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uNik has Balls

by Daniel Friedman / 29.04.2010

There are some shit hot comics in South Africa. We seem to survive living in a society where violence, poverty, corruption and AIDS are everyday topics around the office water cooler, due solely to our ability to laugh it off. While this says some disturbing things about our psyche as a nation, it makes our comedy pretty fucking fearless. What does annoy me, though, is the preoccupation with race almost all local comics seem to share, and so many acts I’ve seen lately have been based almost entirely around this. This doesn’t offend me, it just bores me, and mostly it’s because of the bucketloads of clichés that can result from going in this direction. You know, the “blacks have big dicks” and “white people can’t jump/dance/clean up after themselves“ type of direction. It’s mostly true, only not that funny, because we’ve heard it all before.

Seeing Nik Rabinowitz doing his thing, this time in his second one man show, uNik, which I was lucky enough to catch at the Nelson Mandela Theatre on the Square in Sandton this past Friday night (it’s sold out until the end of its run), taught me that it is possible to base your show entirely on satirizing our cultural and racial differences AND be funny. His comedy revolves entirely around highlighting absurdity in the thinking of average South Africans, and he is particularly adept at picking up on the subtle ways this thinking differs depending on where we come from culturally (and economically). Basically, it’s racially charged comedy, but coming from a topical and satirical place. And not because Rabinowitz has nothing else to say, but because these issues are blatant, unavoidable and indivisible from SA’s narrative. So the trick is to tackle them from different directions, something Rabinowitz is adept at. Ironically, considering one of the many ways you can pronounce its name, uNik has balls.

It was hard not to enter with high expectations after hearing people rave about Rabinowitz’s first one man show, One Man One Goat and discovering that uNik is co-written by Tom Eaton – one of our best columnists and, as one of the minds behind our own answer to The OnionHayibo, clearly no stranger to satire. It lived up to the hype – Rabinowitz is quick-witted and accessible onstage, and like any good topical comedian, well versed in the issues. So ET, Malema, Zuma, Hofmeyr, Obama and the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull (that nasty Icelandic volcano) all get a mention. In the process he also takes on every SA cultural group and accent imaginable – with varying success – and this leads to my main criticism of the show.

Rabinowitz is hilarious, that much is clear, but I’m not entirely sure he’s a natural impersonator. Doing his usual stand-up thing he is always funny and always on point. His taking on different SA stock characters isn’t always as succesful. When lampooning the people he has spent the most time with – Jews – he is spot on, but he comes across as quite a bit less comfortable taking on the persona of a female black receptionist and even less so tackling a typical Afrikaans male. This doesn’t mean that the man should give up on trying to take on characters from cultures other than his own – it is the logical direction for his comedy to venture in, especially in a theatre setting. But this part of his act – and not the content so much as the accents and inflections – needs work if Rabinowitz wants to gain the chameleon-like mastery of personas that would take his performance to the next level. In the meanwhile, though, he continues to hone his craft, and while he’s doing so I’m more than happy to watch and laugh from the sidelines.

Catch Nik in Bafunny Bafunny next.

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