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Strange Bru

by Dave Durbach / 20.04.2010

Stand-up comedy, the live buzz, the caustic one-liners, the obdurate hecklers, the brutal put-downs… The forced laughter, the awkward gaffs, the crushing silences. The prospect of watching Mzansi’s top comics performing not live on stage but on a big screen in the sterile fluorescence of your local mall is something new.

Outrageous! is a hackneyed title for a movie made up of footage from two gigs, at Carnival City on the East Rand and Cool Runnings in Melville, spliced with behind-the-scenes banter. Dubbed over the opening credits is a telephone conversation that sums up the film’s premise – no budget, minimal planning, “just because”. Who’s gonna be there? John Vlismas, Riad Moosa, Joey Rasdien, Mark Banks, Barry Hilton, Loyiso Gola and Krishny Govender. All the big guns, minus a few. Each brings his or her own personality and style to the screen – the twitchy horndog, the suave impersonator, the Bonteheuwel Borat, the wry observationist, the cousin from Benoni, the sardonic parvenu, the sassy sister.

The other thing the film makes clear early on is that the cast represents a cross-section of South Africa. In the second half of the movie, all of the material deals with race. Many of the jokes aren’t particularly funny or original, at times resorting to caricatures and cheap gags. The subject itself isn’t exactly the funniest thing in the world, although it’s clearly a reliable staple and a defining feature of homegrown comedy. In the right hands, however, race can offer endless opportunities for parody (just like sex, religion or politics). If comedians are there to prod at society’s sensitive issues, the foregrounding of race in the movie merely reflects SA’s talking points, now more than ever. Cutting between the comics instead of letting them ramble provides an open, conversational tone – the subject is dealt with from all sides, and no one is spared.

While the live action is good enough to guarantee some laughs, the behind-the-scenes footage is more revealing. Some of the most telling insights come from Banks, who complains about not being able to be ‘edgy’ enough. Our obsession with political correctness, the comics acknowledge, is killing live comedy. If we can’t make fun of people, what are we going to laugh about? And if we can’t laugh about race, how will we ever see past it?

Co-producer Vlismas emerges as the dominant figure on and off stage. In one unfunny discussion with Gola on how to deal with hecklers, Vlismas questions whether it’s OK to call people monkeys, black or white. Gola says it’s only appropriate to call a white person in the audience a monkey, given the connotations the word holds for black people. As Gola tries to explain, Vlismas tells him to stop acting, and the scene abruptly cuts. This and Vlismas’s earlier on-stage rant against the ANCYL cross the line between provocative comedy and plain egotism. But that’s Vlismas for you.

Considering people paid a similar amount to watch the live show in Melville, and far more at Carnival City, the cinema experience is worth it. While obviously sacrificing some live excitement, the film offers something extra by way of the constant back and forth and backstage repartee. All in all, it’s a straightforward no-budget success that one wouldn’t ordinarily encounter on the big screen – one reason to watch it, besides it being well worth a laugh and surely more food for thought than ‘Clash of the Titans’ or whatever other Hollywood kak is on.

Directed by Bevan Cullinan, Outrageous! is currently showing at cinemas nationwide.

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