Loyiso Gola Brings the Sharp Insight of Keen Observer to NY, Moontower and the US

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Photo Chris Saunders

Two-time Emmy nominated South African comedian, Loyiso Gola, just finished a hit run of his show, Loyiso Gola: Unlearning, at New York City’s SoHo Playhouse- he heads to the Moontower Comedy Festival this week where he’ll perform Unlearning at the Fallout theater on April 26 and 27th. Check out his Moontower schedule here.

Gola grew up, and started his comedy career in Capetown South Africa where his experiences shaped a sharp perspective on politics, history, race and social issues that he brings to Unlearning, a personal journey of learning new things, and unlearning embedded beliefs. Beloved in South Africa where he created a popular satirical news show (nominated for International Emmys), and all around the world, Gola was chosen to represent his country for a Netflix special, recorded at Montreal’s Just for Laughs. His live show Loyiso Gola: Live in New York was released as Vimeo’s first original stand-up special.

He started performing at the age of 17 after a drama teacher suggested he shadow some comedians as part of a career day project. It stuck with him and he’s been performing every since.

I sat down with Loyiso in a New York cafe to talk about his unique perspective on the United States, the state of comedy, and more.

The Interrobang: You grew up in South Africa, but you were very worldly. When did you start traveling?

Loyiso Gola: At 25. Actually, the first time I got a passport and traveled. I think, I’d been to London earlier, but I wasn’t really traveling. I went in for two gigs and I left my passport in the plane. But when I turned 25, I bought myself like a plane ticket, and I started like really traveling. And I’m 35 now. So, in the last 10 years I’ve accumulated three passports.

You know the thing about traveling, is also I have to have a, come to country. And then, have like a total outsider perspective, which is how I feel sometimes when I’m in America. I go, I don’t think you guys are thinking about this at the same way I’m thinking about it. And sometimes, in fact, most of the time, people have never thought of it the way I’ve thought of it or I’ve seen it.

The Interrobang: It’s got to be a little scary, too. Because, you can have an outsider perspective, and then find out, “Oops,” you know? I was missing this piece of information. So, you’re taking a couple of risks when you do that. I mean, it’s … Your insight, that I’ve heard is spot on, but it’s risky, right?

Loyiso Gola: Life is risky. It’s like, life is a risky thing. It’s like, your whole existence is risky. Everything, everything, everything it’s just degrees of risk, right? And some of them are highly self-inflicted, and some of them, you’re aware of some them, you’re not even aware of. But that’s the nature of it. But, I think, like with what I talk about, I think it’s important that I push myself. And I’m actually quite fearless of the fact that comics don’t have the space to have the shit they want to say anymore. I’m like, you know what? Fuck you. If you guys want to cancel me for sharing an opinion, as an audience, I’ll take that. I’ll take that over shutting up. You know what I mean?

The Interrobang: What do you think about the environment of comedy?

Loyiso Gola: It doesn’t affect me, because I’m not a big enough act for people to care. But I don’t think when I, if I ever reach that stage I will care. I think I will still have the tenacity to say the shit I want to say.

The Interrobang: Do you think it’s bad for comedy when things get like this?

Loyiso Gola: I think that it’s not necessarily bad for comedy. It’s bad for thinking generally, because all this thing happens through social media. Every time anything becomes easy, it’s bad for your, it becomes bad. Easy food made, that’s an obese society, easy. You know what I mean? Easy. So, easy access to information makes it easy for you to consume an idea. And sometimes you don’t have to think about that idea. It’s just processed for you to eat it. Do you understand what I’m saying? And so, and so, and so what I think is that as a society, it’s not a good environment of interaction. Because no one really thinks about the ideas. Everyone just goes, “Yeah, let’s, we’re canceling Michael Jackson.” And you’re like, “You haven’t thought of that.” I mean, I just, my overall opinion and all that shit is humans are humans, and humans do human shit all the time. And that’s a human thing to do, it’s … And so, humans do horrendous things, humans do great things. So, people say nothing is impossible, but they have a certain bias towards that statement. Their bias is towards, they have got a positive bias towards that idea. So, they only look at that idea in a positive light. But they never look at it as anything is possible with any, with anyone on the other end, as well. So, the person, your idea, could also the person who does the most horrific thing. And that makes life human. That’s makes what life

