Regarded as one of South Africa’s most talented comedians, Ndumiso Lindi, renowned for his trade mark hat and stylish urban look, has set his sights on taking over the world with his comedy.
Born in the Eastern Cape Province, this brilliant 32-year-old comedian switched from a lucrative job in advertising to pursue his passion. Today, he says that move was his best decision yet. Besides being a renowned comedy act in his home country, South Africa, he has also performed in other parts of the world, including Nigeria and the UK.
When we met in London, Lindi took me on a brief, but interesting ride into his world and why he thinks African comedy has come of age.
SU: Your dad was an emcee. Did that influence you choice of career?
NDUMISO LINDI: Yes, it did. When I get on stage, I quickly just channel his persona and literally become like him. My dad has this joke book that he collected because of the master of ceremonies functions he used to do. He’s well known for being a public speaker. So he used to test the ice-breakers with us. He is a very big influence in my life.
SU: How did you get into comedy?
NDUMISO LINDI: I have a friend who used to get on my nerves and wanted me to get into comedy. I remember it was 2003 or 2004, towards my final year and there was a talent show. They wanted people who were funny to come upstage to do their stuff. And my friend looked at me and said, go ahead. He and another guy jumped up and performed. I sat there, thinking, I could do this, man. So, I jumped up, threw some lines until I ran out of time and the MC took the microphone from me. I didn’t win the phone (on offer) that day. My friend won it. I was so angry and said next year, when these guys come around, I’m winning it. It was an annual show. So I prepared. The next year, I won the phone and thought that was it. But the MC liked me and invited me to do Open Mic City Club. As they say, the rest is history.
SU: You’ve lived in Cape Town. Now you’ve moved to Johannesburg and you also do a lot of travelling. Any favourite African cities?
NDUMISO LINDI: Wow. I can’t really say I have a favourite city, because they are just different. They each bring a different energy. For example, Cape Town is very laid back but beautiful and is a nice holiday destination. Then, when you go to Johannesburg, it’s like a big office, very inspiring and influential. It pushes you to work ahead. Then I go to Lagos (Nigeria) and you get the same energy like in Johannesburg. People are hustling (snaps fingers repeatedly), you know, everywhere you go. It’s the energy of the people. It’s amazing, and how humble they are. But at the same time, everyone is just on a plan to do something with their lives. When I get back home in Eastern Cape; they are like, ‘Yo, calm down. None of these London or Cape Town stuff. You’re here now, these are your parents, remember..?’ It just grounds you and brings you back to earth.
SU: Are there moments you regret leaving your job in advertising to pursue comedy?
NDUMISO LINDI: Not in a bit, man. It’s the best decision I’ve made, actually; although it took me a while to do that. I guess I was so scared that I won’t succeed until it came to a point where my boss called me into the office, after four years of working there. He told me, ‘listen man, we see this comedy thing is building up. You take more leave and unpaid leave, of course you’re getting paid on this comedy…’ Although he didn’t come up straight to say it, but in a way, he was asking me to choose. So he was like, ‘er, what if this comedy thing doesn’t work out?’ And I was like, what if it does? Have you ever seen me perform? He said, no. And I told him that I’d been working here for four years and he had never gone to one of my shows, not a single one. Then how was he supposed to know my strength? He was like, ‘listen, understand and think about it’. When I walked out of the office, I had made my decision. I knew I was going to leave. It was for the best. People need to jump the gun and just believe in your dreams. You never know.
SU: Some critics have often complained that comedians repeat their jokes. Do you think comedians should come up with new jokes for each event?
NDUMISO LINDI: It’s quite hard to constantly come up with jokes, especially now that you have people who would record your performance and put it on YouTube. For example, if you want to come up with a joke now, let’s say the Pope resigned, the more you perform that; it expands and the more energy you get from the people when you get on stage. Every person you perform for influences and it expands from just a minute idea to a five minute idea. So you’re building it. And when someone sees it from the beginning stage on YouTube and goes like, okay, I don’t want to hear the rest of it. But you create something so that you could do something special (with it) and bring everything on. But at the same time, it’s no excuse for guys to do the same jokes that he started with for over ten years. You also need to keep reinventing yourself. Keep being current. Know what’s going on. Get out there. That’s why I love travelling. A lot of stuff just influences you. Perform with other guys you haven’t performed with. It forces you to see from the other light and you get influenced a lot. So, it’s quite hard to come up with new stuff. But at the same time, comics need to update their stuff more often, I guess.
