Keeping the jokes coming, fast

02 October 2011 - 02:57 By Christina Kennedy
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Stand-up comedian Eugene Khoza Picture: SIMON MATHEBULA
Stand-up comedian Eugene Khoza Picture: SIMON MATHEBULA

Speedy cars and bikes rev Eugene Khoza's engine, he tells Christina Kennedy on the eve of a South African tour as part of the stellar Bafunny Bafunny team

Eugene Khoza has a weakness for fast cars and motorbikes, yet lives like a "secluded engineer". But the fact that he's not a party animal doesn't deter him from making people laugh - and his natural talent has propelled him into the premier league of young South African stand-up comedians.

Khoza, 29, has been in the comedy game for about six years, having cut his teeth telling gags at the Horror Café in Newtown, Johannesburg. He has been included in the Bafunny Bafunny all-stars comedy "squad" touring South Africa this month.

The Bafunny Bafunny concept originated last year to coincide with the Soccer World Cup, and this year the cream of South Africa's comedians will get the gees going for the Bokke as they defend their Rugby World Cup title. Khoza and Stuart Taylor are the newcomers to the team, joining Barry Hilton, John Vlismas, Trevor Noah, Nik Rabinowitz, Loyiso Gola and Mark Banks. That's a whole lot of funny.

Khoza is looking forward to being part of this crackerjack comedy ensemble - although he prefers being a lone wolf.

"Like tennis, for me comedy is an individual sport. I don't belong to a fraternity of comics. But this one is revolutionary. It's a crew I'd love to go on tour with," he says.

Besides, it gives him a chance to hang out with his good mate, Noah. Khoza did sketches on Noah's M-Net show, and also co-presented the SABC1 sports programme Countdown 2010. He is a familiar voice on radio stations, and enjoyed two sold-out solo shows at Gold Reef City's Lyric Theatre earlier this year. "I never thought anyone would come," he says with a laugh. He can also be seen on billboards as the "face" for one of the big four banks.

But what prompted the lad who briefly studied public relations to make a career out of comedy?

"I suppose I always had a lot to say at school, although I don't think I was particularly funny," he says. "I wasn't really sporty, and found myself sitting on the sidelines, making fun of the kids who played soccer."

Moving from Mamelodi to Sunnyside in Pretoria with his family in the mid-'90s, Khoza fast became friends with an Afrikaans boy. This exposure to a cosmopolitan melting pot, he says, "was a [180 degree] change from growing up in the township. All of a sudden, my life started becoming funny and I started looking at my township upbringing from both sides."

These early influences helped shape his comedy, which is observational in nature and touches on politics, relationships and society's idiosyncrasies.

"I appreciate my upbringing - it shaped me into the person I am today. I draw a lot from that time."

To preserve the spontaneity of his gags, this self-described linguist never writes down his material. He can, he admits, get a bit "preachy" on stage: climbing on a soapbox for issues he believes in.

"I try not to offend - I'm very sensitive to people's cultures and I detest stereotypes," says Khoza. "Sometimes I feel offended by other comics, as a bystander. If you as a comic portray white people in a racist manner, even the black people in your audience will cringe. If we don't mind teetering on the brink of offence, what kind of people are we? That's just reinforcing stereotypes. If we want to coexist, we need to understand each other's cultures and get rid of stereotypes."

He also doesn't try to be all things to all people. "I won't waste my energy trying to convert audiences," he says matter-of-factly. "I'm going for those audiences who like me for me, and I want to nurture that."

For Khoza, his passion for cars is symbolic of the road he's travelled.

"I grew up in a home with no car. My first skedonk was a '96 Conquest, and I loved it. That first car of mine took me to places I could never have gone to before; I could take my comedy to people who couldn't get to me. It was a source of liberation, not just a mode of transport. But now I'm in a different phase of my life - and I want speed!"

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