By Benny Mojela
Ilanga’litshoni ”Illy” Kulati is a multi-talented comedian born in the settlement of Xolani in Tantyi Location. He has been a comic for 12 years. He started doing Improv comedy at the Rhodes University Theatre with an improv troupe called Naturally Caffeinated (Nat Caf), founded by an American named Matthew Jackson, who was visiting Rhodes University. As a testament to the giftedness of its members, Nat Caf was featured in the official Rhodes University Orientation Week program.
Makhanda, formerly known as Grahamstown, is a place that has played a significant role in Illy’s life and career. His journey through this small town in South Africa has shaped his perspective on life and comedy, and he is determined to give back to the community that has given him so much. This biographical article delves into Illy’s experiences, the comedy scene in Makhanda, and his vision for the future.
Makhanda, a town rich in heritage and culture, recently hosted the Makhanda Stand-Up Comedy Competition in September. Illy, a key figure in the comedy scene played an essential role in organising the event. The competition aimed to celebrate the town’s heritage and promote tourism, running for three weeks with a diverse group of participants. The event showcased the talent from various demographics, from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Makhanda, and beyond.
Illy emphasised the educational aspect of the competition. It provided an opportunity to educate both the participants and the audience on the art of stand-up comedy. He pointed out that comedy isn’t just about being funny; it’s about connecting with people and addressing a wide range of subjects. Through this competition, Illy and his team successfully introduced people to the world of comedy and the nuances of being a stand-up comedian.
The empathy and camaraderie that developed among the participants stood out during the competition. Illy acknowledged that the young comedians challenged him to elevate his performance. As the host and organiser, he had to step up and set an example for the emerging talents. This experience has made him better, and he expressed gratitude for the growth he achieved through this competition.
Versatile Makhanda comic, Illy Kulati. Photo: Benny MojelaLooking to the future, Illy envisions the Makhanda Comedy Festival, an event that could run for a week or more, focusing on promoting comedy in the town. He sees the rapid growth of comedy and aims to make Makhanda a central hub for this art form. Additionally, he is passionate about teaching kids improvisation, a skill that seems to be fading but is incredibly fun and essential for budding comedians.
Illy’s journey into comedy was not a straightforward path. He initially tried radio, working for RMR, and eventually finding his way into comedy through improvisation. He started by participating in an open mic event in 2013, which led to him opening for Freshlyground at a major event in Port Elizabeth, now Gqeberha. This experience encouraged him to return to Makhanda, where he saw the potential of nurturing local talent and building a thriving comedy scene.
The comedian’s dedication to his hometown is evident in his commitment to running open mics and comedy workshops. These sessions have provided a safe space for emerging comedians and allowed him to refine his craft. Karaoke has been another outlet for Illy, helping him overcome stage fright and connect with the community on a different level.
Makhanda holds a special place in Illy’s heart. He views it as his home and a source of inspiration. He firmly believes that before pursuing broader opportunities, he must first make a difference in Makhanda. The town has given him so much, and he is determined to give back and ensure that the local community recognises the talent within their midst.
Illy has a vision to elevate Makhanda into an artistry hub, much like the National Arts Festival, which is celebrated in the town. He understands the unique energy and frequency of Makhanda, and he aims to harness it to benefit the local arts and culture scene. His commitment to Makhanda reflects his passion for nurturing new comedy talent and growing the comedy market, all while honouring the town that has been his source of inspiration and creativity.
Illy emphasises the transformative power of Makhanda and its profound impact on countless individuals. He encourages hard work and dedication for aspiring comedians and artists. Illy said, “Success in comedy is the result of 80% hard work and 20% talent”. Illy also emphasises the importance of relatability in comedy, drawing from his diverse personal experiences to connect with various demographics.