Local celeb – Celetse Ntuli
A dominant figure in entertainment, CELESTE NTULI, 38, speaks about leaving Isibaya and her quest to be an internationally-recognised comedian.
“It’s great when things aren’t going well in your life, because whatever’s next is your best option. If you were doing something unfulfilling, you really have no fear to try something new,” says Celeste, as she recalls how she got into comedy back in 2009. She had been working in sales at Exclusive Books in Durban, and then got a job at a call centre. She took her chances by entering the SABC 1 comedian-search show So You Think You’re Funny, and came third. “I worked dead-end jobs, and after
So You Think You’re Funny, I thought I’d continue to sell books, but fellow comedian Eugene Khoza called me and convinced me to pursue a career in comedy. Funny enough, he called me just as I was about to walk in through the doors at work. He was right. After that conversation, I marched into my manager’s office and told him I quit.”
Thanks to that fateful decision, Celeste has now become a household name: she’s won the Mbokodo Award for Best Comedienne in 2015, and was a nominee for the SA Comics Choice Awards in 2015 and 2016. She was also nominated in the Favourite Comedian category in the 2016 YOU Spectacular Awards. She’s performed at countless comedy festivals, including on big stages such as the Comedy Central International Festival, the Johannesburg International Comedy Festival, the BET Experience Comedy Festival and the Comedy Central Roast of Jeff Ross.
Did you know that Celeste is also the first comedienne in South Africa to do a one-woman show? Seriously Celeste is a DVD collection of her shows, shot across Mzansi in 2010. That was followed by another one-woman show entitled Myself, then Home Affairs and Home Affairs 2.
She’s currently touring with her fifth show, Black Tax, a comedy tour she began in 2016. “Of course I’m a victim of Black Tax – that’s why I gave
“I NEVER PUT ANYONE ON BLAST OR RIDICULE PEOPLE. I’M NOT THAT KIND OF COMEDIAN. ”
the show that title,” she chuckles. “I’m from a family of eight children – I’m the sixth among four girls and four boys. I unpack this phenomenon on the show – most black people experience money problems, so of course, there’s bound to be humour in there somewhere. With my comedy, I make fun of everything, from love and marriage to life and money. But I never put anyone on blast or ridicule people. I’m not that kind of comedian. In fact, I suck at roasts as I don’t like to be mean.”
Continuing on her upward climb, Celeste was invited by popular comedian Basket Mouth to do a stand-up show in Nigeria in September. Her work has also secured her three nominations – for a Flying Solo Award, Non-English Comic Award and Savanna Comic of the Year Award – at this year’s Comics’ Choice Awards. And she was nominated for the inaugural DStv Mzansi Viewers’ Choice Awards 2017, in the Best Comedian category.
So, what sets this star, who hails from KwaZulu-Natal, apart from the rest? For one thing, it’s the quirky additions to her shows. In Black Tax, she’s introduced a jazz band to perform with her on stage. Her younger brother plays guitar – he’s the only sibling who takes after their father, who also played guitar in a band. Among Celeste’s other siblings, one is a doctor and another a chef. They’ve all followed their own path.
In addition to her comic talents, Celeste is also a fully fledged actress. She plays Siphokazi Zungu, the oldest of the Zungu wives in the popular Mzansi Magic soapie, Isibaya. She’s also featured in films such as
The Jakes Are Missing and Hard To Get. Earlier this year, the actress dropped a bombshell – she was taking a break from
Isibaya. It’s a decision, she says, that was not easy to make. “There’s a lot that I need to create in comedy, which takes time. I love it – it’s my first love, and there’s more money in it.
“There’s also a lot of travel involved. I’ve been to Switzerland and Scotland to perform. I’m grateful for Isibaya as it’s had a great impact in my life. I’ll treasure that forever. I understand that my brand has grown because of it, but I don’t want it to overshadow my comedy work. I take it personally when people only know me as Siphokazi, not Celeste the comedian.
“When someone doesn’t know that, it worries me and makes me want to work that much harder to be a bigger and better comedian.”
Whether she stays or goes, Celeste has done a stellar job as Siphokazi. It earned her nominations in the South African Film and Television Awards – for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Recently, she walked away with the The Simon Sabela Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Now that she’s a recognisable face in the entertainment industry, fans want to know more about her. She grew up in Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal, and then studied information technology at the Durban University of Technology, but left in her third year. She worked for a while as part of the technical crew for music shows. “My mom was a nurse,” she says, “and outside his jazz band, my dad ran tuckshops. I don’t remember him ever being employed for more than a year – he liked doing his own thing. My parents separated in 1997. Two of my sisters live woth their husbands in France. My eldest brother passed away in 2013. My entire family is skinny; I’m the only big one, and yes, they made fun of my weight.” And now? Does her weight bother her? “I don’t have issues about it. I always say to people that all the negativity about my weight never comes from me. Whatever you think is bad about you, is never from you. So I’ve left anything said about my size to those people – it’s their problem – and I retaliate with witty responses. Skinny or big, dark or light in complexion, we all have flaws.” But the harsh reality is there’s pressure to fit in with slimmer ‘it-girls’. “I feel sorry for them, and sorrier for the person who assumes I want to be like them,” says Celeste. “We’re not the same. The fact that I’m bigger doesn’t mean I’m less than anyone. Society must stop body shaming.” Although she stays mum on her love life, she’s candid about relationships. “I’m not married and I don’t have kids. I’d love to have children, though. I love love. But South African men don’t ask me out! I live in a country where I’m not the ‘in thing ’. There aren’t many people who marry someone who looks like me. In my travels, I’ve noticed that being attractive and sexy varies in different places. When I go to West Africa, I become my own Beyoncé, but here at home, I’m sidelined as I’m not regarded as sexy. ” Comedians Jim Carrey and Trevor Noah have opened up about their struggle with depression. It’s often said that comedians, like clowns, wear happy masks on the outside to camouflage their internal struggles. Celeste disagrees, saying everyone is different. “We draw on people’s energy and them from us. After each performance, I feel exhausted. Comedy drains you because you give so much of yourself. The assumption is that comedians laugh all the time. But I’m just like anyone else; I can be happy or sad.” Next on the agenda for this star, whose role models include pioneering greats like Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais, is building herself into a working international comedian. She may even continue to act, she says. Her one wish for the comedy industry, Celeste concludes, is that it should promote passionate and dedicated comedians who’re actually funny, instead of making it all about a popularity contest.