This week we interview comedian, actor and scriptwriter Vittorio Leonardi – a Westdene resident who left the town of Welkom to pursue a career onstage.
What city and suburb do you call home?
Westdene, Johannesburg although I'm originally from the Free State.
Tell us about your neighbours.
My street is fairly quiet, when the neighbours aren't performing construction work on their homes that is. The hammering starts bright and early at 7:30am and is soon joined by the dogs barking at the construction workers that they can't even see. I don't really know my neighbours. I wave to them when I see them and they wave back which is a good sign but there's no real sense of community. I reckon that's part of living in South Africa. We build walls to keep us safe because we don't trust anyone beyond those walls. The same walls isolate us from potential allies. The only time some people meet, let alone get to know their neighbours, is when there's an axe to grind.
Did they take you seriously when you first told them that you are a stand-up comedian?
Actually I don't think they know I am one. They know I keep strange hours and have different people coming to the house sometimes so they might consider me a person of dubious social standing. That is so wrong. I'm the guy that airs their dirty laundry in public. Big difference.
Would you like your children to grow up in Westdene?
If I ever had kids, yes, because of the proximity to Melville and the more Bohemian viewpoint the place fosters. Even if they aren't arty, it helps kids create for themselves a broader view. The old adage is that where you grew up is where your space is. It's a kind of snooty viewpoint that just because you're from an affluent area, it somehow makes you a better person. That really needs to end. In a city the size of Johannesburg we need to learn more about our fellow suburbs and our neighbours. I've had numerous people after gigs want to know where I'm from. I tell them "Westdene, next to Melville" and they look at me as though I just said I'm from Cambodia via Westbury. Some people have never ventured out of their own neighbourhoods.
What do you enjoy most about your suburb?
The silence. When the construction crews aren't working and the dogs are sleeping, there's a peacefulness that I really enjoy. When all you hear is a breeze unbroken by the sounds of traffic or sirens, there's nothing better.
If we could arrange for an Extreme Home Makeover of your property, what would you like changed?
Well, if we're talking extreme, I'd like turrets, some battlements and a moat. Every morning there would be a flag raising ceremony complete with bugler. Barring that, I'd like to go for a more minimalist feel. An open-plan building with large, double-glazed windows that insulate against the heat and cold or a break-in. I'd like a home that works with solar and wind power and be completely self-sustaining.
If you could take one part of Joburg life back to your hometown of Welkom, what would it be?
For Welkom, I'd like to bring some prosperity. The town took a big hit when the mines shut down and is only now starting to show signs of recovery. I would like to see my home town flourishing again. Also, a broader world view. With touring and travelling, I've noticed that small towns and communities still seem to have pocket of people with a closed mindset. These are places where they don't trust outsiders and anything that's not what they know or understand is treated with suspicion. There are places where there has been no transformation, where the 1994 elections are a ghost story people tell their children at night. The sooner everyone begins to embrace a real world view the faster the country's citizens can make informed decisions, then, hopefully, serious change can begin.
You can visit Vittorio online here.