SUNDAY TIMES - Famous SA comics see the funny side of turning 40
Sunday Times Lifestyle By Shanthini Naidoo, 2017-03-19 00:00:00.0

Famous SA comics see the funny side of turning 40

Riaad Moosa's latest show explores the life of a married father-of-three.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

The hilarious Riaad Moosa and Nik Rabinowitz are embracing their 40s with a smile - and both have new shows that will give you some laugh lines too

Why did the comedian walk onto stage at 8.30pm? Because he had to put his kids to bed first.

The commonality of Riaad Moosa and Nik Rabinowitz both turning 40 this year goes beyond age, comedy and family (they each have three children).

They both also have well-developed laugh lines, an occupational hazard from pulling funny faces for 15 years or so.

Two of South Africa's wittiest men — they double up as philosophers, life coaches, social commentators — did in fact begin their latest shows after their children's bedtime.

"For the first time ever, comedy shows at the Baxter started at 8.30pm. You have to pull your shift at home," says Rabinowitz.

But both say they have produced some of the most personal comedy of their careers.

Rabinowitz's Fortyfied, and Moosa's Life Begins are a peek into their lives, marriages, religion, managing three short people and their antics, with so much funny.

And they truth-tell in their 40-centric comedy.

Apart from revealing their ailments and afflictions (Moosa: spinal disc prolapse and perpetual irritation; Rabinowitz: elevated cholesterol and poor sex life), they share their new-found insights.

At Moosa's show at Cape Town's Baxter Theatre, he talks about how his wife can't handle his noisy chewing ("It is a little sound that is created when I chew. It's from a sinus issue, man. I can't eat Pringles in my own home.")

At the Cape Town Comedy Club, Rabinowitz spills his gospel on marriage. ("It is about knowing your place. I came home from a gig with a bit of man flu. My wife just looked at me, lying on the couch, needy, and stopped it in its tracks: 'I have three kids, the dog, the cat. And you. I have nothing left to give! Maybe a little for the cat, but the dog and you: NOTHING!'"

Both are brilliant impressionists (Moosa's Donald Trump and Rabinowitz's Desmond Tutu are spectacular). Their gift, though, is tackling serious issues with humour.

Moosa's defence of Caster Semenya, for instance: "Caster was accused of having an advantage, too much testosterone. I have plenty of male hormones... how do you think I would do in a race against her?"

And Rabinowitz on politics: "I know a lot of people say Zuma must go, but as a comedian I'm in two minds about it. We get a lot of material from the guy."

Here's more:

How old are you in comedy years?

Riaad: 16, I studied medicine and I also studied magic. But then I realised I couldn't be a doctor and a magician. Especially if you're in gynaecology. Say delivering a baby. Can you imagine? "Ta Da! Congratulations ma'am, it's a boy... and a rabbit!"

Nik: About 16. My mother made me study business science. I also went to the Waldorf school, so I know how to plant vegetables and knit my own underpants.

Nik Rabinowitz says his resting state is awkward, not funny. Image: Ruvan Boshoff


Riaad: Wife Farzanah, kids Zameer, Hanaa and baby boy Mahir Ihsan.

Nik: One wife, Debbie. Three kids, Ben, Adam and baby girl Sophie.

Worst joke in the set:

Nik: My wife is hyper-fertile, so we investigated a vasectomy, which is when they cut the vas deferens. Everything still works fine, there isn't a vas deferens.

Riaad: You complain about having to listen to the adhan (the call to prayer), bothering you five times a day? We Muslims actually have to go...

What's changed for you physically?

Nik: Pretty much nothing, apart from these three grey hairs on my ear. Carrying a third baby was challenging. I mean in one of those pouches ON my stomach, not IN my stomach.

Riaad: Lots of grey hair, not all of it on my head. That is severely traumatising.

Medical issues?

Nik: One of the things I did was see a cardiologist. My dad died young, he had his first heart attack at 40. His dad died at 50. My cholesterol is a little high, but I am on medication to take care of it. It could have killed me in 10 years if I didn't check it.

I wasn't expecting it because I am quite fit, I surf. I have a pretty boring, clean lifestyle.

Riaad: I have an L9 disc fracture, which is going to need surgery at some point.

What is this show about?

Nik: This show was a bit of a departure from where I had been operating previously. There is a piece of material about my dad and death.

I wanted to do it for a few years but I hadn't found the confidence to talk about it. There was a bit of vulnerability and I wasn't sure it was going to work. I don't know if anyone will laugh, but I'll let it go there even if it takes the crowd down (it didn't).

Riaad: There is a lot of introspection here. Personal stuff. I did something different, I didn't write as much. I would have a thought and then go to a comedy club late at night and perform, and perform until it was right.

What is your role at home?

