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Comic Anthropology

by Hagen Engler / 30.04.2012

To Joburg comedy fans weaned on the drunk, dingy, loose hilarity of The Comedy Underground, the classy surrounds of Parker’s Comedy & Jive are physical evidence of how far the scene has come. That tonight’s Comedy Central Live… At Parker’s is rammed to the gills with eager, affluent punters on the same night as the latest Blacks Only show across town further proves that a lot of people dig live comedy these days.

Of course, we’ve also got a syndicated DStv channel, and tonight’s show will be filmed for broadcast on that. Every last Wednesday of the month is the plan. So proprietor Joe Parker gives the audience stern instructions on how we must behave during filming, while the blue-bangled media/comedian contingent furiously order their free drinks.

The night is hosted by Conrad Koch – him with the puppets, aka one of the most technically skilled ventriloquists you’re likely to see. Casual comedy fans are more likely to recognize the puppet Chester from the LNN show.

We always had a problem with featuring the puppet alone on TV, without his “master”, since most of the impact comes from knowing there’s ventriloquism at play here, and also from the repartee between the two characters. The material itself is good in parts.

Culturally, Chester is a black puppet, “an ideal BEE partner”. Cue gags about tenders, Malema, Zuma, Buthelezi etc. All toe that delicate line between edgy and embarrassing, and generally succeed. But the tone is set for an evening of race-based gags.

Of course, this is the stock-in-trade of SA comedy. If you got 10 cents every time an SA comic started a riff with “have you noticed how white people…” or “us blacks are, like…” or “coloured people go like this…” Well, you’d have enough to pay the R150 cover for Parker’s tonight, that’s for sure.

It’s vital for us to be able to laugh at our differences. In fact Koch does comedy-driven corporate gigs helping companies manage culture change through comedy. But this is hardly post-racial SA at work.

But we know what to expect. The bewildered Canadian couple in the front, perhaps less so. That the gentleman is named Milf doesn’t help his cause, and he becomes the target of some serious Koch abuse.

The intro set climaxes with a vision of Jacob Zuma eating oysters off a supermodel. Oh, hang on. Is that an oyster?

Then it’s time for Dave Levinsohn, the sole respite from the night’s barrage of comic anthropology. Dave’s more into his observational humour, which transcends race, and gets some of the evening’s best laughs.

Not that it’s conservative, just clever, perceptive and delivered with aplomb. A smell-my-finger bit never looked this good. He also drops in some accents, some physical comedy and a super-subtle crime commentary that you can notice or ignore, up to you.

Dave’s also the kind of professional who makes you feel you’re in good hands. Not for him the peaks and valleys of cringing failure, then hilarious redemption. It all kills.

So we’re nicely set for our third artist, Simmi Areff, via a cameo by Koch’s green mate Ronnie who remarks that one lady in the audience would be able to go windsurfing with her hair.

By this point, the audience is nicely lubed, not least the barflies, of whom your Joburg stringer is proudly one. So Simmi goes down a treat. He’s young, hip and rocks a style of Muslim humour not a million miles from Riaad Moosa.

So there’s also no trace of that slightly bitter cynicism that infects your older comics. It’s Muslims-on-a-plane without the sarcasm, a cool one about a guy in garb drinking alco-halaal beer, into one about breaking up on Facebook, and we’re out of here.

Nicely done, sir.

Because of the taping, sets are short and concise. You suspect tonight’s Parker’s audience – “The DStv crowd”, they call them – is better served because of it.

Then it’s half-time, some urgent brandishing of blue bangles at busy barmen and some proper flirting like the old days. We’ve pulled a rather sexy crowd tonight, comprising some flawless young ladies, generously rocking every inch of the curves their ou ladies gave them.

Nothing wrong.

Then it’s Siya B. We noticed him doing a quick survey of crowd demographics earlier (maybe one quarter black). And he bravely starts out in pure vernac, then tunes the confused whities, “That’s how I looked, sir, on my first day at a white school!” It works and launches us into a cool journey through the funnier aspects of black culture. To wit, magic and how it applies to your lady’s pussy, Daily Sun, and what it might be like if your cock was a machine gun. Also a poignantly satirical Madiba bit at the end there. Mr B leaves to a standing ovation – from us at the bar anyway.

Then an unnecessarily long coda from Koch and his babe Hilary berating the crowd, with a trippy “human ventriloquism” thing to finish off.

We sneak off to catch extra time in the Real-Bayern game, pissed for free, sexually piqued and happy to report SA comedy in a state of rude health.

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