Lesego Tlhabi has made a name for herself by combining her lived experiences and her theatrical smarts to create one of the most prominent comedic figures this decade. Her videos garner thousands of views not only because of their humorous content but also because of their relatability. We all know a Coconut Kelz,that’s for sure.
When Coconut Kelz was announced as Lady Whistledown for the Bridgerton event happening in celebration of the hit series’ highly anticipated season 2 premiere this Friday it made perfect sense. They both know how to shake the tables using their alter-egos and armed with sharp wit and an observant eye, their commentary rubs some the wrong way but they don’t care. They’ll say what many are afraid to. This is the magic of Lady Whistledown and our favourite satirist, Coconut Kelz.
She’s an author, a producer and all-round creative who we’re honoured to have as our latest cover star. We had to pick her brain about how it is being an internet sensation, her future plans and of course, all things Bridgerton.
Your not-so-secret weapon is satire, how did you arrive at the idea to blend that with a persona such as Coconut Kelz?
The decision to use Coconut Kelz as the vessel to perform my satire pretty much happened at the same time that I decided to even do satire. It wasn’t something that I sat down and thought ‘oh, this is what I want to do for my career.’ Then creating the character was more an issue of frustration at microaggressions and racism as it happens daily in this country. I just felt like people, especially white people, needed to hear themselves in how ridiculous they sounded in a specific issue especially because a lot of comments over all the social media platforms that I was on at the time happened to be quite similar, in fact, maybe even the same. So, I just decided to take those comments and perform them in a dramatic fashion so that people could see how ridiculous they were sounding and it just happened to work.
How do you deal with the backlash towards being an outspoken, opinionated and young black woman especially from people who don’t quite catch the satirical nature of your content?
I think it used to annoy me when people didn’t get the satire. Also, because when people don’t get something they tend to lash out in a mean way rather than enquire or research or do some sort of reading so I used to take it quite personally when the backlash was extremely mean and negative. But now I’ve realised that it’s not personal, it’s just sometimes when people don’t know better, they don’t do better so I tend to just log off. If I don’t like something that I’m seeing I’ll either mute the tweet or the video or whatever it is because social media, although it’s my job, it’s not my life. I can log off and be around my friends and family and people who enjoy my work, people who enjoy me as a person. I don’t have to put myself in spaces that are hurtful.
You published your first book, “Coconut Kelz’s Guide to Surviving this Shithole” in 2019. What inspired you to take Kelz’s thoughts and immortalise them on paper?
I didn’t come up with the idea for the book. I was approached by the publishers, Jonathan Ball, to do a book and I didn’t actually think at that point in my career, because I think I had only been doing videos for about less than a year, that there would even be a market or that people would be interested in that kind of thing or that there’d be enough people who understand what I was doing. But when they came forward with the idea and wanted me to write the book, I thought it was a wonderful idea! I thought it was awesome! I have always wanted to be an author. I am a writer, so I obviously ran with the idea. Having a publisher like Jonathan Ball that has done a lot of politically heavy books backing me was also really important in that they wanted to go into the more humorous side of things so it was just the perfect marriage.
South Africa is still a gold-mine of content with all the recent developments in the country, could there be a second edition on the cards?
I have never thought about doing another book just because even in the beginning I hadn’t really thought about doing that first book. I’d like to write more. I just don’t know if it would be under the Coconut Kelz pseudonym or if I will write different kinds of novels or different kinds of biographies. I definitely want to continue writing but I’m not yet sure if I think Coconut Kelz’s words and thoughts need to be immortalised in that way again. I would be open to it if I felt like a really strong idea came up but it would need to be stronger than the first book for me since I’m not just going to do something for doing it’s sake, but we are exploring the idea of making the novel that currently exists into an audio book so that people can, if they want to, listen to my amazing voice on their drives.
As a woman of many talents you’ve worn many hats throughout your career. From writing to producing and even DJing. Which job is the most challenging for you?
I have trained and studied for everything that I do so it’s very hard to find something I find difficult, just because I worked my a** off my entire life to be doing what I’m doing and I’ve spent my entire life being a theatre kid, being in dance schools and being in performance classes so everything I’m doing now is a result of all the hard work I’ve put in. I don’t feel that comfortable with public speaking just because I get very nervous and I’m kind of shy and awkward which is a little fun fact that people don’t know about me.