Nik: Bringing home the macon. It gets pretty busy in our house. Typically I'm the first one up at 6am. Baby gets a bottle. Normally a couple of fights to break up with the boys. Take the kids to school.

Riaad: School run, pick up Legos, bath time (also known as hell on earth). Put them to bed, fall asleep and then wake up in shock and realise you have to be at a show.

What happens at bedtime?

Nik: Before bed, we ask three questions. How were you brave today, how were you kind and how did you fail?

It gives us a window into the day. Adam said he was brave because he said hello to a stranger. Ben says how failed: "I kicked Adam in the head." Kind is usually nicer.

Riaad: I become Mickey Mouse. Somehow, it gets them to brush their teeth and get into bed if you speak in Mickey's voice.

What keeps you young?

Nik: I've started drinking a little bit of red wine. I have cut down on sugar because apparently it gives me a chest infection, but it's not by choice.

Riaad: I've never smoked. Crack was a problem once, but not much apart from that. I have cut out caffeine and sugar.

WATCH Nik Rabinowitz's comedy set Jewish Special Olympics

How do you balance work and family?

Nik: We have made a decision that I will not travel for long periods while the kids are young. By we, I mean my wife. Although I'll be doing a show in London this year and I'm thinking of doing a show in Swaziland - that should really do something for my international career.

Riaad: We chose the difficult path of being really hands-on with our children. My wife has been breast-feeding for a long, long time. Pretty much went from one to the next. The youngest is two, so that must stop now.

But we wanted to do it by ourselves and that is a conscious decision. In return, I use them to do promo videos for the shows.

Talk about money.

Nik: When I got engaged, my mother-in-law asked my wife if "Nik was going to carry on with the comedy thing", or, you know, get a real job to support the family and buy houses and all that.

It is hard to be creative when you are thinking about trying to make money. My friend Laurence says: "No amount of income will ever be satisfying if there's no satisfying context for it."

Riaad: There is lots of money in comedy. But with anything, you have to constantly work on your art and recreate yourself, and have a unique perspective, create an offering.

My philosophy is that you can't control the outcome, just have faith in the process and do things to help yield positive results. The higher power is always in control.


Nik: I have no political affiliations. This is the first show I didn't go into it too much. I felt like talking about more personal things. I'm a bit tired of all of it. It seems like we were competing with politicians as comedians. They do it better.

Riaad: Politics right now...

Did you watch Fight Club? Also known as the state of the nation address.

What are comedians like offstage?

Nik: By nature we are observers. I tend to find it difficult to fit in traditional groups. And I definitely won't be funny because there is that expectation. You're not always "on".

My resting state is not funny. It's more awkward. Comics and depression go together like a horse and carriage.

Riaad: Comics are weird crazy wonderful people, so different in so many ways. Generally we go out together, to comedy clubs, and laugh at each other when we do badly.

They say comedians are prone to depression and are quite sensitive. How we portray ourselves onstage compared to how we are is quite different. But the ability to make a joke combats the seriousness or sadness as a sort of cure, antidepressant. And very few are extroverts.

What is the line you won't cross in comedy?

Nik: There are no real lines. Even if there is a line in your mind, a good joke will jump over that line. Bestiality, maybe. Did you hear about that woman in Pretoria and her dog? It was 50 shades of greyhound ...

Riaad: You have to read the audience. Sometimes, if I can tell an audience is more conservative and I know they won't take it well, I won't tread the line. But everything I talk about is from the basis of reality. It humanises the Muslim experience, without being offensive.

WATCH Riaad Moosa's comedy set 'Indians & western culture'

Worst show?

Nik: It was in Nigeria. I was doing sort of industrial theatre and they were just not getting it. After three minutes they asked me to get off the stage, and the comedy was not going down well. They just said stop. And then these people were heckling. A Chinese guy wanted to fuck me up over a joke. He was like, "I know who you are, Trevor."

Riaad: This run started off on a really difficult note. Just before we had the press night, my son was in the hospital with meningitis. I nearly cancelled. But we decided to carry on once it was under control. I was staying over at the hospital after some shows. Then I was reading the Trump ban, fell down some stairs, and sprained my ankle. It was a weird time.

Are you taking up anything different now that you're 40?

Nik: I've given up all hope of playing for the Proteas but I did come first in the parents' race at my son's school. My surfing will show a marginal improvement.

Riaad: Secretly, I love cartooning and animation, and definitely animated voices. Also, I used to be really good at basketball. Now I'll probably be that old dude at the court with the back problem.

So what else can we expect from you this year?

Riaad: I am happy to say the script for Material 2 is in the fourth-draft stage.

Nik: I am in the Jewish version of Material 2. It is set at Investec.

Check out Nik Rabinowitz's Facebook page for upcoming shows.

Riaad Moosa and Friends is at Emperors Palace on March 25.