Two Dof Couplesby Andrew Thompson / 21.12.2009
Don’t tell Nik, Marc, or Riaad, but the true highlight of my 3 Wiser Men experience at the Baxter didn’t actually come during the show. It came, surprisingly, during the brief 15 minute interval which, I should mention, arrived rather abruptly. Two couples, middle-aged and almost definitely from Constantia, happened to bump into each other near the tea station in the foyer; clearly old friends. The greetings were generous and warm, and, as is the case during theatre intervals, both sides immediately launched into their small-talk take on the show. They compared notes, chuckled and even related their favourite moments. But a few minutes into the conversation things got a bit awkward, and as the once flowing conversation stalled, they all exchanged sheepish and confused glances. “You’re not seeing Stuart Taylor’s Learner Husband, are you?”. “Uh, no. We’re watching 3 Wise Men, with Marc Lottering.” They looked at each other embarrassingly, and then silently parted ways back into their respective theatres.
This, really, is a symptom of the comedy currently doing the rounds at local theatres – it’s all this wholesome, desperately trying to be edgy, but really fairly generic, mature humour. You just need to look at the audience streaming through the doors to qualify this – mainly middle-aged to elderly (they even wished some tannie happy 79th birthday during the show), who arrive early, pass around their box of Nutties, and laugh those hearty, considered laughs, that roll from the belly, not fly from their lungs.
But if you remove yourself from this scourge, 3 Wiser Men will still leave you laughing – hell, it had a few people writhing in bundles on the soft theatre floor. And how could it not have, with three of SA’s top comics – Marc Lottering, Riaad Moosa, and Nik Rabinowitz (hands down the country’s funniest man at the moment) sharing a stage? These guys know how to work a crowd, and a few dozen shows into the season, they’ve ironed out most of the kinks and dropped all the kak jokes, leaving behind a polished, rehearsed, and fairly clinical comedic core to work with. Which, it seems, is exactly what the mature, considered audience was looking for.
But that’s exactly the problem with long-running shows like this – the jokes are still hovering around the Joel Santana era, they still reference District 9 like it’s fresh on the circuit, talk about “shooting the bastards”, and continue to take digs at Joost, and some of Nik’s material was used on his weekly slot on Cape Talk and 702 months ago.
The show is more than three stand-up sets though – these have been designed to tie the whole show together, as a means for warming the crowd in between a few very (intentionally?) average magic tricks, and the two main skits, which involve plenty of drag, and some all-together very funny characters. But at the same time, which would’ve come dangerously close to falling flat if it wasn’t for Nik’s various alter-egos, one of which, a blonde, bosomy, middle-aged and all too convincing Mrs Rosenberg, must surely become a regular on stages around the country.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of the show is that it’s just trying to do too much. It’s trying desperately to become a one-of-a-kind combination of the Late Night genre of television shows, with shrugging and chuckling band members in the background; a stock-standard polished skit show; and a stand-up comedy gig, all rolled into a neat two hour package. And, while they are all effective, and have their moments, it all seems staid and tired. But, until South Africa develops a proper comedy circuit, where you can catch the likes of Nik, Marc and Riaad in intimate, boozy clubs, where they can really let loose,` you’ll just have to get what you can out of polished, well-rehearsed gigs like these.