PG 13 and DA Friendlyby Lindokuhle Nkosi / 19.07.2011
The main auditorium at the Market Theatre is packed. The seats are filled with white 50-somethings who have made a rare trek into Johannesburg’s city centre for the second run of Nik Rabinowitz’s You Can’t Be Serious. The first run sold out. South Africans seem to be warming to a smarter breed of comedians. The gaffes are more intelligent. Satire is slowly replacing slapstick, but in South Africa’s hyper-sensitive climate, it’s a fine line between parodying and patronising. The comedy tends to be safe. It’s as though we’ve collectively decided upon a number of appropriate topics. Topics that sort of fiddle with the envelope, without really pushing it. Light-heart psuedo-dissections of racial disparity. Over-exaggerated stereotypes. Politics. Sex and drugs. Taxi-drivers and dumb blondes. This is South African comedy in totality.
Thats Nkonzo opened the show with his mildly humourous brand of R’n B comedy. The boy can sing, his voice is a lot better than his material, but still he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hands. That is, of course, until he attempted to make a DA joke. The auditorium gasped. The whistles coming from somewhere in the middle let him know exactly where he stood. A funny black boy, yes, but in no position to poke fun at the DA. This set an unfortunate tone for the rest of the show.
Nik Rabinowitz is politically literate. He speaks fluent South African and is well versed in both diplomacy and correctness. He’s one of the few South African comedians who successfully blend political satire into stand-up. His jokes go beyond a certain politician’s hand gestures and the much loved, hyperbolised black accent. The show is funny. Funny but at the same time fluffy. This is the tightrope on which popular comedians must constantly walk. A certain amount of grit must be sacrificed in order to graduate from performing in basements and dinner-theatre venues that draw people who are more interested in the bar than the stage. It lacks the edginess of John Vlismas. The raw articulation of Loyiso Gola or Mel Miller, and the mass appeal of Trevor Noah. In his attempt to make his show all-inclusive and post-racial, he does the opposite. The Xhosa jokes he excels in flew over the heads of the whitewashed theatre. The Cape Town based coloured jokes failed to the draw the response they deserve, but anything about Jacob Zuma or Juju had the crowd rolling off their seats before he even got to the punch line.
Nik is cautious not to bite the hand that feeds: middle-aged white South Africa with its middle-class sensibilities. This is where the money lies, and Nik is sensitive to this. The show, largely PG13 and DA friendly, speaks less to him as a satirist and more to his marketability as a successful comedian. His performance rhythm is smooth and his segues are fluid. There’s enough crowd interaction to include the audience in the experience. His punchlines are quotable and comfortable, and he’s updated the 2010 set with a few newer gags based on recent events, but there is a tangible tension in the set. A battle between Nik the brilliant satirist, who hosts a hilarious and relevant current affairs comedy slot on 702 (The Week that Wasn’t) and the Nik who portrayed a caricaturised, silly and seriously unfunny white trainee sangoma in I Now Pronounce You Black and White (currently showing on DSTV if you’re unlucky enough to catch it). Regardless, after this run of You Can’t Be Serious, a flood of emails will surely be sent to relatives in Australia commending his performance. Corporates will book him for their year-end functions, I however, will be watching intently to see which Nik comes out on top. Here’s hoping that it’s the smart one.