He is known to most who appreciate vernacular comedy as “Side Pocket” from the comical days of SABC’s Pure Monate Show (PMS), a show that Roni Modimola admits opened major doors for him in the difficult industry of comedy.
Branded as the man who hardly cracks a smile on stage, Modimola somehow manages to always, without fail, leave his crowd in stitches.
The funny man from Limpopo shared a few interesting facts about his journey as a comedian.
“It was in high school when I noticed that perhaps I was funny. I realised this just from people and the company that I kept. I witnessed the impact I had on them,” Modimola explained, adding that it was, however, not easy trying to do comedy in the ’90s as a black man.
Despite all the trials, he believes South African comedy is moving in the right direction.
“The industry has grown in leaps and bounds.
“However, comedians could ease up on the material about race.
“It’s something we can move away from, unless there is a current issue on it,” he pointed out.
“As black comedians, we kind of hold a mirror for society, hence we need to move on par with the rest of the world.”
Starting with stand-up comedy in 1998, a time Modimola says black people hardly attended comedy shows or were known as comedians, proved to be a challenge for the man who today says he is happy to have held up in comedy this long.
“There was no vernacular comedy back then. It was a bit of a culture shock for some, and as a black person one was expected to enforce the stereotype and not try to be smart with the audience,” he said.
“In most shows I did, white people would ask if I write my own material. The question was quite a shock for me and used to get to me a lot,” he added, pointing out that he knew “there was a compliment somewhere there, but also a racial connotation”.
He says over time he got used to it and it forced him to assert himself in a “foreign culture”, indicating that it was a bit intimidating at times.
“Now that we can use our indigenous languages, it has become more comfortable, and we are growing the industry more, as long as we don’t turn into the taxi industry and start shooting each other,” he quipped.
Initially, Modimola wanted to be a film-maker and studied directing and script-writing, but later dropped out and speedily became a familiar face on the stand-up comedy circuit in the 1990s.
“Wanting to be in the film industry is what inclined me to finally do comedy,” he said.
“I used to watch a lot of sitcoms and wanted to be a part of the behind the scenes aspect of them, but it was difficult to get into film coming from a previously disadvantaged background, so I found out about comedy and jumped in.”
The comedian said “film is a dream that still needs to be realised.”
“I feed off life and people I come into contact with,” he said about where he gets his inspiration from.
“There is hardly much preparation that goes into my stand-up comedy. Every day I observe life and get a few ideas, and I go on stage.”
The comedian said, difficult as it might seem to get a crowd laughing, the job comes naturally for him.
“It’s not difficult if you are having fun because the audience will have fun with you,” he said.
“You need to have good material, but having fun on stage is the most convincing thing.”
Modimola, who is now part of the hilarious comedy show Bantu Hour on SABC2, said although the show is different from PMS, he is happy he got a chance to showcase his skill on television again.
“I’ve done season one of the show, and now we are on season two. I enjoy working with Kagiso Lediga. He is very funny, good with production and is an all-rounder,” he said, adding that he works well with “cool people”.
The two previously worked together on PMS. Bantu Hour is an exclusively scripted sketch and variety comedy show formed by a comedy troupe comprising stand-up comedians and skilled actors.
It is co-hosted by musical legend Hugh Masekela, and comedy icon Kagiso Lediga, with each episode delivering a dose of social satire.
“Black only comedy shows are very important because doing vernacular comedy used to be impossible given our history,” Modimola explained.
“This opportunity is very important for the previously disadvantaged.
“Comedians now make a lot of money to just speak in their own languages.
“We don’t have to think in our languages and translate our thoughts to English anymore. Comedy is immediate, hence speaking in our languages helps with this instant factor.”
Being part of the exciting Blacks Only line-up today, Modimola says fans can expect great comedy from his side.
“It’s going to be, as they say, ‘lit’. I’m looking forward to it.”
While he is known only as a comedian, he says he has other passions.
“I’m passionate about land. I have been busy with a land claim in Limpopo, a place called Abbosport, just close to Lephalale,” he explained.
“The plan was successful. It’s now in its final stages. We don’t want money … we want restoration,” he concluded.