Tshireletso ‘Mo’ Mothebe is one of 13 South African comedians hand-picked by Trevor Noah to appear on Trevor Noah presents "Nationwild."
Mo is originally from QwaQwa but is now based in Pretoria. The comedy bug bit in matric, when he started hosting assemblies, impersonating teachers and doing sketches, but he nearly became an economist instead of a comedian.
“In my last year before I graduated, I started getting paid from comedy,” says the Monash University economics graduate. “I made a deal with my dad. I could live under his roof for one year and if comedy didn’t support me after a year, I’d have to go be an economist and crunch numbers the rest of my life.”
Thankfully, after beginning his comedy career in 2013, Mo won a Standard Bank Ovation Award at The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July 2015 - the first person in the history of the arts festival to win a comedy Ovation award without having a one-man show. He was nominated as Best Newcomer at the Comics’ Choice awards that year; opened for Loyiso Gola’s one-man show across South Africa in 2016; and debuted his one-man show The Chocolate Chronicles in 2017, earning a Best Intermediate Comic nomination at the Comics’ Choice Awards. He’s also been nominated for a SAFTA as part of the core writing team on The Bantu Hour. “So I didn’t have to crunch numbers,” he says. “I’ve never had a job in my life.”
Comedy isn’t work for Mo. “For a lot of us, stand-up comedy is more than just making you guys laugh; a lot of times it’s more therapeutic for us than it is for the audience. People don’t realise that. When you’re not afraid to be yourself on stage, when you’re the person on stage you are in real life, it stops being work or performance: it’s therapy; it’s just you being yourself.”
In Trevor Noah presents "Nationwild," each episode features a short introductory set by Trevor as the host, an interview with the featured comedian about their ladder to success, followed by that comedian’s set.
In his episode, Mo explains why he uses a stage name. “My stage name is Mo Mothebe. However, my government name is Tshireletso. I use my stage name because whenever I tell Caucasians that my first name is Tshireletso, I get the same response: ‘Wow. That’s a beautiful name, hey.’ That’s code in Caucasian for: ‘This guy better have a nickname or I’m going to call him Thomas.’”
Considering that Trevor’s already given fellow African comedians like David Kibuuka and Loyiso Madinga regular work on "The Daily Show," anything’s possible next for Mo and the other stars of Trevor Noah Presents "Nationwild," who include 2018 Comics’ Choice Next Level winner Phil de Lange and Best Newcomer winner Tsitsi Chiumya, as well as 2018 nominees Bongani Dube, Eric Jansen, Gilli Apter and Lindy Johnson, 2017 Best Intermediate nominee Noko Moswete, and 2016 Comics’ Choice Breakthrough Comic Award winner Virgil Prins (aka Prins), not to forget rising stars Gavin Kelly, Keenan Cerff, Kraai Du Toit and Mbu Msongwela.
But whatever happens next, Mo believes his time with Trevor has already been invaluable. “The first time I met Trevor was backstage at the Dome,” he recalls.
“He spoke to me about my set. It was very precise. It wasn’t the generic advice that other comics sometimes give each other. It was very specific and down to a T, from segues to persona to my image to the way I present myself and how I do the characters on stage. I think that ninety percent of comedians on Earth - not just the country but on Earth - won’t get a chance to have Trevor Noah watch them perform and then break down their set with them. It was surreal... the best comedy conversation I’ve ever been part of, even though I only said about four words.”
Mo performed overseas for the first time in 2017, in Berlin, and hopes Trevor Noah presents "Nationwild" will open more doors for him internationally. “I’d like to travel the world and perform in as many places as possible.”
He’s hoping his success will inspire other potential comedians to back themselves. “Maybe there’s a kid out there whose dad wants them to study accounting,” he says. “I want to show them that it’s viable to follow your dreams and you can actually do stand-up comedy and talk about your thoughts and opinions and convince people it’s funny for a living.”
Laugh your way through all 13 episodes of Trevor Noah presents "Nationwild" only on Showmax,
Watch "Nationwild" trailer below. Warning: Contains strong language.