While traveling through Canada for some stand up shows I had the honor of speaking to a very funny comic originally from South Africa, Ariel Kagan.
Ariel is a white man who grew up in a place where racial tensions between blacks and whites continue to run very high. Now living in Canada, I spoke to him about South Africa’s history of apartheid, of which I knew very little.
We also discussed his transition from the constant fear he endured in a Third World country to the cold but relative safety of Canada.
You speak a lot in your comedy about being privileged in a Third World country. Did you realize from a young age that you were better off than most people in Johannesburg?
Yes, because most people who are rich have houses that have living quarters for maids. In my childhood home we had a garage that we converted for our maid. Sometimes maids live there with their families so they all live on your property; otherwise they would have to live in slums.
In Johannesburg white families tend to be the more privileged ones?
When I grew up yes, that was the case, but it is shifting drastically now. The money power is shifting. Now black families with money have black maids that they hire. In Johannesburg being a worker like a maid is the main source of income for a lot of families.
In South Africa you use the word colored as an actual race of people?
Yeah, just to clarify when we use it it’s to describe someone of white and black descent like Trevor Noah. It’s actually a box you can check off on a questionnaire in South Africa. When I say it I don’t mean it in a derogatory term, which is weird because here in North America their’s hatred in the word colored but where I’m from it’s a polite way to describe a race of people. Like when I arrived in Canada I told someone to hang their coat on the coat rack next to the colored and everyone looked at me bad, like I did something wrong. Where I’m from that’s a word you use all the time to describe a person.
In your last joke, in the clip you describe separating blacks and whites in laundry form, but it’s also a joke referencing apartheid which was the very heavily enforced law of separating black and white people. This system of racial segregation was eliminated just 19 years ago. Do you remember a time of such heavy separation of the two races?
It’s weird because nelson Mandela’s release from jail was the start of the movement so I was three when that movement started. I don’t really remember a time before that, but when I saw the change was in kindergarten. In school I was with white only kids and then it slowly started to change where I had more black kids in my class. So as a kid I didn’t realize what was happening until I got older and educated myself and realized the separation was really messed up. What I like about my family is that they are very liberal, like I’ve never heard my mother say a racist thing. She’s Canadian and she’s a very educated woman who loved everyone so my life I grew up around black people because she employed them and was friends with them. What she did was different for the times.
You have mentioned to me in private conversations that you found it weird living in Canada because now you realize how much daily fear you lived in while living in Johannesburg. Could you elaborate on that?
Yeah, you just live in a way where it’s always about safety and it’s ingrained in you. Like one time I was at a traffic light and from the corner of my eye I see a man running up to my car with a hammer trying to break my window, so without even thinking, just pure reflect, I hit the gas and pass this traffic light because I knew this man was going to rob me or kill me. When you live there you don’t think about it, it’s just a reflex. You don’t drive down this road because it leads to a bad neighborhood or don’t go into these stores. Then I move to Canada where people walk down the street at 3am without fear and that was so shocking to me at first. I never even tried being out that late back in South Africa. I just didn’t feel comfortable.
So now that you live in Canada you can appreciate what some of us as North Americans take for granted?
Yes, like in South Africa we have to be afraid of the police as much as we are of criminals. The police don’t care. For example a famous newscaster was robbed while on the air doing a news story because the criminals where not afraid of the police. The police weren’t going to do anything so without any regard for the law they stole this newscaster’s equipment.
You speak a lot about South Africa in your comedy and the love you continue have for your country, despite its flaws. What message do you want to bring across with your stand up?
I never thought I’d talk about being South African because while I lived there I never really thought of myself as passionate about the country. When I moved here I found a passion about home I didn’t know I had. Reading about what’s going on back home makes me sad and also makes me worry about friends I still have there. I fear for their safety. So with my comedy I want people to understand me. I miss my roots. I’ve spoken negatively about South Africa so far in this interview but you need to know there are good people there.
The people are so much better on a one to one level. People in South Africa are genuine. Friendly. I always say Canadians are polite but not friendly. Canadians are taught to not be rude to people. In South Africa if you bump into someone it wont be an issue but they will talk to you and you might make a new friend out of just bumping into someone. We are big on helping out our neighbors. You need to help each other to live and to eat another day. There are good people in South Africa. We want our country, and our fellow man, to succeed. With my comedy I want people to connect with me and I want to connect with them so I do that by telling people where I come from and where I plan to go.
Actor and comic Miguel Dalmau might look familiar to you. He first broke into television appearing on TruTV doing what any self respecting Latino man would do—reenact crime footage.
A staple in the New York City comedy circuit and comedy clubs throughout the area. Miguel was asked to performed in the Hoboken Comedy Festival three years in a row alongside some of the most prolific comedy talent working in the industry.
Miguel was born and raised in Queens, New York and his many talents have allowed him to travel far and wide performing at comedy clubs, and colleges. He is currently touring with Carlos Mencia and plans to enlighten and entertain a whole new group of fans with his comedy.