Comedy of errors

2014-12-14 15:00

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PULLING STRINGS The newscasters on Puppet Nation sure know how to take the piss. But where’s the rest of our sense of humour gone?

In June, Egypt’s version of Jon Stewart, the satirist Bassem Youssef, said he is ending his faux news show El Bernameg (The Programme) after having been forced off the air for the third time. He said it became too dangerous and that the “present climate in Egypt wasn’t suitable for political satire”.

In a far less state-controlled environment, South African TV channels and producers seem to struggle to match his comedic bravery.

The well-done satirical Puppet Nation is still on StarSat’s Star One (StarSat channel 120), and eNCA (DStv channel 403) has the fantastically funny Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola. Both shows, now celebrated, had huge struggles and fought endless battles to make it to air – commissioning editors were initially reluctant and TV channels slammed their doors.

Beyond these two now-celebrated shows bringing viewers current and relevant comic relief with an underlying message, laughs with a raison d’être on South African television are basically nonexistent.

Where is our modern-day ’Sgudi ’Snaysi, Suburban Bliss, The Villagers and The Coconuts?

Where is Comedy Central’s roast of Julius Malema?

Have we become too scared, too lazy, too dreadfully dull and too caught up in self-censorship?

Perhaps it’s time for Evita Bezuidenhout to return to television.

South African TV is ripe for hilarious comedy instead of the same old. A year ago, e.tv was furious after an article was published claiming the channel was going to do a show called Zuma’s Housewives.

Sadly, it was just a joke and the show was not to be. Yet this year, a behind-the-scenes real-life bust-up between two wives who showed up at the SABC to be interviewed at the same time on the same show – unaware that the other one was invited – was living proof that such a show could really work.

Or how about a comedy like the British show from the 70s, Mind Your Language, recently again on SABC3? We can adapt it to the South African context and make it about fake sign language interpreters going to sign language school. It doesn’t need to be in Zulu, Afrikaans or Pedi. Viewers can just read the subtitles.

How about a quasi-comedy show set in Parliament, since MultiChoice’s parliamentary TV channel has become must-watch television on DStv (except for when it gets switched off)?

Speaking about being switched off, what about a sitcom about families from eKasi and Northcliff, and how they each deal with Eskom’s blackouts and stage 3 load shedding?

We loved Going Up in the 90s, South Africa’s first multiracial, multilanguage sitcom that was set in a lawyer’s office.

Why not follow it up for the next generation with Going Down – not about SAA, but about the never-seen courtroom workers who descend after hours to ground floor level to clean and have fun?

Viewers can delight as the characters diligently tamper with and destroy evidence from the day’s legal proceedings.

Un-Steve, sponsored by FNB, could follow a washed-up white Afrikaans singer searching for relevance and learning lessons about racism after having fallen asleep like Rip Van Winkle for 20 years in 1994 and waking up to discover South Africa has changed and moved on without him.

Have we become too thin-skinned? It’s time to bring back the funny to TV so we can laugh at ourselves again.

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