It has been eight years since Khanyisa Bunu ditched the blackboard and chalk for a life on stage delivering comedic punchlines and laughter.
We caught up with the teacher turned comedian and actress at DRUMBeat Festival to see what has been going on in her life since making the big move.
It’s hard to miss Khanyisa at the festival, even though she has a calm and unassuming demeanour. Her fans swarm around her, making her presence clearly known.
She is everything that you think that she is; humble, funny and talented. At 38 years, she is a lot older than me, but speaks with respect and addresses me as “sisi.”
When she speaks, she effortlessly slides in jokes that have me laughing uncontrollably. It is easy to see why she is seen as comedic royalty.
She has really come a long way since her days on So You Think You Are Funny where South Africans were first exposed to her.
A Comedy of Errors
It has been a series of massive highs, and incredible lows for Khanyisa’s career. She made history in 2015 by being the first woman to win a Comics Choice Award.
This year, she reached new heights by opening for international sensation Trevor Noah at his show, There’s a Gupta on my stoep.
“It still feels like a dream, even today. I still cannot believe it. Trevor even gave me feedback on my jokes and also gave me a few pointers to make some of them better. Honestly speaking, if you were to say it didn’t happen, it was a dream. I would believe you.”
This moment, and so many others that she has had in her career, almost didn’t come to existence. Things got so hard that she thought about quitting the industry; not once but twice.
In 2009, after the show So You Think You Are Funny wrapped up, Khanyisa went back home to the Eastern Cape and didn’t do any comedy for two years.
“After the competition ended, I was called for a few gigs and weddings. I did not have the confidence in comedy sustaining my livelihood because I wasn’t getting a lot of bookings.”
Her biggest limitation was her inexperience, “I thought that in comedy you sit at home and wait for the phone to ring, I didn’t know you go out there and hunt for gigs,” she quips.
It took her two years to gain her comedic confidence and focus on building her career.
But as she was grinding and things were going well, another challenge crept up. While you would expect industry recognition and awards to open doors, for Khanyisa it had the opposite effect.
“After that [Comics Choice] award, my career went down. I went for two months without a gig. I was shocked and asked myself what was wrong because I used to get gigs but with this award, I’m sitting at home. I thought I was being punished.”
But friends and family wouldn’t let her give up. Like they say, “sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can reach the top.”
And up she went. All the way to Ses’top la where she killed the role of a domestic worker named Nobuhle.
“I didn’t audition for the role, they called me. They saw one of my clips from Bantu Hour (a scripted sketch and variety comedy show) and they said you know what, we have a role for you. I didn’t think I would get it because I auditioned in IsiXhosa and it was meant to be in English, but they loved it”.
While her career has been a rollercoaster ride, her fans have been consistent. Her appearance at DRUMBeat Festival proved that there is clearly a demand for more of Khanyisa, and she isn’t disappointing her fans.
She currently has two projects on the go. You can catch her on Scandal on eTV where she plays the role of Dambisa, who is also a domestic worker.
You can also view the debut of The Neighbours on Friday, a new web show she has been working on with comedians from neighbouring African countries.
The show depicts the life of tenants who live in back rooms in a very cramped space, and as can be expected, this leads to a number of awkward moments.
She promises that it will be a blast and could possibly lead to many tummy cramps due to the endless laughter. I can’t wait.