When we asked one of South Africa’s favourite comedians, the legendary Kagiso Lediga, to impart advice gained from over a decade of working in the industry he replied anecdotally saying, “It’s like digging, hang in there, don’t dig where there’s stone but commit to it and eventually there will be a hole”. Born in Pretoria, Kagiso began his foray into comedy while he was still a student at the University of Cape Town. What began as a process of performing comedic monologues sourced online for his peers would pave the way to him gracing local and international stages as well as small and big screens.
Despite his abounding accolades – such as winning Comic Writer of the Year in 2013 at the Comic Choice Awards and being an International Emmy Award Judge – he’s down to earth, and says that in his twenties he never thought of a life beyond getting on TV because then you’ve “made it”, and could be certain that people would say great things at your funeral one day.
During the early stages of his stand-up career Kagiso would spend time watching performances by Chris Rock, Eddie Izzard and Eddy Murphy. However, it was when he joined the Cape Comedy Collective, and was able to hone his craft with the likes of Mark Lottering and Riaad Moosa, that he developed his charming style and began to think about reaching larger audiences and having a greater impact through television.
Inspired by the opportunities that small screen might bring, he took it upon himself to at the age of twenty four to produce, write and star in The Pure Monate sketch comedy show on SABC 1. This provided him with invaluable skills, but copious amounts of administrative stress for a young professional with little business experience. Reflecting on that time he talks about having to learn the practicalities of the business side of things, which would in the preceding years form a solid foundation to support his growing writing, producing and directing pursuits. After receiving eight South African Television and Film nominations, the show cemented Kagiso as a household name in the South African entertainment industry and afterwards saw him take on the role as Creative Director of the much loved Phat Joe Show.
In 2012, he performed his first one man show called “Kagiso Lediga – In a Suit” in celebration of his best work to date. Although he comes across casually, stand-up comedy is a challenging pursuit – having to entertain a live audience with nothing but intelligence and wit in the hope that they’ll find the material humourous (and perhaps think about the world a little differently). It’s a tall order with no performers to share the stage with or smoke and mirrors to hide behind. And yet, his passion for his craft and continuous practice ensured his show sold out in Durban, Soweto and Johannesburg.
Moving between working in television, film and performing on international stages in New York and Edinburgh he went on to create the Late Nite News with Loyisa Gola which aired on eTV and eNews Channel and scooped an International Emmy Award nomination. Since then he’s won Best Actor at the Cape Town International Film Festival and has acted alongside stars like Hilary Swank and featured in South African Oscar winning film, District 9.
When asked about his first commercial success at the age of twenty four and hinting at where he might venture next he replies, “David Kibuuka keeps saying to me: ‘You keep choosing the same thing'”. According to Kagiso, back then he was smug, didn’t have proper clothes and upon going to the bank with his first cheque, was surprised that he wasn’t offered the full VIP treatment – complete with free coffee in an illustrious boardroom. “That stuff never happened,” he quips. Has he been offered free coffee since, a few years – and many successes – down the line? He grins, saying, “I’m still waiting…still digging”.
Look out for Kagiso sharing more insights in conversation with Between 10and5’s Uno de Waal in Glenfiddich The Art of Individuality video series.
Photography of Kagiso by Darren Gwynn.