Loyiso Gola is asking me a question. “What does the review say?” After white people, black people, fat people, women, Standard Bank, the Eastern Cape and a number of sports have been in the cross-hairs, now it’s my turn. I’ve been outed, you see, as a reviewer.
The pen, notebook (and doubtless the slightly moth-eaten jersey) were a dead giveaway. Sitting in the front row hasn’t helped. And so, amidst a packed-out hall (and with Queen Victoria gazing with amusement from her portrait on the wall), I’m getting grilled by a twice Emmy-nominated comic. Who do I write for? Can he see what my notes say? What will my review say?
“It’s good,” I reluctantly concede. He pushes for more details – this glimmer of affirmation wasn’t quite enough.
I tell him to wait until tomorrow.
His attention veers away from me, thankfully), and the show patters on for a few more minutes. And then it’s over, and I’m striding back to the newsroom to write this.
Fortunately, Gola has given me some tips. “Be kind,” he’s ordered. “Don’t over-analyse this show. They’re just jokes! I was just taking the mickey.” He admits that reviewers sometimes “just hunt my soul”. So, Mr Gola, I’ll do my best.
State of the Nation is, for the most part, highly entertaining. It’s a mish-mash of prepared jokes, with plenty of improv mixed in: Gola thrives on interacting with the audience, loves the rush of the unexpected – whether counselling a woman having a period, scolding a woman caught using her phone or, of course, interrogating a reviewer.
It’s very clear that Gola is able to crack jokes about just about anything, with varying degrees of hilarity. He is charming and cocky and relaxed – the consummate performer, appearing thoroughly at ease in his own skin.
State of the Nation is the polar opposite of one that President Jacob Zuma might present. It’s unstructured (almost lazily so), a series of riffs, sometimes loosely connected, sometimes not at all. Topics vary from pornography to beetroot – “the EFF of vegetables” – to his childhood as a township kid in a white suburban school. His targets are occasionally specific – Gwede Mantashe, Oscar Pistorius – but he frequently resorts to breezy generalisations and a cluster-bombing of f-words to make his point.
At some point, he abruptly announces: “This show is over.” But Gola seems reluctant to liberate us, inviting us to ask him questions. Perhaps he’s not quite ready to stop being the centre of attention. It’s like the slow hiss of a puncture. I would have preferred it if he had gone out with a bang.