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Kagiso Lediga and Loyiso Gola

Laughing At You

by Sihle Mthembu / 17.01.2011

Haters like Malema should be honorary members of the white community because “they’re good for nothing else, besides being on the money!” This is a joke by the way. I’m watching live comedy. There is no laughter. 200 people shrug in silence. Then someone laughs. At the comedian. Not with him.

I’m reminded of a line in Woody Allen’s grave masterpiece Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989): “If it bends it’s funny, if it breaks it isn’t.” This should be written in the still-wet DNA of anyone dreaming of becoming a comedian. Comedy, like Business Class or S&M, is not for everyone.

Here are some pointers.

Ineffectual bad language used to no real comedic purpose is lame. The great Richard Pryor had a foul mouth but he backed it up with dizzying flights of imagination and a humane sensitivity to weakness and doubt that made your heart go out to him. Plus he was funny. Maybe the funniest ever.

Now just about everyone up there curses for the sake of it. Like punctuation. Stand up routines have become the stuff in between the swearwords. Comedians seem to find it hard to be funny without tsatsarag tendencies and whorehouse language. Now I have nothing personally invested in a curse free world. You should hear me around taxi drivers at busy intersections. All I’m saying is rude has its place, but there’s so much more to being funny. The kind of funny that lasts. That gets you working full-time. That brings whole families out. The kind of funny you build a lifelong career on. This takes everything you got. More than the low speech of mean streets.

Remember Woody Allen’s “I Shot a Moose” routine? It’ll still be funny long after we’re gone. How about Cosby on grandparents and teachers? Or George Carling’s brilliant unpacking of the “Seven Words you can Never say on Television”. He turned vulgarity into a strategy to blast narrow-mindedness. Enough irony and satire to launch a hundred million T-shirts.

Of course the content of jokes is important but often comedy isn’t so much about the material itself as the delivery. I remember seeing the sadly departed, much-missed Bernie Mac on Def Comedy Jam. In bleached jeans and all. His delivery was sublime. “You don’t understand!” was his catchphrase and he’d say it in a kind of lilting, aggrieved and accusing way that was just perfect. Kagiso Lediga on Loyiso Gola’s Late Night News is developing nicely. We wait in anticipation for him to say: “This place is shit, Loy!”

And I’m really tired of comedians re-cycling the same jokes in different ways. If I want comedy based on other people’s work, I’ll save my money and YouTube old Nando’s ads. There is nothing worse than expecting a good comedy night out and being left with a supersized feeling of déjàvu! Where did I hear that before? I doubt anyone wants regurgitated viral jokes doing the rounds in comedy bars. Beer works like magic on an audience but even beer can’t make an unjoke funny.

So anyone who wants to be a professional should mirror-practice until they can’t stand the sight of themselves (self-loathing is essential to good comedy – look at Dane Cook – he loves himself and he sucks). Then earn your chops in front of actual, discerning humans (who are unrelated to you or sleeping with you or beholden to you in any way). Finally read a lot of books on re-incarnation. How else do you prepare for a thousand painful deaths?

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  1. vuyo seripe says:

    The Moose is my favourite joke in the whole wide world, Woody Allen is great!

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  2. Roger Young says:

    I always thought it was “If it bends it’s comedy. If it breaks it’s tragedy”.

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  3. forest whitaker's lazy eye says:

    George CARLIN, please.

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  4. Lenny Bruce says:

    The ” what should be” never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it . There is no “What should be,” there is only what is.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Because of the he picture accompanying the article, I felt very mislead.
    Thought you were going to finally tie it in with LNN but alas… .
    Nobody likes a tease.
    Good article nonetheless.

