Arses on Fireby Carlos Amato, images by Justin McGee / 12.02.2010
If you put foot hard and long enough down the autobahn of idiocy, it’s possible to break the stupidity barrier and gatecrash the galaxy of genius. That’s the operating principle behind Top Gear Live, a sublimely silly “motoring theatre” production brought to SA every year by the droll BBC petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson.
My fascination with any given set of wheels is confined to the efficacy of its aircon and the quality of its sound system. And I really don’t care who this “Stig” cat is. But after my initiation at Northgate Dome in the company of Clarkson and his donnish adjutant, James May, even I had to acknowledge the fuck-the-poor magnificence of an Aston Martin DB9.
Nor can I dispute the spiritual impact of seeing a car being driven in circles with its arse on fire, to the accompaniment of Limp Bizkit.
Or the value of discovering what happens when you attach a jet engine to a bicycle. Or the pleasure to be had in seeing four psychotic French motorcyclists revolving like flies inside a giant spherical colander.
Clarkson loves South Africa, because we love cars and we love him. He even loves Joburg, and scorns the terror of his fellow limeys at the prospect of coming here. “Look at you,” he said to the 12000-strong audience. “How many of you have been killed?” Nervous titters.
“You will be killed,” declares Sasha Martinengo, his South African guest sidekick for the night in the absence of Nigel Hammond.
Martinengo made a valiant effort to play the straight man to May and Clarkson’s wisecrackery, but he was hopelessly out of his depth. The Top Gear schtick is easy to consume, but deceptively hard to produce. You need high-octane charisma to be a trio of juvenile, lecherous, middle-aged, appallingly dressed Tories and remain likeable.