‘I often think of myself as sushi. You either love me, or you hate me.” This is possibly the best way to describe the relationship that South Africans have developed with actor, presenter and all-round Superman (because of his appreciation for Clark Kent) Siv Ngesi.
After a four year hiatus, the sivilised sitizen Ngesi will return to the stand-up comedy stage with a run of shows in Cape Town. And he has promised that the raw truth will drip from his show.
He admits that he’s a jack of all trades, being a film actor, appearing on television as a presenter and on the stage. Asked to pick his favourite medium, Ngesi replied: “That’s like asking Jacob Zuma to pick his favourite wife. It’s a difficult one, comrade”.
While his first love will always be film because of his training, the adrenalin rush he gets from doing stand-up comedy is what keeps him coming back to the stage.
“The adrenalin is like that you get from skydiving. There’s the possibility of death, so that thrill is nice. You feel like you’re dying but you do it over and over again,” he explains with a sparkle in his eye.
When he last took on stand-up comedy, it was through his shows Dekaf and Race Card. The two shows were heavily steeped in race, most of the stories coming from Ngesi’s own upbringing that coincided with the birth of the new South Africa.
He explains that he was born and partially raised in a black community, before moving to a white one.
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“The differences punch you in the face like a brick. Right here. So growing up, I learnt a lot about race,” he says. The new show, called Siv-ilised, will usher in an older Ngesi, who he admits is much bolder than his younger self.
“Those earlier shows were a lot simpler and I took fewer risks. With Siv-ilised, I’m saying things; I talk about things that really get to me.
“Like how I believe that if men bled once a month, pads and tampons would be free. I talk about this injustice and I’m taking it to the comedy space.
“There’s funny there, but there is also a lot of truth,” he says.
Ngesi’s inner activist comes out when he speaks about things he is passionate about. He acknowledges that, in the last four years, his passion about certain things has occasionally got him into “trouble”.
Ngesi speaks of instances when he openly stated that he disapproved of the president’s actions; when he pointed out that #RhodesMustFall and the success of the statue falling wouldn’t necessarily mean an end to racism.
He recalls he said something to the effect of: “Even though Rhodes has fallen, they still think you’re a k****r.’’ This tweet, like some others of his, have put Ngesi where no man wants to be: in front of the barrel of Black Twitter’s gun.
These heavy topics, as well as his travels across the world and his mother all make an appearance in his comedy.
“There are times when I have made mistakes online - in a very public way. And this has helped me learn that the easiest way to carry on with life, without having to look back wondering what you said before, is by being truthful to yourself.”
For Ngesi, Siv-ilised is his chance to introduce to the world a side of him that’s rarely seen, given his strong presence on social media. He has some doubts about the show - something that stems from his sense of perfectionism.
“Will people like it? Will they enjoy it? This show is probably more risqué than all the others,” he confessed.
As he opens up, we do see a rarely-seen side of Ngesi. From the little Xhosa boy who grew up in Gugulethu with big dreams, to the man who dresses up in a Superman costume to cheer up a terminally-ill little girl, Ngesi lays it all down. And for those who care, you get to see a guy that looks good too.
And his show promises to be the same. Raw, honest and laughs for days.
* If you’re in Cape Town next month, catch Siv-ilised at the Baxter Theatre from October 2 to October 14. Tickets are available from Computicket.