He grew up in Vanderbijlpark, the 24-year-old social media sensation tells me.
“In school, I had so many great teachers who were so expressive and interested in us students that every day in class was memorable, and I have a pantry of experiences to fall back on."
I want to know how he came to speak Afrikaans so fluently (his home language is Setswana).
“Ek was in 'n Afrikaanse kleuterskool," he says, switching to Afrikaans without thinking about it and then realising. “That happens a lot," he says with a laugh. “I think in many languages. And I am never quite sure which one will come out of my mouth."
In grade 1, his parents sent him to a dual-medium school but the aftercare was mostly in Afrikaans. “That's how I kept it going, so I am thankful for that," he says.
He started making social media videos in 2019.
“For me, it's not really about what's funny, it's about what's true, because sometimes you can make a joke but it can also be a lie," he says.
“So I always want to make sure that what I’m recording is honest so that everyone can say, ja, this is how an Afrikaans teacher acts, or a policeman, because it is always based on something I’ve experienced and seen, not something I’m just making up."
I ask him about the skits he does, for instance, on white parents. They are funny but close to the bone. Are they based on personal experiences?
“Ja, for sure. So, where I grew up in Vanderbijlpark, it was very white. Not a lot of black people lived here. When I went to Emfuleni Park, I think there were two black kids in my class, and in the whole school maybe 10 or 20, so I only had white friends growing up. But when I make these jokes, I must also say that a lot of it is exaggerated so that it’s funny.
“My friends were good friends and their parents were great people. I wouldn’t label them as racist or anything like that, but at times I did have experiences where I would be like, ‘hmm, I don’t see Jannie being asked these sorts of questions'."
Troy laughs uproariously.
“But it’s almost like when you call out that stuff but you exaggerate it for humour, it becomes a way for people to overcome those things, because we’re not pretending they’re not there.
“You know, I have noticed that, for some reason, people are sensitive to specific topics. In the comments section, for instance, I can see that joking about certain things breaks the ice and opens up the conversation.
“Like when I did the skit around running for president and I said I would make sure there's white economic empowerment. It's a joke but there’s a truth behind it: sometimes white people do get isolated in the new South Africa, so I think it’s just about breaking the ice on complex topics.
“When we lock things up inside of us, we can think we are the only ones having those experiences, and when we realise we're not the only ones experiencing something, it’s almost like you start sharing the weight with others."
As a 24-year-old Gen-Z born-free, why does he think these topics are still so difficult for us?
“I think they’re difficult because there are still extremists in the country. There are still white nationalists who are racist and there are still black politicians who think we shouldn’t do any business with white people. I think extremism has crept into the culture of South Africa and we’re losing the fabric of the rainbow nation. And it's not only on issues of race, it's also with issues like gender-based violence for instance."
I chat with Troy on Zoom from his parents' house in Vanderbijl. Troy lives in Midrand, where he is studying computer science at Eduvos. His social media posts are a sideline but he loves doing them.
“Right now it is a sideline, but I do make money from TikTok and Instagram, so I approach it professionally. Brands will come to me and say, ‘Hey, we would like you to post a picture or video on your platform'.
“I try to do my best to build and preserve the brand, but in terms of future goals I want to be an entrepreneur. I’ve always liked business and who knows, maybe I can mix the business side and the funny side?"
One of his most successful posts is a recent one on TikTok on the reactions of white and black people when they see a stray dog. It has 1.5 million views. And then there was the 7 million-view whopper on different kinds of laughs.
I loved his take on what the Afrikaans news sounds like to people who don't speak the language. “I based that on the iconic accent of Riaan Cruywagen," he says.
Making a video
“First, we think of the idea, then we develop it. When I say ‘we', I mean me and my different characters; it's not as if I have a crew or anything.
“And I have a stand and my phone. I film on my phone. I don’t write a script or anything. When I have the idea developed in my head, I just look at the camera and start speaking, and when I stumble, I re-record.
“Many of them are one take but I also do edit. I’ll cut out where I maybe stutter, or where there’s maybe a long pause because I was thinking of what to say, or maybe I said something and I’m like, no, that doesn’t fit in … a 50-year-old Afrikaans teacher wouldn’t use the word ‘dude'. And then I pivot to get the voice on point."
Troy is funny but also profound. He has an incredible knack of picking up on nuance, and even in his most full-on roasts there is a gentleness and a kindness that allows you to laugh, even when you recognise yourself.
“I think I got that from my mother, the ability to see things in a particular way. She pays so much attention to detail but she was always very particular about not being mean or trying to control or change people. She has always encouraged me to observe people and the environment around me. She's also brilliant in Afrikaans and other languages, and she's funny too."
♦ VWB ♦
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