Being a stand-up comedian in Africa is not an everyday job. There are odd hours, infrequent deadlines and no defined career path. One day a rookie; the next a comedic sensation. For Riaad Moosa it took five years.
“The big moment that I felt I had arrived was when I finished my first one-man show Strictly Halal. I had finished the show and we had captured it on film. It was like waiting to exhale. Then we found out there was some issue with the recording, it was a problem with the live feed. That DVD ended up being a complete flop.”
For any comic, the first five minutes on stage tells them whether they have what it takes. Nerves can easily get the best of you but a tough crowd could render you hopeless.
“When we started comedy we never knew that you could have a career in it, we just loved it. I was part of the first group of comics who are now generally better known: Kagiso Lediga, David Kau, Loyiso Gola,
John Vlismas and Joey Rasdien. We all started out together,” says Moosa.
Although he is well-known on the comedy circuit, his most embarrassing moment onstage came in high school. Moosa was performing a magic trick that he had practiced and planned to perfection. The idea was to make a ball float across the stage.
“They didn’t tell me the night of the show that there would be a guy doing flash photography. So I was there in my dramatic David Copperfield hairstyle and my dramatic music while I made this ball float across the stage. Whenever the guy would take a picture you would see this washing line with a ball hanging onto it. And the kids in the audience would yell, ‘Mom, dad look it’s a wire’. It was so embarrassing. Even when I tried to be dramatic I ended up being a comedian,” he says.
Moosa was never a struggling artist. For him it was a smooth transition from doctor to comic.
“I started out in medical school then I took a year off and went to upper campus [at the University of Cape Town] to study other things that I was interested in. I did economics, I did Xhosa and then during that year I found stand-up comedy and I loved it.”
After the year off, Moosa went back to medical school and continued doing stand-up comedy on an amateur basis. He then graduated, completed his internship and community service, and when the opportunity came to appear on The Pure Monate Show he traded in the operating room for the stage.
“I never did anything dramatic in terms of the suffering and the starving for a while before I could pay the bills. I basically worked hard at both things and more opportunities opened with the comedy,” says Moosa.
In 2012, he made a breakthrough in film with Material, which received international acclaim. This led to Moosa’s latest role as South African political prisoner and freedom fighter, Ahmed Kathrada, in the Golden Globe nominated film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Moosa is currently in the final stage of his stand-up tour, Doctors Orders, with Simmi Areff.
“He [Areff] opens for me and he does a good job, he does a few minutes before I go on stage. He warms up the audience for me.”
The famous comic with a booming acting career has always kept medicine close. He assists at his family’s medical clinic as well as hosts a medical show on TV.
At the end of the day, when the lights have dimmed and the last person has laughed, Moosa says there is only one place for a comic to go.
“Everybody goes back to the comedy club. It’s one of those things in your industry where no matter how big you are, you’ll always go back. You’ll find Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld going back to the little dingy comedy clubs to perform… It’s the true nature of stand-up comedy,” says Moosa.
After all, he’s just a guy, standing on a stage, hoping the crowd will laugh. FL