Local comedian Sne Dladla on dropping out, his breakthrough and family

Sne Dladla. (Photo: Getty Images/Gallo Images)
Sne Dladla. (Photo: Getty Images/Gallo Images)

Cape Town - He’s an actor, dancer and musician, an uncanny impressionist and a roll-on-the-floor funny comedian – all of which means one thing: this guy is impossible to put in a box.

And with so much going for him, it’s little wonder Sne Dladla’s star is rising.

He already has two Fleur du Cap theatre awards under his belt, stars in Comedy Central’s Laugh in Your Language on DStv and is touring in his third one-man show, Darker Hue. It’s a lot for one person to juggle – but then most people don’t have the kind of energy Sne’s blessed with.

Vitality seems to fizz from every pore when we meet him at his home in Malanshof, Joburg. "I'm an observational comic," the 28-year-old informs us. "My biggest thing is to exploit the tricks we use in the world to get our own way."

Comedy comes naturally and his knack for impressions goes back to his school days when he often drove teachers crazy. "I used to imitate a cellphone on vibrate. Back then the vibration sound from phones was a lot louder than it is now so in class I'd make the sound and the teacher would ask, 'Whose cellphone is that?' and I'd say, 'I don’t know, ma'am' and I'd just keep on making the sound."

Growing up in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, comedy often got him out of sticky situations. "I'm the youngest of seven kids. My siblings all thought they could push me around and as a mechanism to get out of it, I'd crack jokes."

It was also an antidote to the tedium of small-town life. "Every year we were promised a cinema – and every year we got a car dealership instead. So there was nothing to do but go out and hike, play games or make up jokes."

His flair for the funny developed after school. He went to Rhodes University to study drama and classical music – his other great love – and in his second year a friend asked him to join what was known as "The Comedy Troupe". He was then asked to MC at an event hosted by the women's accounting society.

"That was a trial run for me to see if my material worked, and it did. Lucky for me because I would've abandoned it if it hadn't worked out," he says.

Sne then decided to try to make a living out of comedy so he dropped out of varsity and moved to Cape Town in search of his big break. His parents were sceptical, he admits. Dad, Petros, a hospital manager, and mom, Samkelisiwe, a teacher, didn't know if their son would succeed – but they supported him when even Sne himself wondered if he'd ever make it.

He arrived in Cape Town with R7 000 to his name and every door he knocked on was closed firmly in his face. He needed experience in the game, he was told – real hours under his belt.

"Soon I was flat broke," Sne says. "It was just me, noodles, bread and water in a dingy flat. It was terrible."

He eventually managed to land gigs, but his comedy didn't take off at first – and to make matters worse, his parents witnessed his disaster first hand.

"I called them and told them my jokes were funny so they came to see me perform. I bombed. I got over-confident and wrote new material. For the first three minutes the audience was silent and then I thought, let me take out my guitar to try to save this but my battery [to amplify the sound] was flat.

"Straight after I got off stage my dad came up to me and said, 'My boy, what about exploring music instead?'"

But Sne persisted and continued to work in comedy and theatre. He met up with playwright and theatre director Nicholas Ellenbogen and together they worked on the show Fergus of Galloway, which won a Fleur du Cap award.

Sne was then spotted by David Kramer and that paved the way for meaty theatre roles. As his name became more well known, people began to flock to his stand-up routines and he's since had three one-man shows. "This year is officially my biggest gig," he says.

What sets Sne apart from other comedians is he uses his background in music to add elements of sound and movement to his shows, making them sensory experiences too.

"I look at how music manipulates us to feel emotion," he says.

Sne is a devoted family man and it's a big part of what drives him. "We just make sense," he says of his fiancée, Natasha Hess (27), who's also an entertainer.

The pair met after Sne saw her perform in the musical West Side Story. "When I watched her sing her solo I cried," Sne says. They later performed in a show together and romance blossomed. Fast forward a few years and they're proud parents of a son, Ché (1).

Sne and Natasha are in no rush to walk down the aisle. "We got engaged in December but we'll only get married in two to three years' time," he says.

"I'm not getting married in debt. As an artist I get paid in lump sums, I keep putting money away. In a few years I'll have enough."

The family moved to Joburg last year, where Sne says the money and prospects are better. As much as he has a market in Cape Town, he feels he came across too much discrimination in the Mother City.

"No disrespect to the audiences, but production companies in Cape Town don't take local acts seriously, especially if you're a person of colour. I couldn't do it anymore and it's not a place I wanted my son to grow up in.

"I can't raise a son when I'm angry as I'd just transfer that anger to him. He just loves people and he doesn't see colour at all. So I'm learning stuff from him too.

"That's why I called my show Darker Hue. I'm finally in a place where I'm in love with the colour of my own skin and that internal love is now translating to external love.

"That’s what the show is about. I'm all about pushing the ante. Let's laugh, but let's feel a little uncomfortable too."

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