SA celebrities? Where?

2011-03-14 00:00

I HAVE a friend who once framed a tissue because she had wiped her hand on it after touching Shawn Michaels, “The Heartbreak Kid”, in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). On a DVD featuring American rock band REM in concert, a bunch of front-row groupies excitedly wiped the sweat from lead singer Michael Stipe’s bald head. And at the recent U2 concert at Soccer City, I saw an envied fan almost have a heart attack from ecstatic overload when lead singer Bono lay his head on her lap.

There’s sommer something about celebrities that makes us go crazy when they enter our world.

So, when I bumped into South African stand-up comedian Riaad Moosa at the airport, I was astonished that there was not a single person around poking him for an autograph. Maybe they thought that he was just a normal guy with the same nose?

The “comedy doctor” walked casually onto the plane, while his wife followed like a Jo’burger in unwalkably high stiletto heels and her baby on her hip. No one stared. No one bothered. His wife probably received more attention for her two-hour-flight-with-kids fashion faux pas than he received for being “famous”.

And when they sat in the row behind me, the man sitting next to me grimaced as one of the children let out a small whimper.

He was just another nobody, like every other one of us.

According to his website, Riaad is “one of South Africa’s most popular, award-winning and successful comedians”. Less than two months ago, he even earned the bragging rights for the Comics Choice Award and there’s a film in production, Material, that is inspired by his life and in which he plays the lead role.

So is South Africa’s most popular not really popular at all?

“South African celebrities” seems to be an oxymoron. They don’t really exist, except for Tata Madiba who is recognised around the world, and perhaps, in a few years’ time, Gareth Cliff for all the commotion he causes. Other than them, every celebrity exists within their own realm of expertise, only known to the fans who follow them.

Avid South African soapie viewers will recognise the television stars. Music fans will know the musicians and comedy fans will know the comedians.

Compared to the millions (yes, I exaggerate) of gossip websites for American celebrities, South Africa barely has one (or rather one that I can find): zalebs.za.msn.com

It doesn’t even have an independent web page.

Featured Zalebs include Kuli Roberts for her hate-speech rant and Julius Malema for … um … turning 30. Nothing new that’s not featured in newspapers, magazines and their websites.

Where are the crazy paparazzi stalkers? The naked photos and sex tapes? The scandal? The fragmentation of the real self and the celeb?

Sure, you can find the dirt if you really want to look for it, but most South Africans would rather google their fave American and European stars, chat about Hollywood and pay thousands for live concerts by overseas bands. Why?

I asked my friends on Facebook who their favourite South African celebrities are. One friend simply said: “What? South Africa has celebrities?” Other responses included old sportspeople or television presenters, most of which I had to google.

Many are remembered by their personas rather than who they are. For example, Bevan Cullinan is better known as Gary the Toothfairy from MNet television advertisements than his stand-up comedian, film-director self.

How long will it take for anyone in South Africa to become truly famous? Or is fame slowly disappearing with globalisation and the Internet?

Are there too many facets of the media, too many platforms from which to broadcast oneself and too many people with a claim to fame for any of them to mean anything?

As in school where teachers learn the names of the “naughty” ones first, the most popular South Africans are the ones who’ve said something outrageous. Kuli and Jimmy Manyi have been the talk on the streets recently for their racist slurs. Everyone knows Malema for his idiotic outbursts and Schabir Shaik for his notorious “jailbreak”. But brilliantly funny Riaad Moosa is left gripping onto the edges of recognition despite his efforts on television and stage.

So if you want to be famous, maybe it’s a good idea to stop trying and just say things like:

**Comment has been removed by editor to prevent any involved parties from being fired for racist slurs.**

Damn.

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