When funnyman Mamello “Mumz” Mokoena left for Russia more than two years ago, he never thought he’d fall in love with the country and, while at it, win the hearts of many Russians with his witty comedy skits.
While on vacation in Moscow in 2020, Mokoena took to the stage to perform stand-up comedy and to his surprise, was crowned the Champion of English Comedy in Moscow.
Now back in Mzansi, Mokoena is gearing up for a tell-all comedy special showcase titled “Eye on the Prize”, to be filmed on August 12 and 13 at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town.
He returned home on December 31 last year, just two months before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In his forthcoming showcase, the star will share his first-hand experience of the culture in Russia, the people and lifestyle.
The award-winning comedian will also share his experience through hilarious anecdotes.
“I first moved to Russia for a three-month vacation with a Russian lady who I started dating in Cape Town. I didn’t know that there would be lots of vodka,” shared Mokoena.
“On a personal level, being in Russia opened me up to very welcoming, warm and friendly people and professionally I became the Champion of English Comedy in Moscow, which gave me the opportunity to tour 10 cities in Russia with one of the biggest rising comedy stars in Russia, Yevgwniy Chebatkov.
“The recognition as the Champion of English Comedy in Moscow gave me some much-needed media attention in Russia and private bookings which were really great.
“It allowed me to tour Russia with various comedians through the Steal The Show Comedy Club, Europe's first multi-language comedy club that features comedians in Spanish, Russian and English,” explained Mokoena.
Quizzed about some of the misconceptions and similarities between Russia and South Africa, the Joburg-born star said: “The biggest similarity between Russians and South Africans is that we both became democratic countries in the ’90s.
“This is one of the biggest reasons why Africans and Russians seem to get along so well. Russians are even as superstitious as South Africans, if not more so. Their version of the tokoloshe is called Domovoy.
“Russian people were very inquisitive about South Africa and some were asking me questions like, ‘Where is South Africa?’ To which I would reply, ‘the directions are in the name’.”
His biggest highlight in Russia was travelling to more than 20 Russian cities and towns, including Sochi, Anapa, Gelendzhik, Nalchik and Elbrus.
“St. Petersburg is really amazing. It is like a walking museum. I miss the openness of conversation with Russians. They have a unique view of the world which has been defined by many writers as the ‘The Russian Soul’.
“The lowest experience I had in Russia was being bounced from a hip hop club because I was black, which is ironic when you think about it. However, I only experienced five racial situations in the entire two years, which is different to South Africa where as a person of colour I probably experience five racial situations per week.”
Having performed alongside Trevor Noah, Loyiso Gola and John Vlismas, Mokoena has the experience and confidence on stage to deliver world-class performances.
With a career spanning more than 13 years, Mokoena said the comedy bug bit him earlier in his life and he has loved every moment of it.
“I started performing in plays at school at an early age and all my roles were always comedic. The move to stand-up comedy seemed like a natural transition.”
According to Mokoena, the most embarrassing thing that can happen to a comedian is when no one laughs for the entire show.
“That has happened to me twice; my first gig ever and my first performance in Moscow.
“If no one is laughing, get off the stage. Don’t fight with the audience. Always read the room and make it easier for them to enjoy the full comedy showcase.”
Comedians joke about things that most of us are scared to say. Asked if there was anything he wouldn’t joke about, he said: “I joke about everything. However, all countries around the world have their own nuances that are taboo subjects.
“You need to get to know the people you want to make laugh first before you start joking about them, their culture or their country.”
Catch Mumz Mokoena for his two-day comedy special, “Eye on the Prize”, at the Artscape on August 12 and 13.
Tickets are available at Computicket from R100.