Review: Loyiso Gola: Unlearning 2021
The Gist: While Trevor Noah left South Africa to make it big in America, Loyiso Gola already had become the “Jon Stewart of South Africa,” co-creating and anchoring his own send-up of TV news in 2010 with Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola. Five years later, Gola began spreading his wings to the UK and the U.S., first releasing an hour special in 2016 via Vimeo, Live in New York. Gola also performed on BBC’s Live at The Apollo in 2018, and put out a half-hour special for Netflix as part of the Comedians of the World collection that kicked off 2019.
Now 37, Gola finds himself questioning a lot of the things he was taught in schools and by society. Hence, the need to unlearn.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: Trevor Noah might obviously come to mind. The Netflix algorithm also suggests you look to comedy specials from another South African, Tumi Morake, as well as American comics such as Dave Chappelle and Deon Cole.
Memorable Jokes: Gola opens the hour with about nine minutes of jokes to ingratiate and bond with his Cape Town audience over the world’s (or perhaps more specifically, America’s) continued ignorance over the history of South Africa, earning his first applause break by citing the need to unlearn the idea that America is the greatest country in the world. “Top 50 at best! Top 50,” he jokes, instead ranking the U.S. closer to places Trump would consider “shithole countries,” and even suggesting: “No white person is thinking of America in Norway.”
But the bulk of the hour weaves in and out of stories involving Gola’s wealthy white childhood friend, Seth Langley. From Gola’s first experience inside a mansion, to schoolyard shenanigans, to misadventures during Langley’s bachelor party; time and again, the comedian finds himself proving his own rule that men who were friends as teenagers can get talked into doing moronic things.
Even though his friend has known him for decades, though, he’s still somehow blinded to his own white privilege. That sad fact allows Gola to explore the concept of unlearning to greater depths and laughs.
Gola shrewdly uses a metaphor we all can get behind to introduce the concept. Your Apple iPhone software upgrade. Why do we comply? Why must we comply? Because, he argues and jokes, we cannot get stuck in the outdated past, where our apps no longer work, or where, perchance, we find ourselves trying to quote and live by the same societal norms as they did in the Bible, when they had zero technology.
He then turns a Marlon Brando impersonation into a teachable moment, telling us that the Italian and Italian-American mafia so enjoyed The Godfather films that their lives began to imitate art, instead of the other way around. To which Gola asks: “How much of your life is living off of other people’s expectations of you?”
And how much does he allow his expectations of others influence his actions?
These are much deeper questions than simply rethinking or unlearning the concept of diamond engagement rings, the high price of lobster, the shape of wine glasses, or why women started shaving. Although those ideas all provide fodder for bits.
It was only when Gola began traveling outside of his country that he understood just how much all of us needed to unlearn the history white people had been teaching us, and it helps to hear this new lesson from someone who grew up under South African apartheid, whose own mother and grandmother’s lives and destinies were forced upon them by racism and segregation.
As we’ve seen Black Lives Matter protests over the past year, or #StopAsianHate in just the past week, or calls to action against white supremacists, Gola’s calls remind us he’s not only not a fighter when it comes to bars and strip clubs, but also not a fighter when it comes to the rest of his life. He suggests a more positive step forward instead. Blacks need to unlearn their inferiority complex. Whites need to unlearn their superiority complex.