Mpho Popps: From beating depression to cheating comedy 'death'

07 November 2017 - 10:00 By Kyle Zeeman
Mpho 'Popps' Modikoane is grateful for life and comedy after struggling with depression.
Mpho 'Popps' Modikoane is grateful for life and comedy after struggling with depression.
Image: Moeletsi Mabe

Comedian Mpho 'Popps' Modikoane has spent several years in the industry, performing around the world, but that doesn't mean he hasn't performed for audiences who don't think he is funny- something comedians call "death".

Mpho, who headlined the last leg of the Trending Comics nationwide tour in Johannesburg this past weekend, told TshisaLIVE that he was honoured to have performed alongside Schalk Bezuidenhout, Loyiso Madinga and Donovan Goliath on the tour and was grateful there was no shortage of laughs.

While the comedian hardly ever fails to bring down the house, he admitted that he has struggled a few times with shows where the audience didn't think he was funny.

"No comic is exempt from it. We call it 'death'. Comedians are not like rapper who can go into studio and try out different sounds, we test our content live on audiences. If it bombs, it bombs.

"I remember a golf day where I told jokes and no one thought I was funny. I was sweating and so I decided to stop and tell everyone that It wasn't going. I walked off stage and said 'Look, guys. Let's just acknowledge that this is not going well'. They started laughing hysterically. So I went back on stage but bombed again. When I was done with the gig, I said: 'ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time. My name is Maps Maponyane! So that people wouldn't recognise me," he said with a laugh.

He said that 'dying' on stage left him reconsidering his life and career and often led to him driving home with the radio off in deep contemplation.

Mpho has always hung onto comedy as his escape, especially after suffering with depression that left him numb.

"My comedy career was born from depression. I was on the lowest point in my life. You know when you are so depressed, you don't even feel physically pain.  It was raining and probably the coldest winter we've ever had but I was sitting in my boxer shorts because that pain was better than what I was feeling inside. I went to the back of one of my textbooks and wrote things that made me laugh.

"It was a coping mechanism that later led to me becoming a comic. It is attacks you when you least expect it. It is downward spiral but one thing that has helped me is being grateful for my life and family," he said.

Mpho joins a long list of comics, including Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and Jason Goliath that have opened up about their depression struggles.

"I know something needs to be done but honestly I don't know if there is a right way to help comedians with depression because if you put us all in one space we will always find something to joke about. Perhaps, it is more using comedy to help others get through their dark days in hope that it will help ourselves," he said.