Fusion and Fission at the Very Big Comedy Show

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Marc Lottering started off his set by telling us that we could
all relax, because none of us were there “looking for meaning”. Nobody comes to comedy wanting to discover some secret symbolic meaning of it all. We all just wanted to have a good time. To laugh.

Laughing is a physical, involuntary response. Monty Python used it as their only criteria when reading new sketches to each other. If the other members of the group produced “this sort of gurgling sound at the back of the throat,” then the sketch stayed.

Laughter doesn’t have to be explained or understood, even though many – from Henri Bergson to Richard Dawkins – have tried to figure it out.

Stand-up is a space where all the hidden shadow elements of a society are revealed and the soft underbelly we’ve been trying to protect comes out into the spotlight. All the issues currently stoking the anger and fear of the South African psyche are here, with many stories fashioned around crime and racism.

Rob van Vuuren peforming in the comedy show, The Very Big Comedy Show IV, at The National Arts Festival, on 06 July 2016, in The Butler Theatre, 1820 Settlers monument. The show was hosted by Rob van Vuuren. (Photo: CuePix/Megan Moore)
Rob van Vuuren peforming in the comedy show, The Very Big Comedy Show IV, at The National Arts Festival, on 06 July 2016, in The Butler Theatre, 1820 Settlers monument. The show was hosted by Rob van Vuuren. (Photo: CuePix/Megan Moore)

The stand-up form requires a great deal of courage. The innateterror of appearing foolish in front of others might be one of the reasons why so much stand-up provokes, offends and outrages, as the comic lashes out as a defensive position.

As the host for the event, long-time Festival favourite Rob van Vuuren taps into a kind of pent-up primal rage which he siphons off between sets, releasing doses of the unmediated id which worked so well for Twakkie.

According to Andrea Greenbaum, stand-up uses “a narrative style that is decidedly aggressive and confrontational”, which is also one of the reasons why the scene is still so heavily dominated by men.

And yet, Tumi Morake has found her own style, balancing the personal and the political, and managing to joke equally about race, sex and motherhood. She’s just won a Comics Choice Award – suitably, she was one of the highlights of the show.

Barney Simon famously distinguished between the laughter of recognition and the laughter of derision. Laughter can bring together, or it can divide. In this sense it can create either fission or fusion.

Some comics create a warm, inclusive laughter, finding a common ground we can share; while others have a colder,more clinical, cynical mode which judges and polarises, creating separation.

Highly politically motivated performers might see this as a motivation for their work – to change the world; but the problem is that as soon as you start taking things too seriously you stop being funny.

For example, newcomers Thenx were very serious about the message they wanted to deliver, which detracted considerably from the comedy of their routine even though as acapella singers, they’re highly talented.

Alan Committie performs in Love Factually at the Guy Butler Theatre during the National Arts Festival 2016, July 7. Quick on his feet, Committie incorporated members of the audience into the show, which examined the modern-day relationship. Photo: CuePix/Greg Roxburgh.
Alan Committie performs in Love Factually at the Guy Butler Theatre during the National Arts Festival 2016, July 7. Quick on his feet, Committie incorporated members of the audience into the show, which examined the modern-day relationship. Photo: CuePix/Greg Roxburgh.

For me, the performerswho created the most inclusive laughter were Marc Lottering, with his engaging, self-deprecatingstyle, and Tumi Morake.

Alan Committie shone for other reasons. He could be cutting at times, yes, but his brilliance lies in his immaculate script, his facility with language.

He didn’t pretend that he was giving us some authentic version of himself, or try to present an illusion of spontaneity. Instead, heworked the audience like a master craftsman, knowing that his text was solid and his carefully rehearsed delivery on point. He approached it more as an actor taking on a role, than as a friendly guy wanting to banter.

Committie will be performing one show only of his new production, Love Factually, tonight at the Guy Butler.

By Anton Krueger

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