Mdu Ntuli is in the middle of drawing an episode of Izikhokho Show that is yet to air on Comedy Central (DStv channel 122) when I catch up with him.
“I can’t tell you what the story is going to be about,” he says with a giggle, “but I can say it involves a sangoma moving to Limpopo.”
You’ll have to wait until 8.55pm next Monday to see what Ntuli is talking about, but if the responses from any of his other animated shorts are anything to go by, it’s guaranteed to get most people laughing.
The short programmes (all under 10 minutes) that have taken the web by storm were originally intended to be TV shows.
“I remember I had about eight minutes,” Ntuli shares, “and it was intended for the SABC. We took it to them, but there was no opportunity for it there so we thought we’d (have to) throw it away.”
But a while later, Ntuli received a call from people at Comedy Central who wanted to screen the shorts every Monday night.
“I was very surprised that they called,” he admits. “I thought to myself, ‘aren’t they too big for this?’.” Turns out they’re not.
When I first encountered Izikhokho, which directly translated means “burnt pap”, but over the years has become a slang word for “legend”, it was through a video that had gone viral. The short clip had become a hit on the Net and so many people had it on their cellphones you didn’t have to ask anyone twice if they’d Bluetooth or bbm it to you.
It featured the likeness of Senzo and Jason, the gay couple from Generations, and it helped to make Izikhokho Show a household name before Ntuli received that call from Comedy Central.
But how did it all start?
“I actually had a comic strip called Zulu Boy and Rudolph,” starts Ntuli. “Zulu Boy is a taxi driver and Rudolph is his alien sidekick and both of them are rescuing us from the Swazis taking over South Africa.
“There were the technical details that interested me about this kind of storyline, but I also loved the idea of trying to create something that would not get boring very quickly. So I took these two characters and put them in the same space.”
But why name the alien Rudolph?
“Well,” he hesitates before he laughs, “it’s Rudolph specifically because Zulu people find it difficult to say the letter ‘R’ so it ends up sounding like ‘Ludolph’.”
These two characters were a side project while Ntuli worked on creating comic strips for corporates such as Sanlam “about how to keep the office clean and positive messages”.
But they have since been joined by a host of other fan favourite characters such as Gogo Moloi, Bonang the Camel Toe and Sniper, who was inspired by the film, Phone Booth.
The most controversial of the lot, according to Ntuli, has to be the Jesus is a Shangaan video which has been viewed more than 134 700 times. A fictional character who obviously has parallels with Christ, Ntuli’s Jesus grew up teasing Shangaan people. Along with his trusty pet lamb Mbuzi, he has taken on everything from witchcraft in Limpopo (pronounced “Limpompo” in this series) to the ANC, and this Jesus would rather be anything than Shangaan.
“This was the only one that got mixed reactions,” confesses Ntuli.
“It also created a new debate about how far we can go and which lines can be crossed and which ones can’t. What got people upset is they thought in the end Jesus commits suicide, but the story doesn’t end there. (In the series) he actually goes and tries to stop the fights that occur because people thought he had committed suicide and I made it that way to try and expose the stupidity of stereotypes.”
I ask him why South Africans find it so easy to laugh at references to Shangaan or Limpopo and Ntuli says: “It’s funny because it’s ridiculous, it’s just stupid and people from Limpopo understand it’s just for fun.”
Hailing from Mpumalanga, Ntuli jokes that the reason he doesn’t make fun of his home town is that “everyone from Mpumalanga is perfect”.
What does seem perfect, is how Ntuli’s comics now have a continental audience who have compared them to South Park.
While he enjoys South Park, Ntuli says: “I don’t want to be compared to them, I just want to show the real, raw humour from real South Africans.”
For his next endeavour, Ntuli wants to “create an animated cartoon using the (axed public broadcaster’s show) Emzini Wezinsizwa’s characters and pitch it to the SABC. It’s an opportunity for people to be involved because maybe the SABC didn’t hear us the first time around”.
• Catch Izikhokho Show on Comedy Central (DStv channel 122) every Monday at 8.55pm.