You have a solid background in theatre and drama and you have been a part of some shows like ‘uBettina Wethu’ and ‘Tali’s Baby Diary’ just to name a few. What kind of role would you like to tackle next?
I don’t think the role I want to tackle next happens to be an acting role. Obviously, if something international came up sign me the f*** up! But for me, I’d like to tackle creating my own content whether it’s movies or TV. That’s what I want to do, kind of step behind the scenes now and own the narrative, write some stuff. I want to write more inclusive scripts. There’s been a lot of situations in the public recently where TV shows have taken roles away from maybe bigger actresses or darker actresses. I’d love to spend the next part of my career or the later part of my career dedicating my life to writing scripts that include love stories for bigger women. I want to write stories where they just have beautiful, intricate, interesting stories where the protagonist happens to be plus-sized or she happens to be dark skinned. I want to champion people who are often not championed in society.
Shonda Rhimes’ hit series Bridgerton makes its much anticipated return on 25 March. Did you identify with Lady Whistledown the most or was there another character who resonated with you in the previous season?
I know I have been chosen to play Lady Whistledown and I can see many similarities between me and Penelope, who happens to play Lady Whistledown, and that is that we are keen observers of society. Lady Whistledown’s job is to sort of humble society in a way in that she points out the truth of what’s actually going down. People often love to hold a veil up and sh** and do sneaky things behind the scenes and she exposes that with wit and humour. I think we are the same in that way. When watching the series I actually identified the most with a character called Eloise who is the main protagonist in season 1, Daphne’s sister. She is very career driven. She does not want to dress up and be paraded around town to find a husband. She just wants to focus on her dreams and her goals. She’s very independent, she’s so smart, she’s really funny. There’re moments of naivete because she doesn’t know, for instance, how unmarried women can have a baby so there’s moments like that that make me laugh. I think she’s got really strong humorous moments.
Congratulations on Landing the role of Lady Whisteldown for the Bridgerton Affair, how instrumental was the Coconut Kelz brand portfolio in you being highly recommended for this role?
I think Coconut Kelz was the entire reason I got this role and like I said, there’s so many things about Penelope/Lady Whistledown that resonate with Coconut Kelz in terms of being the eye of society, exposing things about society and using wit and humour to do so. Her weapon is her pen and my weapon is my word, if you will. I think that’s pretty much the entire reason I owe Coconut Kelz the biggest thank you. Also, if you guys can show Shonda some of my videos maybe she can put me in season 3.
What are you looking forward to seeing in the new season?
I am looking forward to the introduction of Kate Sharma specifically, but the two Sharma sisters come in and cause quite a stir, they’re coming from India. I’m most looking forward to seeing how the story between Kate and Anthony unfolds just because Kate is also super independent, quick-witted with her words. She’s always got a really quick retort and can bring any man to his knees with her words, especially the arrogant Anthony. So, I think I’m most looking forward to seeing how they spar, and how their love story develops because I think we can already guess from the trailer that even though Edwina is meant to be his suitor I think it’s going to be a Kate/Anthony love story. I also love that there’s even more diversity, the fact that Shonda chose to go with Southeast Asian characters and bring that into the world of Bridgerton. I just love how she’s bringing important characters from different backgrounds, and it doesn’t have to do with racism and making that the focal point just like with the stories I said I want to tell using different bodies. I think it’s so nice that she’s doing the same thing using different races.
You stay booked and busy, what does 2022 look like for you and what can we expect to see from you?
2022 unfortunately comes with a lot of NDAs! So, it’s very difficult for me to honestly outline what I’m about to do this year. I do think though if people follow me on social media they’ll always be kept abreast of the current affairs in my life. One thing I am focusing on this year is the introduction of my podcast. It’s very important for black women to have a space to be able to discuss issues that affect us as millennials, even some Gen Zs if they connect with it. I just want to be able to talk about sex, careers, mental health, body issues and all the sort of issues that we tackle when we speak to our friends. I want it to be like you’re sitting down with your best friends and you’re having a gab about whatever the issue of the day is especially things that happen to be more taboo or things that people pretend they don’t talk about but we do so I want to go into abortion, the female orgasm and claiming our sexuality. I can’t wait to launch that, that’s the focal point of my 2022. Everything else happening is also still very exciting and I’m putting my everything into everything as I always do.
Catch The Behind The Scenes Footage Here: