‘It’s always a risk,’ says Riaad Moosa. ‘That’s the nature of comedy.’ The risk, of course, is because the human funny bone isn’t always easy to locate – even if you are a qualified medical doctor and a comedian with two decades of experience, you simply never know.
‘You only find out if a joke works once you do it for an audience,’ Moosa says. ‘My best material has fallen flat, while sometimes the worst jokes get the biggest laughs. As a comedian, you are subject to crushing insecurity. Even if I’ve made people laugh for the past 20 years, the minute they’re not laughing, the insecurity returns. Still, that risk is thrilling. And probably why I have so much fun being a comedian.’
Risk aside, Moosa has no problem making people laugh. Was he destined to be a comedian from the start? Absolutely not, he says. His dream was always to follow in the footsteps of his parents, who are both doctors. ‘I was conscientious, studious, and always worked to be at the top of my class,’ he says. ‘And I was – right until the final two years of school, when suddenly I began to have second thoughts.’
A unique chain of events – which included becoming a magician and satisfying his goal of qualifying as a doctor – brought him to the realisation that what he loved most was writing jokes that could make people laugh. And he was fortunate in that – unlike most comedians who spend years honing their craft – he got the laughs immediately and was headlining from the start of his comedy career. ‘I think it had a lot to do with timing,’ says Moosa. ‘It was post-1994 and all of a sudden we had all these different voices coming out of stand-up comedy.’
Perhaps more important was the originality of his comedic voice. He says he’s always tapped into his individuality and zoomed in on the fact that he’s ‘a Muslim man of Cape Malay and Indian descent’. The ‘doctor thing’, he says, is probably a contributing factor, ‘but only in the sense that we are all unique, with a specific personal story, which – if you’re a comedian – feeds into your weirdly individual perspective on the world.’
Moosa’s knack is not only for writing witty jokes, doing wacky accents, and transforming into an assortment of offbeat South African characters, but an ability to draw on his own cultural background. He has always found a balance between his beliefs and the desire to entertain, staying respectful of his heritage. ‘I try to be as introspective as possible. And I use myself as a template for my comedy. I find that the more you talk about yourself and your specific experiences, and everything associated with your life, the more unique you are.’
That uniqueness has also lent itself to memorable screen performances, such as his cameo as Ahmed Kathrada in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Despite various successes in front of the camera, Moosa says live shows are his ‘core love’ and why he’s looking forward to bringing his distinctive comic perspective to The Globe, a theatre that’s just opened at the newly expanded Suncoast. The show – Riaad Moosa & Friends – is a once-off that’ll bring the comedy doctor together with nine diverse South African comedians. Among them is Joey Rasdien, with whom Moosa shared a screen bromance in the hit comedy film Material. Also joining Moosa is Eastern Cape comedian Ndumiso Lindi, known as the Gentleman of South African Comedy, who is adept at blending traditional values with a modern outlook. Moosa says they met while performing together at the Armchair Theatre in Cape Town many years ago. ‘He is a very, very funny guy,’ he says, ‘with a beautiful singing voice, too.’
Also performing are rising stars Mo Vawda (who, incidentally, is also a doctor, albeit in statistics) and Neil Green – both from Durban.
The audience can also look forward to Celeste Ntuli (yet another Durbanite), whom Moosa calls ‘a powerhouse in comedy who absolutely destroys it on stage’, as well as Sagie Murugan, Chris Forrest, Annalakshmi and Simmi Areff.
While the diverse line-up will ensure great variety on the night, he says the real excitement for him is the opportunity to write a joke and then perform it in front of an audience for the first time. ‘That’s where the thrill lies,’ he says. ‘Because the first time you don’t know if it’s going to work or not. The second time round, it’s like “I’ve done this before!” so it’s never as risky or thrilling. That process – of writing a new joke and getting a laugh with it for the first time – is my true bliss.’
It’s a good thing people have been laughing pretty much non-stop throughout his career, because although they may think he has another career to fall back on, Moosa says that at this stage, he remembers nothing of his medical training. ‘The best I can do if someone needs medical assistance is entertain them while we wait for a proper doctor to arrive.’
‘There’s not much I steer clear of out of principle,’ says Riaad Moosa about where he draws the line as a comedian. ‘If I think something is funny and if I think I can make a joke out of it, I will try to. I am quite a sensitive person, though – I don’t like shock humour for the sake of it being shocking. And I like to have balance in my jokes. I like to be truthful. I don’t do anything that undermines my belief system – that’s what I steer clear of, as that can be very complicated. But if I can make something funny and truthfully express my opinion, I will say it,’ he admits. ‘Sometimes I have to brainstorm to get a joke right. Sometimes they’ll come to me fully formed. Whether I’m dreaming, driving, whatever. And sometimes I just have experiences that are funny. I find my kids are a huge source of gags. That’s probably why I keep on having more children … so I can get more material.’
BOOK YOUR SEAT
Venue The Globe at Suncoast
Date 22 December
Cost From R185
Tickets Visit computicket.com