The Portfolio: Gilli Apter

One thing I’ve always known is that I’m funny. As a writer, I’ll write pretty much anything as long as it’s comedy. I write for TV and my own stand-up of course. I went to film school because I wanted to make films and TV that were funny. I also work in production as a director, making videos and ads. I write things and then I also direct things and I perform things, but at the moment they are all sort of separate … things. The greater vision is for all the things to come together.

I’ve also worked with a lot of comedians. I’ve written for Nik Rabinowitz and other comedians over the years. As a result, I had people asking me when I was going to do stand-up comedy. Eventually I just did. While I’m crazy about films and TV shows, making that stuff requires so much resources.

What I’ve found is that I’ve managed to get access to opportunities more easily as I’ve developed a name as a stand-up. It’s easier, for example, to go to a pitch for a TV show when people have seen you do stand-up. It elevates your offering (if they like your stand-up). In terms of all the work I do, I think people probably have a high regard for the stand-up because it is something they can see, feel and hear. It is the least filtered version of the work I do. When you write for a TV show, people don’t know how much you are responsible for, because there are writing teams, directors, editors — the finished product is the result of a team.

When I think about the work that I do with Nik, for example, some people think I sit there and write all his jokes. I don’t. He comes to me with a book, every year, of all the stuff that he wants to talk about; ideas and premises for jokes, punchlines — and then we sit and bounce it off each other for a couple of weeks. Comedians do that anyway. I’ll perform and then another comedian will say, “I’ve got an idea for that joke. Why don’t you do this at the end? Why don’t you add that?”. It’s just that some comedians are at a level where they have the wherewithal and ability to pay for that service.

I often rely on comedian friends for notes on the performance aspect of my stand-up, because it’s not really my strongest skill set. That would be the writing and, of course, the real moneymaker: ideas.

Catch Thunderbirds featuring Gilli Apter, Nina Hastie, Claudine Ullman and Lihle Msimang at Beefcakes, Illovo every Wednesday. For tickets visit

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