The Interview: Tsitsi Chiumya

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Comedian Tsitsi Chiumya tells us about his rise to fame, and how his sense of style has evolved along the way.
Growing up in Lebowakgomo, a small township in Limpopo, and only learning English in his teens, Edgars' creator of culture and local influencer, Tsitsi Chiumya, might never have imagined a career as a comedian. But in just a few short years he’s set stages alight all over the country with his shows, raking up awards along the way. He tells Edwain Steenkamp how he got there.

Growing up, were you the funny kid? 

No, but I was definitely the naughty kid! My mom had me when she was very young, so I was raised by my grandparents who were strict but very loving. I think, with me, they had their hands full.

So comedy wasn’t something you dreamed about? 

As a kid I didn’t even know it could be a career. Living in such a small place, I had other dreams. At one stage I wanted to be an athlete more than anything. But I always knew that I wanted to live a happy life. That was something my small village taught me too: what’s most valuable in life.

What was the next major chapter of your life?

I went to study video design at Wits University. So my life nearly took a very different turn. There weren’t many kids like me on campus at that time. I felt different, but it didn’t stand in my way. In fact, I realised that somehow it allowed me to reach people.

Was it during this time that you discovered your gift of entertaining? 

Yes, that was when I started telling stories from my childhood and from where I grew up. I knew that my classmates loved the stories I told, and so I started preparing and rehearsing them in the evenings. I might have added a few embellishments here and there, but they loved the stories. It was like a whole new world opened up.

Was that when you decided on your future career path? 

Actually, it happened very slowly. I was always drawn to comedy; I remember my friends and I watching comedy shows till three in the morning. So right after university I moved to Cape Town and spent all the money I had – and also money I didn’t have – to watch every comedy show possible. From there, I started participating in any show that would have me. I eventually landed a segment on the Expresso Morning Show and added as much of my comedy into it as I could. I was travelling up and down, trying to make this all happen … getting as little as four hours sleep a night.

How did you manage all of it? 

I honestly don’t know! I was so exhausted all the time, but it felt right. I knew it would all be worth it.

What do you think is the most important aspect of your comedy? 

I think a lot of people expect the same formula from South African comedians, that is, comedy based on the hardships of the country’s past, and the struggles we face today. You know, politically heavy content.

Do you try to stay away from that? 

I mean it enters my comedy of course. But I want to tell different stories too. Stories that everyone relates to. And for me, that's powerful comedy – the kind where the humour is universal. And I draw from some of my personal experiences.

What kind of experiences? 

I was a kid from Limpopo who could barely speak English, and then suddenly I was in a big city – there’s something about that situation everyone can relate to. Being the awkward kid, unsure of themselves and not really fitting in anywhere. Looking for acceptance, inspiration and guidance.

Speaking of inspiration, who has influenced you the most? 

More than individual people, there are moments in different people’s careers that have inspired me so much. And through these moments in many of the most legendary comedians’ careers, I have learned different techniques and styles. Drawing from that I have been able to develop my own sense of comedy.

You’re known as a smart dresser. Has this also developed over the years? 

Since I was a young boy I was aware of style. Both my grandparents were so stylish. My grandmother always dressed impeccably, and my grandfather always had the best suits. I definitely learned what style is from my family. But I was always a little shy and unsure about what looked good on me.

When did you learn to let go of that uncertainty? 

It was actually when I worked with one of the stylists at Edgars. He handed me the nicest botanical printed shirt and told me that when I go shopping, I should always look out for at least one item of clothing that’s outside my comfort zone and incorporate it into my closet. It was the best style advice I’ve ever received. To this day, that shirt is my favourite item of clothing and I take it everywhere I go.


Favourite fashion items? 
A nice shirt, and definitely a good pair of sneakers.

Favourite food?
Pap and wors. It’s a classic.

Guilty pleasure? 
Mangoes. I can eat them any time.

How do you unwind? 
I play video games; I’m still very passionate about gaming.

Some of your favourite comedians?
Trevor Noah, Robby Collins and Kevin Hart.

Check out Tsitsi's Instagram
Photography:, Instagram, Shutterstock

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