SU: Which comedian inspires you, in Africa and the world?
NDUMISO LINDI: There is this guy, Riaad Moosa, a South African Muslim comedian. He’s very funny. What I like about him is that he tackles subjects from all angles. It’s amazing and feels like the most proper thing to watch. In the world, I would say, between Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. But Dave Chappelle takes the number one spot for me. Even though you have the godfather of comedy, Richard Pryor, who basically designed how comedy is today. But Chappelle and the way he thinks; he can take something from nothing and make it so beautiful, like in the arts. That’s what I like. When people watch you and know you’ve put so much effort into what you’re talking about; they are like, ‘wow, that was funny, but also clever,’ you know. That’s what I like about Dave Chappelle.
SU: Outside comedy, what are your other interests? For instance, do you see yourself as an actor someday?
NDUMISO LINDI: Yeah, hopefully. That’s the best thing about comedy. It pushes you into zones you never expected to be in. If a movie script came around me, I would take it on if it is a good one. I mean, we do comedy skits now and then.
SU: What’s your worst experience on and off the stage?
NDUMISO LINDI: I did this corporate function in a place called George (a city) in (Western Cape province) South Africa. Now, that place is very white, not just white, but very Afrikaans white… There were some old people they never told me (were) in the audience. When I got there, it was a ‘golf day’ and so it was just men, first of all, Afrikaans men. It was a small room and they introduced me. I got on and started doing my stuff. No laughter whatsoever. It was just quiet. They were just looking at me. You know when you feel like somebody is saying, what is this, is this supposed to be a joke? It was something like that. But I was bold enough to do my 40 minutes, whether I got a laugh or not. And I realised something, it was in their culture, they can’t laugh out. But there were guys giggling and you could see other guys who wanted to laugh out, but because of the pressure of the room, they couldn’t express themselves. So I just carried on and went into autopilot. I got a few laughs and claps during my time. Then I went to my room feeling bad. But at the same time, I was like, you know what, I don’t care. The best advice I ever got from a comic called Mel Miller, a very old man. He said, ‘never take the bad gigs to your heart and never take the good ones to your head’.
SU: If you were to marry someone other than a South African, which nationality would it be?
NDUMISO LINDI: (Laughs) What kind of a question is that? (Laughs) I’d say… oh man, I don’t know (Laughs again) …For me, it’s just personality. I don’t care where she comes from.
SU: From your experience, how is the Nigerian comedy scene different from the South African?
NDUMISO LINDU: I don’t see any difference. But I guess it may just be the subject matter being talked about or the different styles. Like in South Africa, we have 11 languages. And it’s growing to a point that comics just choose a language to perform in and the audience they want to focus on. So you could be a Xhosa, Zulu or Steswana comic. There are a whole lot of them coming up now. I guess in Nigeria also, you would have guys that could just do their comedy in their language if they want to. If you travel, you talk about what you see. Also, I can’t really say much about the Nigerian comedy seen because I haven’t seen it deeply, only the surface of it with the guys I’ve performed with. Their narrative way of performing is amazing, like the telling of a story. If you listen to Basket (Mouth), he would tell you that this joke links to this and that joke and they just become one story; instead of simply throwing gags and gags, you know, that kind of stuff. So, it’s like the African way of storytelling. I also picked it up.
SU: Do you think African comedy has come of age to the level of global acceptance?
NDUMISO LINDI: It has in a way, that we are breaking away. Because when comedy came out, we looked at guys like Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, the American guys…even though with their subject matter. But what has happened over the years is that we’ve crossed over to telling our own stories, what’s happening around us and where we come from. I always say if somebody from London is coming to watch (maybe) a Nigerian, South African or Malawian comedian on stage, they also want to hear about what’s going on in your world instead of what you see in my world. So, that’s the amazing part. We can’t always be on that American thing. If we want to tackle the world, we need to do it our way. So that the day one just happens to open for Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle or Russell Peters, it’s just different. (Then) they would see the opener and go like, who is that guy, that was interesting and is something I have never heard before. Then they hear these guys. You know what I mean. We are totally ready. Comedy has grown. It’s like a teenager in Africa right now. It has that energy, that (says) ‘I want to take over the world’.