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'Johannesburg is the best place to be in South Africa because you can make things happen.'
Gems in this
Loyiso Gola’s humorous take on South Africa and world politics has made him one of the fastest-rising talents in comedy. As a touring stand-up, travel is a constant — and crucial — part of his life.
It’s also an endless source of new comedic inspiration. His rich and varied perspective on life has taken him everywhere from performing as part of Live at The Apollo to shooting his own Netflix special. But despite his global success, he still chooses to base himself out of his home country. Loyiso grew up in Cape Town and cut his teeth on the local comedy circuit; he still continues to perform in some of South Africa’s best venues. It’s no wonder his work constantly circles back to his upbringing — whether he’s referencing his family, his off-the-wall friends, or his hometown. Now based in Johannesburg, Loyiso took us on a tour of his favourite places to get to — from cool jazz bars with great cocktails to tucked-away sandwich spots.
On growing and growing up in South Africa
I grew up in Cape Town and I’ve lived all over the place in the area. I was born in Franschhoek, and then I lived in Gugulethu, and then we moved to Obs [Observatory], then we moved to Claremont. Then I moved to Johannesburg. So I've been all over the place. I'm like a mini nomad. I think that's why I travel a lot.
On realising you were funny
If friends were over, my parents would be like, ‘Come tell them what you told us earlier.’ And then I would say the thing and then they’d all laugh and I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll go back to my room.’ I had no idea, I was a kid; I must have been like 10, even younger. I didn’t know that I was telling jokes.
On the passion behind comedic performance
I was very lucky, because a lot of people spend a lot of time never knowing what they want to do with their time. And I was lucky enough that, when I was 17, I already knew that comedy is what I wanted to do. And so as you do it, you get better at it, and you become way more educated on it and become passionate. I can't say where the passion actually comes from, but I can tell you now, after 20 years of doing something, you know that you need to be passionate about it, especially with art. If you like something, you dedicate yourself to it. That’s passion.
On not being able to control how people respond to your work
The thing about human beings is they take whatever they like from something. If you’re going through divorce, and I talk about divorce, you’re gonna feel that the show is talking to you or that my comedy is talking to you because we’re going through the same experience. That’s not necessarily my intention, but I’ve learned that your output might not always yield the results you expect. The only thing I can do is be honest, and be as sincere as possible, and hope the audience takes something out of it. But I can’t dictate how they receive what I’m saying.
On the learnings of world travel
It’s interesting to see how culture is shaped; that’s the most interesting part of travel for me. It’s like, ‘Why do you guys do this?’ and they’ll tell you a story about it and you’re like, ‘Oh, I guess that this practice has a meaning that I might not know.’ They might even do the same thing as you, but they do it for totally different reasons. Culture is formulated based on the needs of a society, and that, for me, is fascinating. You tell them about something that’s culturally specific to you and it’s the most bizarre thing to someone from somewhere else. Travel really pops your bubble. It constantly breaks your sense of ‘the norm.’
On living in Johannesburg
Johannesburg is an economic town, so all of us come from wherever we come from. The whole city was developed because of labour — they discovered gold and they needed people to manage this gold or dig it up. Some people came and continue to come from all over the place to be here. At the same time, some people have been here since the beginning of time. Economically, it’s the best place to be in South Africa, because you can always make things happen. In Joburg, I'm trying to get things done.
‘Travel really pops your bubble. It constantly breaks your sense of ‘the norm.’’
