Marianne Thamm refers to her as ‘The best thing to happen to SA comedy,’ while The Mail & Guardian has listed her as part of 2019’s Top 200 Young South Africans.
Lesego Tlhabi is arguable one of the biggest breakout stars this year has seen, as the satirist behind hilarious Coconut Kelz.
From being one of the most talked about public figures during the elections, a BET special, frequent appearances on eNCA, Radio 702 and now a published author with book titled, Coconut Kelz’s Guide to Surviving This Shithole.
It is unreal to think how two years ago, this was not planned.
In 2017 Tlhabi was merely speaking her mind on social media about the negative ‘white’ commentary regarding Pretoria Girls High standing up for the right to wear their hair naturally, but was frustrated by how many people, specifically white Facebook friends from high school were just not getting it.
“I was one of those people that used to rant on social media about political, social and racial issues having had my own experiences at my own white schools so it was insane to me that 13 years after I had graduated from high school, kids were still dealing with the same issues of racism and micro-aggressions that we were dealing with.
“One day I just got in my car and started saying their comments back in their accents but at the time I used a snapchat face swap filter with a white person,” says Tlhabi.
“I remembered though that some black people make the same statements and that it was as much a white problem as a privilege problem so that was how Coconut Kelz kind of came about.”
Although the writer and actress never expected that this magnitude of success would come from the parody of ‘Kelz’, arts and entertainment have always been her passion, having obtained a BA honours in theatre at Brunel University in the UK.
“I studied theatre so have always wanted to be in this space, I even did smaller courses during my holidays in physical theatre, TV writing and drama but when I came back to SA I had a conversation with a producer who happened to be one of my mom’s friends. She said,”
‘This industry is very saturated with girls and girls who are prettier than you so you’re competing in a pool where you’re not really set up to win, so maybe you will be better suited to a career behind the scenes because you’re already set up to lose,”
Which led Tlhabi to apply as a writer, working behind the scenes.
However, the talents star power was clearly always meant to shine as her big break clearly shows false notions this producer had.
“I hope you gave her a peace of your mind now that you’ve clearly proven her wrong,” I say to her during our interview.
“No I didn’t,” She laughs.
“Their career is enough for them to deal with.”
“I kind of just like success even with trolls online like when people say nasty things about me online, I don’t go back and make them feel important enough because none of it is for them, my career speaks for itself.”
Tlhabi experienced heavy scrutiny for her first eNCA appearance as a lot of the country did not understand it was satire to her surprise.
Like many young creatives, the backlash almost drove her to giving up but was quickly saved by wise words from her mother.
“She reminded me how there are so many comedians and people who wished to have the ground breaking moment that I had and how some never get it and although there is negative I need to look at how much positive there is so I literally hit the ground running after that and never stopped since.”
“I am very quick with the block button.”
Although the 30-year-old like many of us is sensitive, she credits having had the opportunity to study abroad for shaping her attitude of not caring so much about what people say.
“When you’re away from home and don’t know anybody you’re not scared anymore and I was someone who was always in their head so being away helped especially because people in London are also hustlers, they’re creating content all the time like in New York and they don’t care what anybody has to say even if they suck they keep going.”
“There is not space for feeling embarrassed.”
Growing up in a family of doctors and bankers it was important for her to excel in her ‘unconventional’ career choice when she got to the UK.
“I had dropped out of school twice to get there and my parents didn’t have a plan b so it was it for me, if I messed up it was over.”
She emphasises that being older allowed her to really understand that and be grateful for the whole experience which moved me as I have been dealing with personal insecurities about returning to school for an undergrad degree in the arts.
“There really isn’t an end date and I think in South Africa we have that mind-set, so I say go apply!”
“Only the brave get rewarded.”
Tlhabi has plans of completing her masters in another foreign country in the near future but is currently booked and busy as ever apart from being on a successful book tour around the country.
“I think it’s weird because Coconut Kelz is a character, people don’t even know that Lesego is a person, every job or gig I get it’s about Kelz that I really feel like she is her own person and has a life of her own.
She has got the career.”
Although there is power in Coconut Kelz, one thing for sure is Lesego Tlhabi is definitely still a name on everybody’s lips and will be for a very long time.