After a day at Robben Island and a night spent showing up-and-coming comedians how to handle a crowd, it is surprising that Kagiso Lediga is only about to debut his one-man comedy show this year, writes Helen Herimbi.
Our bus is the first to leave the outside quarters and enter Robben Island. Kagiso Lediga and I are standing in a bus full of seated American, Irish, English, Indian and more foreign tourists.
We come to a stop. Rich blue waves crash against the rocks on the one side of the road that, the tour guide tells us, was built from the limestone that was harmful to the political prisoners’ eyes.
On the other side is a yard with a house that has a red roof. “Whose house was that?” asks the guide, pointing at Lediga. “Nelson Mandela!” he answers a little too quickly. The answer is Robert Sobukwe, which almost everyone shouts at Lediga, and the SA comedian seems embarrassed.
“Robert Sobukwe was the leader of…” and before the guide has finished his sentence, Lediga shouts out: “PAC!”
With a look of satisfaction, he looks around the bus: “At least I redeemed myself. Sjoe.”
On a blazing weekday morning, Lediga, who grew up in Pretoria, attended drama school at UCT and lives in Joburg with his girlfriend and son, is on Robben Island because he’s never been there before. He’s in Cape Town to promote his upcoming one-man show, In a Suit, which opens in Joburg on Friday.
“I usually say: ‘Because In Pyjamas was already taken’ when people ask me why I named it In a Suit,” he tells me. “I take it like this: I’m using the word ‘suit’ because it’s like, ‘Let’s get serious’. I had one suit made, which I wore at the Bunny Chow (in which he acted) opening in Toronto, Canada. And even then I wore it my way. I have never been a suit type of guy.”
Then, out of nowhere, he laughs.
Lediga lifts his red-rimmed glasses and says: “The first bad thing I read about myself was after I’d performed at the Blackout show in Jozi and Shwashwi (Sunday World columnist) was there. They wrote: ‘We’re sure he washes, but he looks so dirty’.”
I’m gobsmacked, so I ask how he handles bad press. “I guess I just have a thick skin,” he shrugs. As one of the chief brains behind eNews and e.tv’s Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola, this comes in handy.
But something else tested how tough his skin is: working on The Phat Joe Show.
“I left Cape Town to go and work on The Phat Joe Show. When Joe came to get me I remember he said: ‘My man, you are about to enter the eye of the storm!’ I didn’t know what he meant until I started seeing him in the papers every week. He is a dangerous rabble-rouser and that show worked because of his personality. Actually, LNN owes a lot to Joe actually offending people. People think because of the kinds of things we say on LNN we probably get into trouble a lot, but we never get letters from high powers saying we are offending people. I guess Joe took all those bullets.”
Most entertainers always want to be in the spotlight, the life of the party. But as evinced by the fact that Lediga is known as Uncle Kags to up-and-coming comedians and those who came after him, he has never had qualms with being the behind-the-scenes guy. Even in his upcoming film, Blitz Patrollie (which stars friend and Pure Monate Show collaborator David Kau and Joey Rasdien), Lediga has little screentime but wears the hats of producer and scriptwriter well.
Lediga is definitely living his childhood dream of becoming a filmmaker. “I guess I’m competing in both worlds,” he says. “I can be a filmmaker on one side and a stand-up comedian on the other. I’m like the Jacob Zuma of the arts, I’ve got many wives.”
Back at Robben Island, we get to walk in the footsteps of the most famous ANC member.
We roll our eyes at a man who insists on smiling while holding the bars of a jail cell. I tell Kagiso it’s really difficult to pull a pose, never mind a smile, in front of prisoner number 46664’s tiny cell and he says: “That’s actually a good gag.”
But I decide I shouldn’t quit my day job just yet.
The 33-year-old takes pictures with a group of schoolchildren, fields suggestions to “tell us a joke” and shakes hands or nods his spiky dreads in the direction of people who recognise him as “the DJ from the Savannah ad” and takes the Robben Island experience in. Later that night, Lediga is to perform at a local comedy club.
The club is almost quiet. A cough here, chatter from the smokers on the balcony, friends exchanging glances that speak volumes. The guy on stage sucks. He says something about getting a lonely feeling when on stage, mic in hand and trying to make people laugh. A few awkward silences and two acts later, someone else is introduced as the act. The host for the evening bows down and thrusts the mic into the air with both hands.
Like Raffiki did with cub Simba.
Lediga steps up and accepts the mic. He recounts his Robben Island experience and imagines a world where Mandela hadn’t been for reconciliation, but the former boxer punched the oppressors and said things like: “Woza De Klerk, I want to nationalise your pants.” Guffaws ring out from the moment he touches the stage until he says: “You’ve been wonderful, my name is Kagiso Lediga.”