Dillan Oliphant is an unassuming individual. He is quiet almost to a fault, as such a man of few words, so it is easy to wonder why this 22-year-old stand-up comedian has managed to hold the ears of his peers and the hearts of comedy lovers.
Until you see him perform on stage. Or share a taxi ride with him during which he tells you he should have known that Rosebank College wouldn’t work for him.
“It’s not even in Rosebank,” he exclaims with a toothy grin.
Thanks to being a man of few words – he’s hailed as a one-liner king-in-the-making – and delivering comedy in a deadpan yet hilarious style, Oliphant was named the Best Newcomer at this year’s Comic’s Choice Awards. These awards, which are the brainchild of comedian John Vlismas and comedy organiser Taffia Keight of Whacked, are unique in that other comedians nominate and vote for comedians in each category.
“Let’s be honest,” Oliphant tells me when I sit down with him, “it’s not as if newcomers have any fans so it’s good that these awards aren’t voted for by fans. Being chosen as the Newcomer of the Year makes me feel like I belong. Just a nomination should make comedians feel like they are in the industry for a reason and all I’m trying to do is get my own space in this industry.”
Oliphant will claim his space alongside the likes of Tats Nkonzo, Donovan Goliath and Monique Nortje in this weekend’s Comic’s Choice Winner’s Lap in Gold Reef City, Joburg. The event is also billed as a showcase of the future of South African comedy.
Comedy wasn’t always Oliphant’s plan for his future.
“I wanted to be a lawyer so I could protect people in Eldorado Park – which is where I live – because there’s lots of crime there. But I hated maths and didn’t enjoy school,” so passing the bar became a distant dream.
His love for writing led him to attempt studying journalism, but comedy didn’t enter his mind until this preacher’s son took a trip to Belgium with his church were they were to perform plays and entertain the disadvantaged.
“I know, I know, South Africans are more poor and need help more,” he quips as an aside. But that trip, watching Chris Rock and then Trevor Noah’s debut one-man show Daywalker, convinced Oliphant that comedy was his calling.
“My dad cried when I told him I wanted to be a comedian,” he says.
“His view was always for me to study, but he encouraged me to do it [comedy] after he asked me if I was going to swear. He told me I don’t need to swear to be funny.”
This is why a clean set is what you’ll get from shy Oliphant, though he swears it’s because he finds even dark humour funny that he can’t call himself a Christian comedian (a sub-genre that’s growing in the country).
With his family’s support as well as an opening slot for Noah’s sold-out Gauteng shows, Oliphant (who’s been a comedian for two years) has had a great year. If the Mayan calendar is wrong, we predict 2013 will be an even better one for the shy guy.
• The Comic’s Choice Winner’s Lap goes down at Gold Reef City on Friday and Saturday. 8.30pm. R100 to R285 at Computicket.