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  6. Flinty says:

    Comedy in South Africa is sheltered employment and I’m afraid that applies to current golden boys too. Only Kagiso has got the funny: the rest are corporate shills pandering the racist frustrations of their audiences (oh, except for Trevor N, who is just a corporate shill, full stop.) One of the most awful comedy moment of my life was “Three Wise Men” at the Baxter. It was like taking candy from drunk babies. Nik Rabinowitz only had to say “Is djy djusss?” to the mainly coloured audience to get a standing ovation. The wittiest stuff, all from Riaad Moosa (which isn’t saying a lot) got half a titter, but luckily Nik and Marc Lottering were back soon to say “Nay, my laanie, hy’s a poephol!” and the groundlings were pissing themselves again. Really embarrassing watching a mediocre comedian getting adored by a theatre full of people who’ve never seen real comedy.

    Saw Bill Bailey in London last month – a gentle, affable genius, not an f-word for 90 minutes, all of it just great comedy and great imagination. But the difference for me was the wit not of the comedian but the audience. The few heckles were VERY funny, and his comebacks were even better. (At one point he asked us, “Is there a theorist in the house?” to which someone shouted back “It’s possible!”) South African audiences don’t heckle so comedians never have to up their game. I suppose you get the comedy you deserve.

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  7. David Hunter (Coloured) says:

    Flinty, you just ‘n droë white droll!

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  8. Tim says:

    Yeah I second that David. Man I love (or is it hate) the way people always assume they know better for some reason. Comments like “people who’ve never seen real comedy” and “all these idiots on the roads”, @Flinty – I bet there are people calling you an idiot on the roads or thinking the same shit of you sitting in the audience because they generalise like the rest of us, don’t you feel like a bigot when you bring up the fact that you saw Bill Bailey in London and then tell people they haven’t seen real comedy? So it’s only good when done by a white guy or in the first world? The grass is always greener on the other side and so on, but what do I know, I’ve never seen any real comedy.

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  9. bob says:

    It’s hard to be an original comic in a country where the audience finds Barry Hilton and Leon Schuster funny. It’s not that there aren’t other comics trying new shit, it’s that they don’t get the support they deserve, because the ‘smarter comedy audience’ expects Bill Bailey for R30. Support your local comedy club because there’s plenty of talent, it’s just very hard to develop in this country. But thanks to the ‘corporate shrills’, more people are getting interested in comedy which is great. I don’t enjoy Trevor’s comedy, but he’s getting people back into comedy clubs, and that’s what we need. Not being told how Bill Bailey is better. Of fucking course he is, he took years to get there.

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  10. aspiring comedian says:

    being an aspiring comedian and running a local gig for the last 43 weeks has left me in receipt of a vaild opinion considering cape townian comedy.

    we are asleep, the mad lenny bruce/george carlin spark of excessive genius eludes us.

    but we’re working on it… to things to come

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  11. Soap Box says:

    So you’ve seen one show in SA that you didn’t like and you compared it with Bill Bailley and now you have the entire genre sussed? Firstly, as has been pointed out it’s Geroge Carlin. Secondly the comedian who says, “This place is shit Loy” is David Kibuuka, not Kagiso Lediga. Kagiso has not been on a stage in months.

    If you got out and about to actually see comedy in the clubs you would see plenty of young creative and talented acts who will one day be as good or better than Bill Bailey. South Africa (Johannesburg in particular) is experiencing a surge in creativity. If you want intelligent, alternative comedy then you should look for it in alternative places. What you’re doing is seeing Arcade Fire in Britain, coming home and seeing Danny K, and writing off the local industry as a result.

    While Cape Town does have a shortage of talent compared to the rest of the country I think you should be looking for Martin Evans and Rob Van Vuuren while you’re down there. (Rob for his stand up, not Twakkie stuff). In Johannesburg get out and see Melt Sieberhagen, Warren Robertson, Dave Levinsohn, Mark Banks, Deep Fried Man, and Mojack Lehoko.

    Do some research then complain. You would be lucky if you heard any of those comics I have mentioned swear once, but they are delivering laughs. As a wannabe journalist you owe your audience proper research.

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  12. David Hunter (Coloured) says:

    AWE! Soap Box!

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