Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Race, polygamy and politics: S. African comic duo stir up stereotypes

From Jessica Ellis, CNN
updated 10:20 AM EST, Tue February 7, 2012
Nik Rabinowitz is Jewish, Xhosa-speaking South African comedian with a loyal fan base around the country. Nik Rabinowitz is Jewish, Xhosa-speaking South African comedian with a loyal fan base around the country.
HIDE CAPTION
The South African comic duo
The South African comic duo
The South African comic duo
The South African comic duo
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nik Rabinowitz and Tats Nkonzo are two South African stand-up comedians
  • They are using laughter to help people accept uncomfortable truths
  • Race, religion, polygamy and well-known politicians are all included in their act

(CNN) -- Armed with big grins and risque humor, South African standup comedians Nik Rabinowitz and Tats Nkonzo take to the stage at Cape Town's Baxter Theater.

"We would like to dedicate this song to all the black people in the audience -- I can only see one," says Rabinowitz. "I see three of us tonight," quickly adds Nkonzo, with the audience bursting into laughter.

Over the next hour, the two South African comedians -- one white, one black -- will deliver their own brand of comedy, using an arsenal of jokes to stir up stigmas and stereotypes in a nation striving to come to terms with its racist past.

"In this country a lot of us do use comedy to confront various things and challenge certain ideas and it is just the tip of the iceberg," award-winning Rabinowitz said before the show.

"We do need to poke our fingers in certain places and say, 'well, this is still going on,' and I think particularly around Africa we need to do that -- and we do," he added.

Becoming a comedian with a message

See also: Master storyteller brings folk tales to life

From race and religion jokes to polygamy gags and political spoofs, Rabinowitz and Nkonzo are using satire to help South Africans accept uncomfortable truths -- and the jokes go a long way.

"I have a polygamy gag where I talk about, I wonder what love songs a polygamist sings to their wives, because there are no love songs that cater to polygamists," said Nkonzo, a rising star in South Africa's comedy circuit, who often incorporates music and singing to his performance.

Addressing racism through comedy

"I had to sit down and go how do I say what I want to say, so then that's how the music thing came and then I go on the whole spiel about they don't have any love songs to sing to their wives and then people laugh -- I win, they win.

A comedian's toughest critic

"You know this song; you're like a dream come true, just want to be with you, you know it's plain to see, that you're the one for me ... four... five, if ever your work is done, then I'll get another one."

See also: South African ballet dancer confounds racial stereotypes

In this country a lot of us do use comedy to confront various things and challenge certain ideas and it is just the tip of the iceberg.
Nik Rabinowitz

Having a similar approach to comedy makes Rabinowitz and Nkonzo work well together, but the two artists found their calling in different ways.

A much-loved impersonator, Rabinowitz has a loyal fan base from all around South Africa. Besides taking to the stage, he also has a regular slot on local radio with his own political satire show.

His comedy career started after he joined a theater company traveling around Africa in his post-university years. Rabinowitz says visiting different countries across Africa helped him enrich his understanding of the continent, as well as pick up different cultural elements that he still uses in his act.

"I spent time in Kenya as well -- they do an interesting thing there where they mix up their 'L's' and their 'R's' in Kenya, so they would say things like, 'we know all about Mr Zuma, your plesident' and we'd say, 'What do you know about him?' 'And they'd say, 'We know he's got a big erection coming up this year,' and we say, 'Yes, that's true,'" said Rabinowitz, reciting one of the jokes in his act.

In his latest show, he shares the stage with up-and-coming Nkonzo, who started his career three years ago after taking part in a reality TV show for comics.

See also: Comedy, mystery and post-apartheid fallout: The best of African film

Nkonzo, who often appears on stage with a guitar, said that all of his comedy comes after serious thinking. The challenge, he explains, is to communicate whatever he wants to say but also be funny.

"Comedy is very much hiding hilarity in the humor -- I'm saying what I want to say and you're accepting it and we kind of both win. I feel like I haven't cheated myself, I've told you what I need to say, I've given you your laughs and yet I've left you with something. That's the tension for me."

Rabinowitz and Nkonzo see themselves as the watchdogs of society in South Africa, pointing fingers and exposing the absurdity of the rigid mindset.

"And we have to do it in the light way," said Nkonzo. "If there's an army, that's our post -- there are the president and the law makers and you know, whatevers, we are the comedy wing."

Teo Kermeliotis contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
African Voices
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
The veiled female rapper tackling Egyptian taboos head on
Meet Mayam Mahmoud, the 18-year-old Egyptian singer tackling gender stereotypes through hip-hop.
updated 6:50 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
As the head of Kenya Red Cross, Abbas Gullet was one of the first emergency responders at the Westgate shopping mall.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Wed March 19, 2014
Gikonyo performs a medical check-up for one of her patients at Karen Hospital in Kenya.
Leading pediatric surgeon Betty Gikonyo reveals how her life changed at 30,000 feet and her mission to save the lives of countless disadvantaged children in Kenya.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Biyi Bandele
As a child, Biyi Bandele immersed himself in a world of literature. Today he's taken that passion and turned it into a career as a celebrated writer, playwright and now director.
updated 6:26 AM EST, Wed February 26, 2014
Sanaa Hamri in Los Angeles, 2011.
Music video and film director Sanaa Hamri shares her story of how she made it from the streets of Tangier to the big film studios in the United States.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
African Voices meets James Ebo Whyte a passionate storyteller with a series of successful plays to his credit.
updated 5:16 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
Actress Lupita Nyong'o attends the 86th Academy Awards nominees luncheon at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 10, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o has become a new critics' darling after her breakout role in last year's hit movie "12 Years A Slave."
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Celebrated designer Adama Paris reveals how she was tired of seeing "skinny blonde models" on all the runways, so she did something about it.
updated 11:48 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Packaging can change how people see things. And when it comes to sex, it could maybe help save lives too.
updated 7:06 AM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Global perceptions of the tiny country in east-central Africa are often still stuck in 1994 but local photographers are hoping to change that.
updated 8:34 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
A Silverback male mountain Gorilla sits in the dense jungle canopy on the edge of Uganda's Bwindi National Park in this 29, January 2007 photo. Bwindi, or the 'Impenetrable Forest' as it is known to many tourists is home to the majority of Uganda's rare and endangered mountain gorilla population where plans are underway to habituate two more gorilla family groups to counter growing demand from a flourishing gorilla trek tourism business, a major source of income for the Uganda tourism Authority. AFP PHOTO / STUART PRICE. (Photo credit should read STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images)
Meet Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, the woman from Uganda trying to save critically endangered mountain gorillas before its too late.
updated 5:39 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
Lightenings strike over Johannesburg during a storm on December 14, 2013.
Ending energy poverty is central to a resurgent Africa, writes entrepreneur Tony O. Elumelu.
updated 5:45 AM EST, Fri February 7, 2014
A group of young students have taken stereotypes about the continent -- and destroyed them one by one.
updated 6:14 AM EDT, Tue April 1, 2014
Grace Amey-Obeng has built a multi-million dollar cosmetics empire that's helping change the perception of beauty for many.
Each week African Voices brings you inspiring and compelling profiles of Africans across the continent and around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT