Maverick Life


The name’s Committie, Alan Committie, licence to clown 

The name’s Committie, Alan Committie, licence to clown 
Live and Let Laugh, by Alan Committie. Portrait image: Jesse Kramer

Can stand-up comedy teach us something about coping with life’s miseries? Alan Committie’s current James Bond-skewering solo show not only makes you laugh, but teaches you how to reframe reality for a more manageable perspective.

Several times during his 007-riffing show, Live and Let Laugh, Alan Committie randomly identifies a solo clap emanating from somewhere in the audience. 

It’s applause that doesn’t quite take off, like a rocket launch that’s failed to achieve ignition, and it serves as a running joke in the comedian’s 25th solo stand-up show, which is playing at Cape Town’s Theatre on the Bay until 21 January. 

Committie, like a kindly headmaster berating that one troublesome schoolchild, delicately admonishes the anonymous clapper, and then proceeds to spell out the appropriate audience etiquette, which is to clap only once everyone in the theatre is good and ready to join the applause. 

Reaching this ignition point may take some time, though, Committie seems to sigh as he scans the audience for signs of intelligent life, just a hint of hysteria welling up from behind his eyes. It’s a mirthful mix of reproach and making a joke at his own expense, of course. The implication is that either we, his beloved audience, are a bit slow, or that he’s not funny enough to inspire us to clap.  

It’s also a reminder that live stand-up is exactly that: live. And it’s spontaneous and interactive, too. As Committie reminded one audience member on the night I watched the show: “This isn’t Netflix; I can see you!” 

Live and Let Laugh, by Alan Committie. Portrait image of the comedian: Supplied by the author

Live and Let Laugh, by Alan Committie. Portrait image of the comedian: Supplied by the author

Live and Let Laugh, by Alan Committie. Portrait image of the comedian: Supplied by the author

Committie’s tongue-in-cheek admonishment of an audience seemingly unable to keep pace with his jokes is delivered with plenty of wink-wink tenderness, but it is not without a margin of truth. His comedy comes so fast and so furious, you’d be daft to interrupt it with applause. He is like a bullet train, in fact – not only fast and furious, but fiercely ahead of the pack – and not only will you do well to save your applause till the end, but you should be warned that he’s going to keep you on your toes until the end arrives. Because this is what you get from an Alan Committie stand-up show: quip-cracking virtuosity at breakneck speed.

There are moments – many, in fact – when, unable to help himself, Committie throws a joke out in the middle of another joke: the need to purge is so compelling that he’s forced to pause one story so that whatever’s most recently popped into his brain can be shared right away. You see it again and again – a sudden observation, a plot twist or one-liner, a niggle or prompt from a misbehaving audience member that demands immediate interjection. 

He riffs this “catch me if you can” subplot in other ways, too, at one point informing the audience that certain of his jokes will only land later, after the show or in a few days. In other throwaway moments he cockily stage-whispers that this comedy show has in fact been designed to be enjoyed in the future. 

Didn’t quite catch that last bit? Never mind, he says, he just made that one up, hinting that he’s actually writing the next show even while he’s performing this one. 

A bullet train, yes, but one with all the wonderfully giddy emotions of a roller coaster, too. 

By perpetuating the myth that the audience isn’t quite catching his jokes, Committie steers himself into the realm of meta comedy: you don’t only get an evening’s endorphin rush from the onslaught of entertainment, you also get a masterclass in how comedy works, how a changed perspective can reframe reality. 

This sense of a comedian who is not only juggling multiple narrative strands, but is subject to regular interruption by his own jokes, is a side-effect of something in his brain that he says he cannot switch off: it’s that built-in comedy mechanism that illuminates the funny side of even the most banal, boring, basic or brutal situations. 

“I think that most of us who practise the art and madness of stand-up comedy are built in with a kind of ‘non-switch-off-able’ way that we look at the world,” he explains. “I might be having a conversation with someone who is sharing horrific news, and there’s a little synapse in my brain that fires and I immediately think of a witty remark, snappy return or a joke around it. As most comedians will tell you, even the most awful disaster prompts a joke. I don’t think it is a switch-off-able thing, I think it’s just there, it’s a particular wiring in the brain.”

Aside from picking on the solo clappers, he’s good at dragging the audience into his show in other ways, too. Need to leave the auditorium to pee? He’ll definitely rope you in for a bit of an interrogation – and you should know that you’ll be discussed while you’re away. It works a treat, as do the various other excuses he creates to involve the audience in the show. He might verbally rap you over the knuckles for being too young, too old, too Canadian, too Capetonian, or for failing to laugh. Or for laughing when everyone else isn’t. Anything might be cause to rag and roast you. Even your job could become a running gag. 

“There is something that an audience quite likes when I kind of take them apart as a teacher might do with a slightly slower kid,” says Committie, who was in fact a teacher for a number of years during the start of his start-up career. “Part of my clown essence on stage is the teacher figure who is ever-so-slightly looking down my nose at the audience, which is of course all faux and not real.” 

