Known to many as Coconut Kelz, Lesego Thlabi is an award-winning content creator, satirist and comedian. She tells us more about her journey and shares her success tips
Take us back to your childhood. What were your career aspirations?
The same as they are today. I was one of those people who knew from an early age what I wanted to do. I always made my family watch me perform, act and sing. I knew I wanted to be in this space.
You are a satirist, content creator, comedian and actress. Tell us about the highlights and misconceptions about the industry you are in?
Let me start with the misconceptions. People think that it’s easy and glamorous all the time. It’s a lot of work. If you want to be in this industry, you have to be passionate about it. The highlight is living my dream and doing what I studied for, which is a degree in theatre, in 2011. I feel like doors are finally opening. My acting and presenting gigs have also been highlights.
As a satirist, have you faced any backlashes from society and political parties?
Not really from political parties, but I have had to explain to people what is going on. One of the videos I posted online made it to the news and people thought it was serious. I got death threats and rape threats and for a while, I was scared to leave home. I also had a lot of fat phobic comments because of my body weight. However, soon after that, doors that I had been knocking on for 10 years opened for me.
So what would you like to clarify about the role of satirists?
I think people expect jokes to be obvious. I honestly thought that I was doing something obvious and that black people would know that this is me trying to be a mirror to their reality and me trying to show racism and white privilege. I didn’t know that people wouldn’t get it. But again, satire/ sarcasm is a difficult concept. But also, I have learnt that some people will not only cut, edit and post things out of context for a reaction and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Tell us about your alter-ego Coconut Kelz. Why the name?
I thought if I used a stage name then it would be easy for people to relate to, as most black people who went to model-C schools were called coconuts. For me, it was making fun of myself and I thought with the name, it would be easy for people to understand the concept behind the things that I say.
What is the ideal South Africa you would like to live in?
I don’t think we will get to the ideal South Africa I would like to see. However, the main reason behind Coconut Kelz was to especially make my white (and some of my black) friends see the realities for black people, to care about matters that don’t directly affect them and be thoughtful before saying anything. I really wanted them to not only understand white privilege but also use it to help create a better society for everyone.
Tell us about your book, Coconut Kelz’s Guide to Surviving This Shithole. How was it received?
It was well-received. I remember launching the book in places like Knysna, which is white-dominated and people told me they’ve never thought about things the way I addressed them and that I have opened up conversations about race. What I also love about the character is that people laugh at her, thinking it’s a joke, but when they think deeper, they can tell that my content is politically based and showing the ugly side of racism.
What would you like to be remembered for?
For changing perceptions and get conversations going. If we are going to have real interracial relationships and friendships in this country, we need to talk about our past, our currently reality and deal with it, instead of tip-toeing around it.
How do you define success, and what are your success tips for young people?
Success is having the freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it. It involves not settling for projects that you don’t believe in and pull yourself away from situations that don’t serve you and still be okay. Success also entails making a change. If one watches my content and not only laughs but also reflects and changes their perception, that’s success for me. My success tip is social media is your friend. I am where I am because I have been auditioning for seven years through my social media platforms, where I got popular. Use social media as a took to kick-start your career. If you want to be in radio, start a podcast. If you want to get into TV, start a YouTube or Instagram channel. Get your portfolio online and be authentic.
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