The Interrobang: Does that ruin the art? when someone does something horrific, does that ruin the art?-

Loyiso Gola: No, it doesn’t ruin the art. It’s human beings. You’re dealing with human beings. Human beings have been murdering each other since the beginning of time. Human beings have been killing and raping each other since the beginning of time. It’s to kill someone, it’s probably one of the most human things possible. It’s human. It’s not…. So, then, all right, so I am not obsessed with the idea of being a good human being. I’m obsessed with the idea of understanding other human beings and being a better human being- Cause I, if anything is possible, then I, what chance do I stand? Do you know what I mean? Anything’s possible. And anything’s possible. So, I can’t sit here and be like, “That human being’s a bad human being.” Or, “That human being’s … ” I have to approach about, that’s what, that’s what’s, that is what to expect from human beings.

The Interrobang: Free speech used to be something that every comedian believed in very, very deeply. I think that changed when Trump became in power, and progressive comedians started to realize people were using free speech as an excuse to say terrible things. So now they’re conflicted.

Loyiso Gola: I’m not for or against free speech. I’m just against people feeling they can’t say things. So, that’s a weird feeling to have. That, “Oh, I can’t say that.” Even though I feel it, and want to say it. And so, that’s how you find yourself with a Trump situation, because you’re unable to interact. So, the person has one chance and one way to communicate how they feel. And it’s through a vote. But if people, if people were, you could say whatever you wanted to say, you wouldn’t be surprised with him winning the election- Or, having the … You’d be like, “Oh, yeah. Of course” But then, people will go, “Ah, I can’t say that.” Or, like … So, you never know how people feel. And then, they go to vote. You can silently tell us how you feel. And that’s through a vote, right? And then, boom! And then, you’re like, “Holy shit! That’s how you guys feel?” And then they go, “Uh, yeah.” So, I don’t know if, you know … So, liberals are the worst batch, because they never encounter their ideas. Anything that challenges their ideas gets shut down. And that’s not a good way to interact, you have to … The idea of life is to be constantly interacting, and constantly … Like, so I have my friends who have the most homophobic, the most detrimental ideas to society. But, I don’t cut them out of my life. I just go, “Let’s talk about it. Let’s engage.” And I still go to dinners, and we still have the, argue the same point. ‘Cause I understand the idea of being a human being. I really do understand the idea of being a human, you’re a human being, you’ve experienced totally different things to me, you see this totally different interview. But me saying, “Fuck you,” does not help any situation. The idea of engagement is the bigger and better idea. So, what for me is, people want to police engagement. And so, the minute you police engagement, that’s a problem for me. You can’t police … Let people engage, and let the ideas be as radical and crazy as possible. And let’s iron them out in however way. But the minute people are not on, feel that they can’t say the shit they want to say, then we are in a very dangerous place. Because, I then can’t voice myself. You can’t give a counterpoint. And my thoughts never develop. They remain stagnant. Listen, everything, the nature of life, things balance out eventually. You know what I mean?

Yeah. So, it’s, and so people … So, it’s like it’s the way a human being’s like, “Oh, all I want is happiness.” First of all, that’s impossible, just by the sheer nature of how life works and how things work. That’s impossible. So, if You live in a life, you’re probably going to experience 20% happiness. The rest of the time you’re going through all the array of emotions. So, you’re doing yourself a true disservice if you don’t acknowledge the rest of the stuff that you’re going through.

The Interrobang: Where, who were your influences in your life that gave you such a great worldview?

Loyiso Gola: I’m just aware. There’s people around me all over the place who just … It’s just reading and understanding. And there’s no real one influence.

The Interrobang: So, when you started, tell me what the standup scene, what’s standup like where … What town did you grow up in?

Loyiso Gola: I grew up in Cape Town. It’s a big city. It’s a medium city, you know what I mean? It’s- There aren’t, there aren’t comedy clubs. There’s a bar, there’s a comedy bar scene. And there’s a comedy bar scene, but remember like structurally people are not into acting as much, you know? So, for the maybe the first three, four year, the majority of the people I’m performing to are white people. And I’m like this little kid who is, I have these ideas, and … There’s no real scene. It’s just, so if you want to do shows, our agent would put the shows together- And there were guys who put shows together. But there wasn’t like a regular comedy club.

