With her new book out, we chat to one of South Africa’s top comedians about the path her life has taken and the lessons learnt
Tumi Morake is one of South Africa’s queens of comedy, headlining local and international stages as a stand-up comedian. But she is also a television host, an actor, a TV producer and a writer – and there was that slightly controversial stint as a radio presenter… Not yet 40, she tells her life story in the memoir And Then Mama Said…, frankly writing about her personal life and the glitzy, yet often ruthless, entertainment industry.
- Through your memoir, you set a wonderful example on how to succeed in the face of adverse circumstances. What would your advice be to youngsters today?
Nobody owes you anything. Grab any opportunity that comes your way and milk it for all it’s worth.
- You’re still young. Why did you write an autobiography?
Not all of us make it to old age, so technically you can never be too young to write an autobiography. I felt more like I was sharing a journey than writing a memoir. I’m at a point in my life where I fear I may be forgetting the fire that fuelled me to get here, so I wrote this book as a reminder for me and as encouragement for others.
- When did you realise comedy is for you?
When I realised how fascinated I was with it, how easily it came to me and how shamanic it can make us [comedians]. It felt like a calling.
- You’re an incredible role model. Are you aware of how inspirational you are?
Thank you, I had no idea! I honestly struggle to tell whether people take me seriously or not – although I can imagine underdogs look at me and see the possibility of defeating the odds.
- One of the standout lessons in your book is how important hard work is to achieving success. What other teaching would you share with your younger self?
It is great not to fit in. It means your identity is clearly carved out and unique.
- Your eight-month stint as a host on the local Jacaranda FM breakfast show was controversial, after backlash over your remarks on the effects of apartheid. [Tumi compared apartheid to a bully taking a child’s bicycle, and then the child being made to share the bicycle.] What did it take to overcome it on a personal level?
Sometimes you need to step out of a situation, and draw a line between your part in something and the rest that was out of your control. I chose not to take it personally. It sought to dent my reputation, but I have such confidence in the truth of who I am that I did not let it break me. I would still absolutely return if radio would have me. I enjoyed the medium; I enjoyed some of my colleagues. It’s such a conscious medium. I love it.
- You recently said it’s going a lot better with you now than when the cover for the book was shot. What changed?
Life got better. I began to make progress in therapy, and I don’t feel the need to put up a brave front any more.
- What do you plan to do next in your career and personal life?
I’m delving into film-making and working on where my comedy is going. I’ll probably be spending more time overseas and getting back into acting.
- How long did you take to write the book – and how did you find the time for it?
It took six very broken months to finish the first draft, and about a month of back-and-forth with the editing. I was travelling overseas for work, and the deadlines were a real nightmare. It was tough.
- What makes you happiest?
Making noise with my children – dancing, sharing stories. They are such insightful, fun mini-people.
“My baby, you are a trier”
These words of Tumi’s mother whenever she excelled in something were possibly never more true than when she finally graduated in 2011.
In 2003, as a senior student at Wits University, Tumi Morake had to stop her drama studies because neither she nor her mother had enough money to pay for the tuition. She started freelancing, first in theatre, then telesales and an educational school programme, before she got her break as a comedian.
In 2009, after she had earned enough money to pay back her debt to Wits – and once she was already a successful stand-up comedian, married and mother to her first child – she went back to university to finish her degree.
WORDS Irna van Zyl