Life, etc

Nando’s Comedy Festival: Cutting the funny business

By Lesley Stones 22 August 2012

You know that deep-seated belief South Africans have that nothing local is ever as good as the foreign stuff? Can we finally dump it, please, and show some national backbone? Because, says LESLEY STONES, we’ve definitely got it – and our local comics are leading the pack.

We already know we’re world champions in sport. Soon we should add comedy to the quest for world domination, because some of our local comics easily outrank the foreign stars. The proof comes with shows like America’s Black Tie Comedy Tour last year, and now the Nando’s Comedy Festival.
The Nando’s festival is American-heavy – in all senses of the word – and it’s hugely entertaining, but patchy in the way comedy often is. And local comic David Kau had no trouble beating the visitors at their own game.

We certainly have a wealth of material to play with, and President Jacob Zuma’s penchant for collecting wives and girlfriends and washing away viruses with a shower cropped up endlessly. It’s good to see our president having such a global impact. If only it was for his 9-5 activities rather than for his night-time affairs, as Kau pointed out.

Kau and Finesse Mitchell are sharing the hosting duties, and the show I saw had Mitchell in the hot seat. He’s a gem well worth importing, with a brilliant routine about growing up with a teenage mother and other vignettes told with an engaging drawl and charming demeanour. He’s well named, too, because his finesse elevates him several notches above some of the other acts.

Musical comedian Brian Haner was another goodie, not telling jokes, but singing funny songs about his life. He reminded me of our own singing comic Tats Nkonzo, but Nkonzo relies more on rewriting popular songs than creating his own, which would be a fantastic way to extend his repertoire.

Haner is a great guitarist and opened with a fabulous song based on his experiences in Africa – laughing at our president, praising Durban hookers and later, sharing his experiences with a blow-up doll who keeps him faithful when he’s on tour. 

There’s a lot of sex in the show, but the best comics are noticeably those that exercise their imagination more than their penis. Mitch Fatel’s act was all about sex, yet he’s such an unappealing looker that none of it rings true anyway. Sex is hugely entertaining, of course, but when it’s just a string of vulgarities I can hear I’m not the only one whose laughter fades. Tickle our minds, guys, not your own egos and other over-inflated appendages.

Surly Ian Bagg was great with hecklers and audience interaction, and comes armed with comments and quips that are consistently funny. 

Tom Segura told an amusing tale about wild animals being released by some dumbass in Ohio, but recounted it in a laid-back way that would be more effective if the material was funnier. If you’re going to be dry, you have to be wittier than when you’re throwing out material that’s already buoyed up with your own enthusiasm.

The festival is running in conjunction with the Graça Comedy Showdown contest for fledgling comedians. That put the diminutive and beautifully spoken winner Loyiso Madinga on stage for only his sixth time, and he handled it superbly. Nervous, obviously, but once he is relaxed, his intelligence and potential could see him take centre stage some day. As long as he doesn’t let the crudity of his new American buddies dilute the quality of his act.

A couple of comics commented on how we all think Americans are dense, then didn’t so much prove it as remind us that we really think they’re crass and cocky. Personally, I’d love Nando’s to import a bunch of British comics next time, since their humour is generally more subtle and intellectual and aims almost a metre higher than the American version.

That was proven again by the solo female, Christina Paszitsky, whose routine largely revolves around her husband’s genitals. I found her patronising to Africans and her audience, and while she had a handful of howlingly funny lines, they were scattered thinly between the general banter.

That was the pattern of most of the visiting comics. Some brilliantly wicked lines, but mostly mild chuckles rather than achingly funny patter. There’s no doubt local comics can learn from the foreigners, particularly from their slickness and confidence, but they can also stand alongside them. And beat them, pretty often. DM 

Nando’s Comedy Festival plays at Montecasino until August 26, then moves to Soweto’s Walter Sisulu Square Hall for August 30 and September 1, and Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre from September 3 – 9.

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