Hell for Laughsby Psi, Kolakidd and Steve Waugh / 17.10.2012
What are a linen-loving jew, a disillusioned media guy and an Aussie doing at Montecasino? I was asking myself this while I, the linen-loving jew, queued for parking at the Palace of Dreams… no wait that’s somewhere else… Organising this Saturday night out seemed too easy for a bunch of jaded thirty-somethings.
“Hey guys come and see Bafunny Bafunny tonight, I scored some free tickets.”
“Ok, cool, where is it?”
“OK. see you at 7ish?”
Really? Wow. That means comedy in SA is in pretty damn good shape because Montecasino is even more of a mindfuck than when it first opened. The day/night ceiling doesn’t work any more, the canned bird-song is seeping out of blown speakers, the plaster pigeons are cracked and fading but the place just gets bigger and bigger. There are wine bars and clowns and ravers on stilts, but it all feels so… sad.
Even sadder was the realisation that I’d never seen so many people walking around in Joburg at night. Ambling through a gambling honey pot is what half the population with any money do with their leisure time. The other half stay home watching DSTV.
Last year Bafunny Bafunny was in the South, at Carnival City. It was bigger and more fun. Weirdly, Carnival City doesn’t feel as soulless as Montecasino. Carnival is what it is: a giant circus tent for gambling. The patrons are unashamedly there to get loaded, have fun and lose money. Montecasino on the other hand, has applied a thin cultural veneer to go with the thin cultural veneer of the Northern suburbs. However, holding your infant in one hand while you pleasure the one armed bandit, isn’t more classy because you can withdraw your child’s education from an ATM in a piazza.
Anyway, where were we… ah yes. Bafunny Bafunny. Not a great start holding a comedy event in an existentially sad venue, worse yet, it wasn’t full. The Teatro is nowhere near as big as the Mega Circus Tent with bleacher seating at Carnival – and that was rammed last year. At Monte, they just couldn’t get a Northern suburbs turn-out, which could be for many reasons: maybe people got lost in the labyrinthine parking, perhaps they are tiring of the Bafunny formula, maybe the acts are too familiar or not familiar enough… but I think it’s largely because Northern suburbs Joburgers are humourless cunts.
And they missed out. The show was pretty damn great, even though half the bill seemed to be missing (Nik? Darren? Tumi?) which meant we had to sit through more Mark Banks interludes than usual. Mark, please retire or go and do Vaudeville dinner parties in Stellenbosch. Your behind-the-barbed-wire, liberal-crime-fear-schtick is just so old and lame.
When it finally squeezed past Mark Banks, the comedy was funny as hell, racetastic and delivered to a truly mixed crowd. It seems that comedy is the only sport South Africans like in equal measure. And is there anywhere else in the world that gets off on race humour like South Africans? Hardly surprising, but surprising nonetheless.
So what did the disillusioned media guy, the pregnant atheist, and the Aussie think?
Disillusioned Media Guy
I need to frame this: I hate live theatre, I hate that feeling of embarrassment or discomfort you feel for someone who is fucking up on stage. (It obviously says something about the level of live entertainment I attended when I developed my phobia, nonetheless, I fucking hate live theatre). I also don’t really go to comedy shows. That’s not to say I haven’t listened to or watched comedy before, but I tend to enjoy very dark comedy by comedians who died young, horrible deaths.
The first thing that struck me about South African comedy is that it is pretty tame and actually pretty clean. That’s not to say it wasn’t funny, because a lot of what I saw was really, really funny. I spent a lot of the show wondering why we can’t have more of the comedy theatre world in our daily lives. As South Africans we’re rapidly losing the common access we should have to critical voices, and it’s refreshing to see that they are still alive, and pretty well attended. I’m not saying we should all be telling jokes and pissing around, but speaking truth to power is something we’re really bad at. David Kau was probably the most eloquent in this regard, but all the comedians hit this at one time or another.
I’m pretty cynical, and I half expected comedy on the level of the slapstick shit that the majority of population seems to gravitate towards. I was relieved that most of the comedy was actually intelligent. I’ve heard criticism before that our comedians tend to focus on race, I think this is unfair. Ultimately race is the one unifying thread about South Africa you can tap into: we’re all sensitive about race on some level. It’s an easy access point for comedians and they all brought race into their sets and used it as a launch pad for other conversations which weren’t about race, and were just as funny.
The only time in the show I felt a little bored was during the MC interludes, Mark Banks unfortunately got tired a little sooner than expected. Not for the whole audience, but I did sense the laughs getting weaker with each appearance. In context, he had the hardest job: he was on longer than anyone else, and he gets to do a skit every 15 minutes after a guy who only has to maintain high energy for a short period and as the night progresses the comedians get better. Anyway you get the idea, it’s a tough job.
Speaking of tough jobs, Mahala readers probably think I’m being a little light on everyone. I am, I’ve had to stand up in front of large groups of people and try to convince them my message is the one they should listen to, and I can safely tell you: that shit ain’t easy. I was just blown away by the level of ease that these guys have. Their ability to connect with an audience and keep momentum is astounding. There are people that are funny and people that aren’t and these guys are all funny and all well worth the price of admission.
So I had a good time, and I will probably go and watch more live comedy. I definitely won’t sit in the front four rows, but I will go again.
* Disclaimer: If I sound like a first time reviewer it’s because I am, and if I haven’t sounded critical enough for the trolls, it’s because my benchmark is low. My main source of live entertainment is going to pantomime with my kids. I could review the fuck out of that let me tell you.
No. I wouldn’t have come if I knew I had to write some shit for your brother’s magazine. Yes I am irritable. No. I said no. Jesus. Make something up. Ask me in 3 months.
It was funny, but Australian comedians are funnier.
I’m always amazed at how busy Montecasino is. But when you think about, it’s not really surprising. There’s restaurants, bars, shops, entertainment for the whole family, hotels, motels, endless ways to lose money, hookers, coke, high incidence of suicide (there’s a temporary morgue in the basement), and loads more besides. What’s not to love? I prefer to look at Monte, not as a cesspit of immorality and sad depravity, but rather as a positive indicator of a burgeoning, multi-racial working class. Every healthy society has one, and here in SA, it’s a melting pot of diversification. It clearly illustrates good levels of disposable income and the sheer magnitude of patrons shows consistent growth in this sphere, blah, blah. Whatever, about the show.
I had a great time. laughed my arse off actually! Generally the comedians were charismatic, easy, sharp and really on point. I agree with Disillusioned Media Guy about the race thing. It’s the foremost element of modern South African culture. I will say, however, that when done in poor taste (American comedy is rife with it) there is nothing more irritating, but this collection of SA’s finest were really on-song. There were minimal references to the usual stereotypes – black people and chicken, white people and “Woolies”, Indians and chrome bumpers – although each of these got an honourable mention. The political references showed real maturity in the material, which I really appreciated.
Most disappointing, aside from Mark Banks running out of material halfway through and a no-show from Nik Rabinowitz, was Deep Fried Man. And that surprised me. Although the set was kept interesting with the whole musical bit, some of his material was dated, which is unforgivable in political satire. Plus my first impression was “Flight of the Conchords rip-off” and I couldn’t get past it.
My best – Mpho Popps. He has a brilliant perspective and manages to, through a tough medium, deliver a completely relevant and entirely fascinating message. I was genuinely well impressed.
SA comedy looks good. If Bafunny Bafunny is an indication of things to come, then we’re in for a proper funny ride through the deepest, previously untouchable recesses of modern South African society.