Funny you say that – A glimpse into the Cape Town comedy scene

2013-08-25 13:30

I’ve always admired comedians. I think of them as rather important for our society. They are, in a sense, the court jesters; poking fun, behind the guise of comedy. Holding up a mirror to the powers that be and reflecting it back to the rest of us in a relatable way is the true prerogative of the comedian. Tina Fey as the almost too-realistic Sarah Palin is a key example of the way in which comedy further influenced that political race. Of course one could argue that the politicians, especially in South Africa, are the true comedians. But let’s rather leave the merits of that debate to the professionals.

But how does Cape Town fair in the comedy stakes? The scene in South Africa as a whole has always seemed rather insulated, with the very few on top (headliners) who are successful, with the newbies hustling for spots (supporting acts), with no real middle ground. The gap has appeared to close over recent years with a few very prolific stand-out stand-ups. So I attended a show and spoke to a few very different comedians, to gain some insight to their thoughts on the industry, and their work.

I thought it appropriate to go well out of my comfort zone to experience the scene. So the boy from the deep north travelled all the way to the Deep South. The Deep South Comedy Collective takes place in Simon’s Town and was held on 24 August at 2’6 Tavern. The venue was very small, but this actually lent itself to the intimacy, that well-used euphemism. A mostly black audience was present and I overheard the performers being told to give them their money’s worth.

The comedians displayed a sense of camaraderie “backstage”, which was essentially the bar area. Conversation ranged from celebrity crushes (Cheryl Cole and her new bum tattoo) and pre-performance rituals – Lungelo Ndlovu (@DaComicLuu), the headliner for the night, told me how he prays before every performance, because it’s what his mother taught him to do; however, “God is away from me when I’m up there [on stage]”

The show itself was inspired. Despite the initially small crowd, their enthusiasm, the charisma of the performers as well as inevitable late comers more than filled the space. Eugene Mathews (@Eugene_Mathews), the host of the evening and one of the stars of TaxiVision on CTV, kept the crowd alive between performers, displaying some of his own comedy chops.

The humour was typical in some places, and surprising in others – racial humour, that South African staple, was present, but surprisingly few political jokes. I even got called out when Mathews asked me what I am, “Are you white or coloured?!” CJ Benson (@cjbenson3) opened the show and was the first to call out the only white man in the audience. The jokes ranged from sex to stereotypes, and there were even a few “poo” jokes (referring to the recent poo wars in Cape Town in which protesters threw their faeces at government officials). Yaaseen Barnes (@Ya_a_seen_Him) was incredible, spitting one-liners in a self-deprecating persona. He kept his façade throughout his set, expect when he broke during a Hindu joke. Ndlovu was unashamed in his love of sex jokes. He did not disappoint.

After the show, I spoke to Barnes, Mathews and Ndlovu about their perceptions of their work, and the scene in general. They all agreed that the comedy scene in Cape Town is still growing and, unfortunately, everything is in Joburg- media, money, and marketing.

Asked why there are so few women in the game, they all agreed that societal perceptions make it a lot harder for women to be taken seriously. Audiences don’t want to be shocked by foul-mouthed women, as they expect of men. They spoke about a few ballsy women comics, and agreed that it would take more of these strong characters to make it.

With comedians usually being provocative, I was interested to hear if there are any taboo topics. Mathews had none, saying that as a gay comic, he gets away with a lot. They all agreed that it’s about how you spin a joke, and the particular audience, but Ndlovu does not do any homophobic jokes and Barnes steers clear of rape and religion. Barnes also mentioned that political humour is just too easy to do. He believes that the politicians make it too easy for comics, and that especially in Cape Town, people don’t care as much as they do in Joburg, where there is a heavy political scene.

The previously mentioned camaraderie was admirable considering the “beef” in the industry which they mentioned. This, as they said, is killing the comedy scene, as certain people become competitive, losing sight of the goal of comedy. Barnes, however, also mentioned that one works in a group, but is ultimately alone, because you have to “hustle on your own”.

All three agreed that the secret to good comedy is to own your work. They all said that when you are on stage, you are the one in control of the room and when you have the mic, you are in charge. The key to making others laugh, according to Barnes, is to believe that you are funny. Ndlovu put it quite simply, “Just get on stage and kill them”.

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