“I spent the lockdown trying to look after myself, which I failed,” Gola said. “I tried to get into the comedy mindset, but I was so anxious about what was happening, wondering if my friends and family will be alright.”
There were also positive outcomes to this. “I think I needed the break,” he explained. “I’ve been doing stand-up since I was 17 years old. It’s been good to have time off. And when I did start retelling the jokes again, it felt fresh. It was a direct consequence of being away from the words.”
Originally from Cape Town, Gola is most well-known for his role as presenter of the Emmy-nominated show, Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola, which ran on local TV channels for 12 seasons.
Described as long-format storytelling, Unlearning is centred on Gola’s personal experience and growth, with the backdrop of an old and new South Africa, focusing on the consequences of the apartheid era and the lived experiences of black people throughout history.
“It’s understanding that at some point you just can’t rely on what you grew up on,” Gola explained. “The world changes. If you grew up in South Africa in the 1970s and you went to school and they taught you certain things about black people, you’re going to have a tough time interacting with black people in the workspace.”
The subject matter of the show was also taken into consideration when deciding on a performing venue. “The reason why we’re doing it at the Zeitz is because I know what kind of show it is,” Gola said.
During its worldwide tour, Unlearning received critical acclaim at international comedy festivals in Sydney and Melbourne. The show has also been performed in New York City at the Soho Playhouse.
Since the debut of Unlearning, Gola went on to work on high-profile projects such as the Comedians of the World special on Netflix in 2019, as well as appearing on British television shows such as Live at the Apollo. He now lives in London.
For Gola, the current version of the show is not the same one that debuted back in 2016.
“It’s changed in the sense I’ve experienced more, meaning I have had time to scrutinise some of the ideas more,” he explained.
“I’ve had time to unpack way more and also what happened is the material I had on the show that ended up on Netflix and Live at the Apollo, it just ended up all over the place. So I had to find new angles to make it exist.”
Global world developments such as the Black Lives Matter movement have also allowed the show’s subject matter to take on a new and more relevant meaning.
“It fits into what the world is on about right now,” Gola continued. “When I did the show in Edinburgh and a bunch of other places, there were people who gravitate towards it. The world’s conversation has caught on to what I’ve been trying to say for the last five years. We are in sync now.
“When I was doing the show in 2016, people were wondering what I was talking about. The ideas on the show I am trying to communicate are available now in the media and zeitgeist.”