Live and Let Laugh, by Alan Committie. Portrait image of the comedian: Supplied by the author

Live and Let Laugh, by Alan Committie. Portrait image of the comedian: Supplied by the author

He might pretend to sneer at the audience, but it’s an act. In truth, he feels nothing but love and appreciation for the people he gets to entertain. He says he’s loved making people laugh since he was a boy.

Committie was forged in Vanderbijlpark (“If that isn’t a reason to start looking at the funny side of life, I don’t know what is!”), where as a boy he remembers being taken to the circus and “absolutely falling in love with the clowns, delighting in them”.

He found humour everywhere, he says, loved comics growing up, loved clowns, loved funny movies. And all through school he tapped into an innate knack he had for making people laugh. “As a young boy, walking home from primary school, I remember making up stories for my friend. His name was Mark. And when Mark laughed, it was so genuine – a cry-laugh, really – that it hit me right in the sweet spot, encouraged me to keep going, and to make the stories wilder and more fantastic.” 

His appreciation of other comedians is tremendous: from visual comedians like Peter Sellers and Rowan Atkinson to the British “comedian’s comedian” Stewart Lee (whose brand of comedy revolves around a deadpan abrasiveness and the tongue-in-cheek notion that he despises his audience). “The guys who play with words in particular are the ones I love,” Committie says, “but everything and almost anything can make me laugh.” 

This depth and breadth of funny-bone influences is perhaps why Committie is both an adept physical comedian and a master of wordplay, his eloquent use of language and gift for double entendres mixed up with gestures and expressions that in moments remind you of Chaplin, that most disarming and intelligent of clowns.

In Live and Let Laugh, Committie gets to simultaneously venerate and roast one of his screen idols. He appraises 007 from multiple angles: from a Bond for Dummies-inspired unpacking of the film franchise’s key plot points and obvious stereotypes, to an insanely funny set piece in which he transforms into a local PI – complete with bad hair, hideous teeth and untrendy safari outfit – who is set upon the idea of auditioning for the role of Bond, which is currently up for grabs. The latter is a real hoot – not only because the character Committie creates is so worryingly South African, but because Committie the actor disappears into this character so completely.

It bears mentioning that Committie is a trained actor with a string of successful roles under his belt. While he found his niche in comedy, he tries to mix his dance card by doing at least one surprising theatre performance every year or so – and he tends to pick parts that stretch him, keep him creatively agile. He says it’s good to step out of his comfort zone for a while, and the demanding dramatic roles help re-energise his stand-up stints. From playing the titular maniac in Shakespeare’s Richard III to his most recent casting as the witty and acerbic but domestically nasty history professor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, he’s also appeared in operas (albeit not to sing but provide comic relief) and musicals like The Producers and Little Shop of Horrors. Invariably, he selects complex roles underscored by an uneasy tension between light and dark, comedy and tragedy. 

Pulling a wannabe-Bond sketch out of the bag is therefore no biggie for Committie, but he says being on stage, no matter what the role, requires much the same focus and attention.

“All theatre characterisation and acting comes from a similar place, even when you are doing stand-up,” he says. “It’s about staying in the moment, it’s about working in detail and specificity, it’s about telling the story through attitude and behaviour and emotion. Ultimately, you’re trying to throw a light on slightly different shades and aspects of a character.”

In a world seemingly in the throes of full berserker mode, you might imagine that the job of comedians has been subverted by the insane spectre of reality itself: if the wreck of 2022 is anything to go by, life is one endless black comedy. These days the Elon Musks and Eskoms seem to write their own comic dialogue, and just about every bit of bad news seems bluntly farcical or steeped in irony. 

But artists like Committie aren’t there to simply point out the obvious; his brilliance lies in helping us gain an altered perspective. His genius is being able to recontextualise reality, render it safe, benign, laughable. 

“Try to reframe things,” Committie suggests. “Globally we’re in a pretty crappy situation, and so – for me – you’ve just got to take yourself out of a situation, step aside and try to look at it differently. Often when something presents itself as a seemingly impossible problem or without solution, it’s worthwhile reframing the question so that you can get an answer, because some questions don’t have an answer… But if you ask a different question, maybe an answer will come.”

It’s certainly sage advice, the wisdom of a jester who intimately understands the mechanics of making people laugh and gets off on helping to lift the human spirit.

And while he relishes the opportunities to bring joy into people’s lives, the congenial comedian says stand-up is its own reward: “It’s my little slightly cheaper therapy that I get to do every night, talking for 90 minutes or two hours on a stage and getting out some of my madness.” DM/ML

Alan Committie’s Live and Let Laugh is playing at Cape Town’s Theatre on the Bay until 21 January 2023; there is a special New Year’s Eve performance with drinks after the show in the theatre foyer where Committie will ring in the new year. Tickets are available from Computicket, or visit for more information.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Download the Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox.

+ Your election day questions answered
+ What's different this election
+ Test yourself! Take the quiz