There’s a strange, buzzing sound in the background when Joey Rasdien picks up his phone. Trying to ignore it, I start the interview by asking him how his year’s been going so far.
“Say again?” I repeat the question. “Oh ja, ja. It’s been alright,” he yells, trying to speak over the noise. I can’t quite make out what the noise is, but it sounds like a lawnmower or some sort of drilling. “It’s just this guy,” he eventually explains. “I don’t know what he wants here.” He asks me to hold and mumbles some words in the background. The noise ceases.
It’s a bizarre sequence, but one fitting of Rasdien’s larger-than-life persona.
The veteran comedian is as exuberant over the phone as he is on television and on the comedy stage. It seems he’s in a much better space than he was about two years ago when he faced a backlash over his insult of Prophet Muhammad at the Muslim Arts Festival.
On Friday, March 29, Rasdien will join frequent collaborator Chris Forrest and newcomer Ebenhaezer Dibakwane for the first iteration of The Joburg Comedy Invasion at Silverstar Casino.
Rasdien explains his relationship with Forrest, going as far back as the Pure Monate Show, the hugely popular sketched-based comedy show that took South Africa by storm in the early 2000s. “I think we were ahead of our time,” says Rasdien.
“We did stuff that The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live is only doing now. We spoke about how white monopoly capital still wanted to rule the black class -we did that 15 years ago. And only now people see. So I think our concepts, our politics and our political commentary was way ahead of its time.”
Rasdien is hoping that the new breed of comedians can carry the torch and push the boundaries even further.
“I think we must give it to the young ones because the young ones are the ones we need to live through now. I think it’s time for a new mindset to try and navigate and try and come up with solutions. You see that’s the political parties’ problem. You can’t use old techniques to fight current problems. It’s a different position now, so things need to change.”
I ask him for his thoughts on the state of South African comedy and if he has faith in the new school.
“There’s two things here: one is talent, and the other is popularity. We have an overflow of talent and an overflow of popularity as well. So sometimes the two don’t correlate. Because you’re popular doesn’t mean you’re more talented than the guys who are not as popular.
“So the industry itself is very healthy, and there’s enough talent around. You can see just by the amount of clubs we have right now and the amount of line-ups we can produce. At least when you’re in school, you can viably think of pursuing comedy as a career.”
A few weeks ago, Rasdien was one of the participants in Comedy Central’s Roast of AKA. Although he admits he isn’t particularly a fan of the public eye, he enjoyed the occasion and was one of the stand-out roasters on the night.
“The only reason why I did the AKA roast is because of AKA. If it was anybody else, I wasn’t going to do it. In terms of comedy, I still love comedy, and I still want to do comedy all the time. But I think my next project is probably going to be a cricket documentary.”
Rasdien is a big sports fan. His next mission is to put together a documentary that interrogates class-ism in SA cricket and the support system that’s failed several cricketers of colour over the years. He talks me through how several cricketers from disadvantaged backgrounds are overlooked for talent from more prestigious institutions.
“In certain areas in South Africa, there’s guys so talented but they didn’t get the chance. What happened to those guys? So I’m trying to investigate guys like Mfuneko Ngam. What happened to him? Why was he always injured and what type of support system did he have? Lungi Ngidi went to Hilton, Kagiso Rabada went to St. Stithians – those are all cricketing schools. What about Jabulani Sithole from Alex that went to Alex High?”
In terms of his goals for the rest of the year, Rasdien’s not quite as decisive.“Maybe it’s to lose weight and get my children through school.”