Showmax's Trippin with Skhumba is putting vernacular in the spotlight

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Skhumba Hlophe.
Skhumba Hlophe.

Streaming platform Showmax has released its third local original show, with comedian, radio presenter and actor Skhumba Hlophe at its head. In this road trip series with an organic feel, the liberal inclusion of the vernacular is sure to draw new audiences to the service, writes Grethe Kemp.

With the success of the SA Film and Television Award-winning Showmax original, Tali’s Wedding Diary, and the new thriller, The Girl from St Agnes, Showmax has released its third original production, Trippin’ with Skhumba, in partnership with Diprente Films. Each episode sees funnyman Skhumba Hlophe take his aircon-less van – or caracara as he calls it – to visit his comedian friends in their home towns.

It’s the story behind the success and features Mashabela Galanein Limpopo, Celeste Ntuli in Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal, Siya Seya in Walmer Township, Port Elizabeth, Salesman in Pretoria, Tumi Morake in Bloemfontein and Schalk Bezuidenhout in Kempton Park.

#Trending caught up with Hlophe over the phone and asked how it all came about.

“I’m a big brand. I’m not just a comedian, nje. I’m an award-winning comedian,” he says. “Showmax approached me to do something with it and asked me what I could bring to the table. I came up with the concept of visiting my friends nationwide in their home towns and finding out more about them and how they ended up on stage.”

Candice Fangueiro, head of content for MultiChoice connected video, says about picking Skhumba for a show: “Comedy is a big driver of sign-ups and views for video-on-demand services, so we knew we wanted to start there. We love the big international comedy names but, for a Showmax original, we obviously wanted to showcase local talent.

“Skhumba absolutely stole the show at the Comedy Central Roast of Somizi – and we knew at that point he’d be perfect for this production.”

In the first episode Skhumba visits Galane’s home town, Moletjie village, in Limpopo. Galane grew up herding cows and driving his father’s tractor – and it goes without saying that his upbringing didn’t include going to comedy clubs.

He credits Thobela FM’s Ben Maraka with exposing him to comedy. “He used to do skits on radio, way back in the day. He had a cassette of jokes in Sepedi – and I thought I could do it too.”

Not only did Galane go on to become a successful, award-winning comedian and kwaito star, he’s also the founder of Rare Moringa Gin, a gin distilled using the moringa leaf native to Limpopo. It won Double Gold at last year’s Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Awards.

Rough around the edges

It’s stories like these that take Trippin’ from being a comedy show to something more inspiring.

“I wanted the show to be real,” says Hlophe. “I wanted to show where we come from and what really motivates us to be as hardworking as we are today. I didn’t want another one of those reality shows where they show riches and Champagne. I wanted to show where people come from.”

The reality format means the show didn’t need a massive budget, an important aspect for a new streaming platform.

Says Fangueiro: “Reality TV by its nature is faster to produce than a scripted drama – so that benefits the budget. On the upside we get more genuinely surprising interaction and utterly unexpected conversations than if we’d run with a scripted show. The trade-off is production values tend to be more rough and ready.”

“It takes three days to shoot each comedian I visit,” says Hlophe. “We’re trying to show not only the beauty of where they come from.

The show ended up how I wanted it to be. After the first episode people were saying ‘This show is so organic and authentic’. I didn’t want people to watch it and think ‘They tried so hard to make it so perfect’. This is not a perfect show, it shows me driving in a car without an air con, with cameras following me around and everything is unscripted.”

Trippin’s director is Vincent Moloi, the man behind award-winning productions such as Tjovitjo and Skulls Of My People.

“Trippin’ with Skhumba is flipping funny,” he told Sawubona magazine. “It’s real. It represents, to me, the ultimate exploration of South Africa’s humour in a very truthful way.

“It has an uncompromisingly authentic texture. Be ready to laugh at our misfortunes and our greatness,” says Moloi.

The fact that the first episode shows Galane speaking Sepedi is an important one.

“I wanted to do a show that I’m extremely comfortable in,” says Hlophe. “I didn’t want to put myself in a corner where I sound a certain way. I wanted to speak to my friends the way I’ve always spoken to them. Showmax took a huge risk to allow me to be me throughout the series. But I think it also shows people we can be comfortable with who we are, wherever we are.”

Growing platform

I ask Fangueiro why Showmax released a show like this only now.

“Why wasn’t it our first original – why did Tali’s Wedding Diary and The Girl From St Agnes come first? To be blunt, we’ve not had a grand plan of what should come first. Tali was pitched to us and we loved the teaser episode.

“Also we loved the idea of working with a YouTube star to migrate to an SVOD [subscription video on demand] service. From there we wanted to explore the drama genre and The Girl From St Agnes came to us at exactly the right time. When you’re early in the game you need to test various formats, which is why moving to a reality show with Trippin’ with Skhumba made so much sense. T

he good news is there are more Showmax originals coming up this year, with new genres and formats.”

And will there be more vernacular shows?

“That’s the plan. We want great local shows and we don’t want to limit ourselves to one or two languages.”

While South Africa’s high data costs and lack of access to the internet are still huge hampers on streaming services, Fangueiro says Showmax has been growing well.

“We don’t disclose subscriber stats but what I can say is that, based on third-party data, it looks like we’re on par in South Africa with the giant international service that shall not be named. I think that’s a heck of an achievement and a testament to the fact that we’re buying content and making shows that people want to see,” says Fangueiro.

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