THE LAST WORD… Gilli Apter
Comedian Gilli, 36, on how she started out in stand-up, working with Trevor Noah, and what it’s like to be a woman in the industry
My love of comedy began at an early age because I wanted to get a reaction out of people. I can find the humour in anything. It’s an instinct of mine that I don’t think I fully recognised as a kid. At home, being funny was always valued; we would watch a lot of comedies, classics like NationalLampoon and Steve Martin movies, and both my parents are funny so it definitely runs in the family.
It was my friends who pushed me to get on stage. I studied film directing but it’s almost impossible to make a living from being a comedy film director. I branched into comedy writing, helping comics create their sets.
I wanted to try stand-up for myself but I just didn’t have the guts to do it. Once my comedian friends realised I was interested in performing, they kept encouraging me to try. Finally, I worked up the courage to do it and my only regret is that it took me so long!
There’s a big misconception about being a comedy writer. People assume you write a list of jokes and hand them to the comedian to read, but it doesn’t work like that. It’s a collaborative crafting process and you have to work on the material from the comic’s perspective to keep it personal. After performing, other comics will often come up to you and share ideas on how to improve your set.
Being selected by Trevor Noah for his show, Nationwild, was the biggest compliment. Trevor chose 13 local comics whom he felt were promising up-and- comers. In each episode, he introduces and interviews one of us before we take the stage for our set, where we performed for 1 000 people. Afterwards, he gave us compliments and criticism. We were lucky just to be exposed to his audience, let alone get feedback from an international professional comic, who started out like us. It was an incredible gift.
Lindy Johnson, Noko Moswete and I are the only female comedians on Nationwild. Comedy is a very maledominated space. There are benefits to being female – you stand out – but it’s still difficult as you can feel like a real outsider.
I try to rally as many female comics around me as possible. Nina Hastie, Claudine Ullman and I have an allfemale show called TheThunderbirds. We’ve created a space where we do the work we want and support each other. It gives us the freedom to develop our material, and to inspire other women, which the industry needs. I wish I’d been exposed to more female comics to encourage me to do this sooner.
✱ Watch Gilli on Trevor Noah Presents Nationwild, available on Showmax
I wanted to try stand-up but I didn’t have the guts
Gilli after her se t on Trevor Noah Presen ts Na tionwild