Thenjiwe Moseley talks about women in comedy

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My grandmother still prays for me to get a real job.” Comedian Thenjiwe Moseley talks all things comedy.

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What made you pursue comedy?

I was with my colleagues in a comedy club in London. My colleagues dared me to go on stage because apparently I was always funny at work. I went on stage did five minutes, and from then I knew I was put on this earth to heal people through laughter.

Before pursuing comedy, what were you working on?

I worked in the USA as an au pair for two years, then moved to Britain where I studied for an LLB at London University – it was the closest thing to being on stage and having an audience every day in court was a bonus. I did Speech and Drama as one of my subjects in school and after matric I did a three-year diploma at the then Technikon Natal. After graduating, it was impossible for me to attend auditions in Johannesburg because money was dololo.

How were you able to explain to your parents that this is the career you wanted to go for and how did they react?

Although I started when I was much older, my grandmother still prays for me to get a real job. She does not understand why people pay me just for telling jokes and the fact that I do it at night and in Johannesburg makes her suspect it is more than jokes that I sell.

What were some of the challenges you faced when you started out as a woman in comedy?

People still give women a difficult time; they think women are not funny, so we have to work extra hard. I can perform with 10 men and be the funniest and get a standing ovation, but I’ll still be referred to as a funny woman instead of a funny comedian. Another challenge for female comedians is that most of the gigs are at night, making it unsafe for women to travel alone, especially when one is starting out and does not have a car. Male promoters also seem to think they can’t have more than two women on a line up, which is why it’s important for women to work together and do more all-female line ups. Last year, Whacked Project Management hosted the biggest comedy show #BITCHESBEBACK at the Carnival City, which was a huge success because it was women-only line up. On 6 August I am taking my show to Pretoria State Theatre.

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Your videos are extremely popular on social media. Was making your comedy into videos a conscious decision?

I started my comedy career in London, and it did not make financial sense to always fly to SA to do five-minute slots just to prove to promoters I was funny. As a female performer, I was disrespected a lot – one promoter did not pay me after performing in two of his sold out shows (where I got standing ovations), so I decided to reach people through social media, and I’m very fortunate to get the reception I have been receiving.

How has the response from people been for you?

People have shown me a lot of love; not only do they love my videos but they also show the love by attending my shows. LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE is my first one women show and I did not expect it to sell out in so many cities Social media is the way to go, I did not expect my skits to be so viral because they are in isiZulu, but Nguni speaking people are all over the world. Through my skits I have been invited to perform in Berlin, Cannes and Canada. I even have fans in Russia.

Please tell us about your upcoming one-woman show?

LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE are shows that open conversations that people shy away from. As a country we’ve gone through a lot that we’re too afraid to discuss, but through laughter, we can all unite and talk about our differences. I will be joined by other female comedians, Lihle Msimang and Khanyisa Bunu, with Dawn Thandeka King as the MC. On 12 August, I’m at Emnotweni Casino, in Nelspruit and 27 August, The Ridge Casino in Witbank with the godmother of SA comedy Tumi Morake and Dawn Thandeka King as the MC and because we are celebrating women, we will also have Aya Mpama entertaining our audiences with her music.

There are very few women in comedy, what do you think is the problem and how can we solve it?

Women are very funny, most households are led by women and most of our male comedians don’t even know their daddies, so they get their sense of humour from their mothers, grandmothers and aunts or the maids that raised them. The main problem is that because most shows happen in the evening, it is difficult to travel without a car, and when one reaches the professional level, there is a lot of travelling involved. We also need more female promoters in this industry so that women can work in a safe environment with people who understand. I have heard of stories where female comedians have been asked to share rooms with male comedians.

Which women do you look up to?

I loved Whoopie Goldberg, at the time I did not even know she was a stand up comedian. I was just happy to see a funny woman that looked like me. I also loved Joan Rivers – she is the funniest! Michelle Obama is my First Lady of choice, she gives hope to all black women who dream of a better future. Tumi Morake is the hardest working stand-up comedian I know and she paved the way for us. I think she should be the next SA President. Celeste Ntuli is my friend and partner in laughs; we have been friends for 18 years. She is the most natural comedian that I know.

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