immediately.
There’s a lot of serious issues that need to be dealt with, but at the same time, I feel like there’s a lot of people just taking advantage and because we we open ourselves to the public like that, and the criticism that comes with it, it’s like a hot plate.
Do you think that it’s unfair though for you to get on stage and basically be censored or submit to the will of like, a few people in the crowd?
I feel like there’s nothing out of bounds in terms of comedy, as long as your context and your messaging behind it is right. I don’t find rape funny at all. But I’ve heard rape jokes that I have laughed at and not because of the rape. This is something that must be very clear, that I’m completely against it. I have zero respect for men who have no respect for women. So I feel we shouldn’t have to be censored, but at the same time, we have a responsibility. And we have to understand that the audience members, these are the people that are paying for your tickets to come and see you. So doesn’t matter if you offend one person, that one person is going to go and speak to five people and those five people are going to go and speak and it’s gonna spread. And I just never want to be on the wrong side. I don’t do comedy to upset or offend anybody. I joke about my life and the things that I find funny, and my observations of the world around us. But to a degree we have to censor ourselves, unfortunately.
How do you review your first night?
My first night…. I was super nervous. I feel like it could have definitely gone better.
Had you done what?
I think I sat down too much through the show. The audience feeds off the energy from the comedian. So me sitting down puts them into that lulled state where… “if he’s down, we’re down the energy’s low.” So tomorrow I’ll be standing throughout the show. I think the big thing was sitting and changing my material at the last minute.
Backstage or like a couple of days ago?
Two days ago…. once all the news started popping about xenophobia and femicide. And you know, I like I said, I don’t want to be that guy that’s offending anybody, especially for my first one-man show. People have been waiting eight years.
You don’t think you’re playing it safe?
I am playing it safe. I am being very honest because I don’t want to be on the list. I don’t want to be that guy that’s contributing to the problem. So I have edited. I am censoring.
Did it throw you off?
It does throw me off a little bit. And because of the jokes that I had to take out, it changed the flow of of my one-man. So like, when I put it together, I had certain jokes. I had that the order that the jokes are going to go in, I had the links between the jokes. And because of having to take things out, now the links don’t work. So I have to come up with new links and I have to change the order. Certain things had to shift. And while I’m onstage my brain is trying to remember the original plan.
So you’re basically free-styling your one-man show now?
Basically… I’ve recorded it. I’m gonna go and sit and watch it all day tomorrow and I’m going to try and fix it
Good luck man.
Nicholas Goliath’s The Other Goliath runs until September 8 at the Melville Comedy Club.