On how to spend the day in Braamfontein
Start with the Kalashnikovv Gallery, which exhibits young South African artists. It’s a place I walk past every day, and every time I step in, I see something interesting. If you’re ever around, just come check it out. Then there’s 44 Stanley — it’s like going to the mall without the rush and the chaos. Every store in the space is pretty considered — like a one-of-one space. At the Bioscope you can watch movies you can’t see at the cinema; go to Ifuku and you might find a Prada shoe that you can’t get anywhere else. If you go to the plant store, they might have some pretty rare plants; go to the wine place and they’ll have a wall full of rare wines. The curation of the whole space is very niche. It’s a very unique, boutique-ish experience. Also, if you’re in Braamfontein, you’re bound to catch a great party. There’s this party called Umi — lots of live music, which has such a great vibe. The Playground is also good, and The Artivist throws good parties. The Artivist and Untitled Basement — different names but it’s like the same venue — is my local. For me, The Artivist is the best venue in Johannesburg. It’s great food, good service and they also have some art in there. So if you ever want to just peruse some art, listen to some good funky jazz and meet some really cool people, this is the spot. If you ever want to catch me, I’m always hanging out here at the bar, chatting up people and eating. And then Untitled Basement is an awesome venue for live music, with a piano in the centre of the dance floor; really fantastic vibes. Some established acts come sometimes, but it’s a lot of upcoming jazz acts. It’s a great place. If you ever end up in Johannesburg, I would highly recommend you come to this place. You will have a good time. My word is good: trust me.
Where to eat on either end of Jan Smuts Avenue
Toasted is the sandwich place. If you know, you know — it’s that kind of place. A lot of people make sandwiches, but not as good and they don’t have the same variety. It’s a good sandwich to have on a daily basis: it’s not fine dining, it’s just a very good sandwich. If you go, get the pickled fish, that’s the best one. It’s not my favourite — mine is the beetroot and goat’s cheese — but it is the best. But it’s not on the menu, you have to ask — it’s for the regulars. You just go ahead and ask, ‘Can I have it?’ then you have to wait and see if they have it. Then there’s The Royale. The menu is quite dope: I really like the cauliflower and the wings. And I like that there’s the option of sitting outside and inside, so you can separate yourself from the music; go sit outside and just socialise. And you can actually just enter the music section if you want to listen to music.
On the best places to visit outside of Johannesburg
There are some gems on the coast: Cape Town, Durban, the whole coast. You can go to the Cradle of Humankind, which is like a 45-minute drive away. That whole area is believed to be the beginning of existence: it’s where they found the oldest human. There’s a bunch of other good stuff there too — NIROX [Sculpture Park], lots of good art; and Farmhouse 58 is really cool, especially in the summer.
On the South African spirit of ubuntu
Ubuntu just means to be human, you know, that's all it is. It's Xhosa: ungumuntu means ‘be a human.’ It’s gotten these weird connotations and titles, but it's all it means. It's just fucking act like a human; just be a human to other humans. But obviously, it means be kind to other humans, which is human.
On what always brings you back to South Africa
Family. And friends. I mean, I’ve spent most of my life here, so it’s hard to just detach from that.
On performing around the world
I don’t think I have a favourite place to perform. I try to make wherever I am the best place — so it’s not about the actual geography; mainly it’s got to do with me. It’s one of the ways I’m trying to mould myself, because if I have a favourite place, then I would have a bias towards it. Instead I try to deal with whatever cards I’m dealt: if I’m in Copenhagen, then that’s where we are. And I do this because I think I’m living the life that people want to have on their bucket lists. When I was in high school, a show like Live at the Apollo would have been a crazy thing to even attend, let alone perform at. I travel the world and do stand-up, and I get to say things like, ‘I got a Netflix special.’ Yeah, I’m pretty happy with my career.
‘Ubuntu just means to be human. That’s all it is. Just be a human to other humans.’
On your favourite quote
‘Your best project in life is your life.’ I mean, what’s better than shaping yourself? Sometimes someone can articulate what you’ve been doing with words. That’s philosophy, in a sense. Good philosophers are able to articulate these difficult ideas into very few words. So that quote — the best project you can ever indulge is yourself, that’s the best project. You can mould yourself into whatever you want yourself to be.
On one song that sums up Johannesburg
I have to go through a catalogue of songs in my mind… To pin down one song is a bit crazy. Maybe Hugh Masekela’s ‘Stimela,’ which just talks about the train and this migrant labour that comes in to dig up this coal. But that’s an old Joburg song.
On aisle vs window seat
None of that matters — as long as you’re not close to the toilet.