The Interrobang: Did you have other comedians that you liked when you were younger?

Loyiso Gola: I liked Bill Cosby. I liked Eddie Murphy. Oh. Do you like, Eddie … I like Eddie Murphy a lot. I like … Yeah. Those were the two. I like Chris Rock a lot, as well. Seinfeld I like. All the pretty much big guys, when I was really young I really liked.

The Interrobang: So, you would watch comedy, even as a kid?

Loyiso Gola: Not too much. But I’d seen, I’d see … I watched a lot of Def Jam Comedy, as well. Mike Epps, Martin Lawrence, all those guys. Yeah. I didn’t watch too much, but I mean, you must remember, it’s not a, it’s not a … It’s an access thing. It’s like the distribution channels weren’t there. There to buy the tapes, a lot of money a teenager … It’s not the same as like streaming [crosstalk [00:16:10] It’s not my choice- It’s not like a sports … You know what I mean? Everything becomes really accessible in the early 2000s, whether that be football, basketball, to the rest of the world. Because distribution rights become a thing. I mean, what do you call it? Sporting rights become a thing. And, you know, the rights to broadcast become a major money stream for corporations. So, that’s, you know, that’s, all this … Sorry. That will obviously determine how we consume things. But when I was young, you had a tape, and then we watched this tape for like eight months. Because it wasn’t like a … You know, it’s not like a, the access to it was big. No.

The Interrobang: Who do you like now? Who are, now that you’ve been all over the world, who are the comedians that interest you?

Loyiso Gola: I like Daniel Kitson. I’m not, I don’t watch as much … I like … I mean, I just watched Kevin Hart’s new special now. I liked Ray Romano’s new hour. I really thought it was fire. I like Ali Wong’s- hour. And my favorite one out of all of them must have been Adam Sandler. My favorite thing on Netflix right now, in terms of standup, probably Sandler’s hour. Really good. It was really funny. And my favorite, the two comics that I really fucking love, and I’ve only seen their stuff online, is Mark Normand- and Sam Morril.Two new favorite standups. I don’t like podcasts so much. It’s a lot of fucking, it’s a lot of fucking-Mumbo jumbo most of the time. And then you’re like, “Uh, that’s why they pay people a lot of money to create content.” I can’t sit through this shit.

The Interrobang: So, 10 years, about 10 years before you started traveling out of the country. But did you travel around the country before then?

Loyiso Gola: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We have a population of 50 million people, so you could do standup- I’ve been to a lot of places. Tons of Europe. Not too much South America. Just tons of southern Africa.

The Interrobang: Do you have a place that you really love performing in, more than maybe other places, just because, I don’t know, maybe the audience just gets it? Or … ? Or, the style, the way’s it’s performed, the places it’s performed? Do you have a …

Loyiso Gola: I think, I think, I think I just sometimes enjoy the experience of being at a place too much. Like, I like the idea of being in Amsterdam, and then them having English as a second language. And the challenge that comes with that. I kind of enjoy that, as well. And sometimes, there’s a lot of funny in explaining. I only perform in English. It’s not my first language. No.

The Interrobang: Tell me about the show you’re doing now.

Loyiso Gola: The show’s called Unlearning, so I talk about all the unpackings human beings have to do, including myself, you know? ‘Cause we grew up in specific times, specific families, and they have these specific values. And sometimes, these ideas and these values become less valuable as you grow older. Because masculinity’s setup in a specific way. But it’s setup in a time of wars. So, now, we’re not going to war- The fuck are you … Why are you being tough now? Because you’ve been loaded with this software to get you ready for war- Yes. But now, there’s no war. Now, you’re stuck with this … So, now, you have to upgrade yourself to it. So, how do you do that. Yeah, so that’s what the show is really about.

The Interrobang: Do you have long-term goals? Or, do you take it as it comes?

Loyiso Gola: I’m in the moment. Right now, I’m looking forward to Austin. I’m looking forward to doing this show in America. I’m looking forward to a lot of things.

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