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Why interviewing Loyiso Gola for ‘Unlearning’ was beyond a joke

Why interviewing Loyiso Gola for ‘Unlearning’ was beyond a joke

I’ve been covering the entertainment industry for a while now. And I won’t deny that having access to talent – local and international – is a wonderful upside of the job.

But there’s a downside, too.

Sometimes these interviews can be frustrating.

It could be that that personality is having an off day or you caught them at a bad time.

And it doesn’t matter that the chat was scheduled in advance. It is what it is.

I recently found myself in a bit of a conundrum when interviewing Loyiso Gola about his stand-up comedy show, “Unlearning”, on Netflix.

Now, this is a big deal. Since “Comedians of the World” in 2019, this is the streaming platform’s first African investment in an hour-long stand-up comedy show.

Two decades in the industry, Gola doesn’t just have comedic clout, he has an Emmy nod, too, for his political satire, “Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola”, which aired on e.tv and ENCA.

When you think of the industry’s comic legends, his name is up there with the best – and deservedly so.

And this is what baffles me about our chat.

After a whole 20-minutes on a Zoom video call, the show and, to a greater extent, the funny man as well, remained a mystery.

The interview got off to an awkward start – let’s just say camera angles and the positioning of a device is important, especially when sitting in a casual position while wearing baggy shorts.

PG distraction notwithstanding, we then debated on this being his first show with Netflix.

He said: “You are very mistaken. You are extremely mistaken. There was another show called ‘Comedians of the World’, that was on Netflix. There was a Netflix film called ‘Catching Feelings’ that I’m on.”

“But I mean this is your first solo stand-up show on Netflix,” I questioned, a little perplexed, might I add, because I did my best to research ahead of the interview.

“Oh yes, definitely. Okay, yeah yeah,” he responded.

As for the message behind the title, Gola explained: “Well, I think generally human beings find it so hard to unlearn habits that they have picked up throughout their life and it is like a lifelong quest to unlearn, whether it is indirectly or directly.

“For me, I’ve made it very direct. There is a bunch of stuff I’m ready to unlearn. So for me, it’s been a personal journey that I’ve turned into stand-up comedy.

“People usually go around the world saying that is the way I grew up.

“But it doesn’t mean that because that’s the way you grew up, it’s the way it should be. It just means you grew up like that. It doesn’t have to be stuck that way.”

To an extent, personal experience and observations influence his style of comedy.

With “Unlearning” shot during Covid-19 at Zeitz MOCAA, the biggest museum of African contemporary art in the world, I asked him whether it also forced him – like so many other artists – to adapt.

Gola shared: “Me, personally, I try less adapting but more perfecting what I’m trying to do.

“The thing about adaptability is also making a weird assumption that people know what they want.

“So the audience generally doesn’t know what they want. Audiences don’t know what they want, they know what they are used to.”

He broke down his approach in cricket analogy, looking at the 20/20, one-day internationals and five-day test series.

Depending on the stage he steps onto and the duration that he’s on for, he ensures his set is aligned with his energy.

He then added: “A global pandemic is definitely going to have an impact. Going forward, the arts and films coming out on Netflix is going to be quite tense and dense.”

He lost me when he made a comparison between his show and Sam Levinson’s black-and-white romantic drama, “Malcolm and Marie”.

The comedian continued: “Whether you are in any industry, it is affected by this thing. It doesn’t just pertain to me.

“The movies being made right now, when they come out, you going to see the minimalism of it, the dialogue-heavy, the slow pace, that is going to be the great art until 2023.

“My show will fit right into that. My show takes its time. We are not rushing to get to the end.”

Pushing forward, I asked him what viewers might take away from the show.

He pointed out, “I don’t want to predict how they will enjoy it,” and asked, “So what did you think?”

I admitted to appreciating the self-effacing and observational humour, especially in his quips about being sent to a Muslim school, the cultural awakening of the experience. He even brought the azan, which is a call to prayer, into the conversation.

Gola interjected: “I’m trying to understand. Did the themes of unlearning come across?

“Well, let me put it to you like this. People are going to watch this in 20 territories in the world. This show is a South African show by accident.”

At this point, I couldn’t help but question the somewhat misplaced philosophical standpoint as we were discussing a comedy show.

No disrespect to Gola (and hopefully, Siv Ngesi won’t take offence either), but this interview felt like a joke – a bad one at that!

“Loyiso Gola: Unlearning” is currently streaming on Netflix.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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