Landisa: Why one of SA’s most well-known comedians took a break for 18 months

2020-02-07 12:17
Simmi Areff.

Simmi Areff.

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Simmi Areff is one of South Africa’s most known comedians, with sold-out shows in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

He is also the host of ‘Lesser-known somebodies,’ the third most popular podcast in South Africa. 

However, in 2018 Areff took an 18-month break from comedy to “re-evaluate” his position. 

Landisa spoke to Areff about why he took the break, what he’s learnt and what he’d like to achieve with his comedy. 

Why did you take a break from comedy two years ago? 

I just took a massive break from comedy and I was working through a lot of things. I was just out of a relationship. Things wouldn't work, and that bumped me out and my comedy wasn't the greatest or it wasn't at a place where it is now, where I enjoy it. And I didn't like my comedy scene and I didn't like my industry and I was like, “when I speak, it sounds very blunt and brash.” I took a break from the industry just so I could find myself. Just like so I can re-evaluate.

So for me, everything in life comes down to good strategy. The reason why I love cricket so much is because it is like a game of chess: it's tactics. And Test match cricket is the best because you can't escape your fate unless the rain comes down. So you can't escape the fate of a Test match: if you are not good you'll be shown to not be good. And so I always look at Test match cricket and life. I'm just like, “Yo, there's always time to strategise.” You can save a Test match. There's winning, there's drawing and there's losing, but you can always save it. And that's the thing: I could always save my career. And that's why I took a break for two years or 18 months, to save my career. 

What was did you do during those 18 months? 

I sat at home. Firstly, I went to a therapist and I got myself good anti-depressants. Like I never thought, "ah, the reason why I act this way is because of my depression". Like no, I believe most people have suffered from some form of depression. I just felt that my mind was fuzz. Like I wasn't sad, like it was just hazy in my head.

And I am a very reasonable person. So if I can't work out things, I get frustrated with myself if I can't work out the solution to this problem. And so I was struggling to work out solutions to menial problems.

My friend owns a bakery I used to sit there every day. If someone came up to me and said, "where can I get a dozen rolls from," I'd say the Spar, not my own friend's bakery.

So I waited for that to subside and once I was thinking better I started writing better and performing better and then I wanted to perform more. I always have a love-hate relationship with comedy.

What were those 18 months like? 

It was a shitty, shitty time, like I was in a relationship for five years, left the relationship and when I wanted to come back, she had moved on and I hadn't.

And five years of giving yourself to someone is a lot of time and I know it sounds like it's only the number five, but five years are tiers, five years of hugs. And then also being the reason why it didn't work out. You know?

So you have to deal with all of those things and then at the same time still deal with being a voice with gravitas in comedy.

And now getting to the point where you go like: oh shit, you know you started doing this thing 10 years ago, it was just for fun and it was a good time and now you actually ... your voice is listened to. So dealing with all of those issues and I was like, I can take a break from this. I don't need it.

So I slowly start unpacking it and that's where therapy comes in. You speak to a guy who's not your mom or your dad or your sister and they say like, "well how did this make you feel? Maybe like this, maybe you should do this." And those things help because now you start working it out and the only reason why I don't go to therapy as much as I used to is because now my brain works pretty good. The cloud is gone. 

What were the lessons you learnt during that time? 

That there's never enough money in your bank accounts. The only reason why I started doing stand up again was more because it was an ego thing. I went on a date with a girl. And we went to my favourite place to go for dates, the arcades. And I wanted to go withdraw money to get tokens and it said insufficient funds? And then she's like, "how do you have insufficient funds?" And then I was like," I don't know." And then I was like, "I think I need to work now." So then I booked myself like a run of 10 shows in Cape Town. I left the next day. Like you need money in your bank if you want to continue those "Eat Pray Love" things. It doesn't work on a comedian's budget. 

How is the quality of South Africa’s comedy at the moment? 

So the first thing that people cut down on is entertainment. So if you ask guys if they are doing corporate, they'll say, "Yeah, I have one or two, but they don't have them in the abundance of five years ago. So South Africa's comedy bubble has popped, because there are so many people doing it, but there are so many people doing it at a level below what they really should be doing it. And so you get shitter shows the majority of the time.

What do you want to achieve with you comedy? 

You see, I don't, I don't prescribe to the thought of comedy only being a thing to make people laugh.

So for me, it's always about breaking down a concept in a funny way.

I use the conduit of comedy to break down concepts.

And I certainly believe that to make good comedy, you have to have moments of tension.

And I like using vulnerability because I'm very good at crafting my jokes in a vulnerable way.

So I wouldn't say that, like, I'm forced to make people laugh in a show where it's just 100% good time jokes.

I like breaking something down. So with my show "Love and other jokes", I break down my relationship to its core things.

And then I can feel the sadness in the room. I can feel it. I even do poetry in my show, where there are sad poems. But I know that I'm eight minutes away from a banging punch line. And that's what I do. So I don't see them as polar opposites. I see them working with each other or else it just doesn't come across as very authentic.

Do you have a story to share? Send it to landisa@news24.com and include your contact details and a photo. Visit Landisa for more stories.

Read more on:    comedy  |  depression  |  simmi areff
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