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.

True Love - - Contents - By PHILA TYEKANA

“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.

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