A roast is a funny thing, in more ways than one. This is the second major roast in SA, following the 2012 roast of Steve Hofmeyr, and a lot of us are still coming to terms with the concept.
The event billed as the Comedy Central Roast of Kenny Kunene #RoastZA Fired Up By Nando’s continues the ongoing comedy education of the South African public.
It now appears a roast features well-known celebrities delivering lines dissing each other in turn, and these lines are scripted in collaboration with some of the best comedians and writers available. Here the LNN crew were prime collaborators.
In order for the roast to work well, each guest must have a strong public profile, a cultural resonance that everybody is aware of. Then the jokes have something to bite into, because there are shared perceptions of that celebrity.
That’s why the best roasters are the ones we can easiest reduce to a one-dimensional caricature. Somizi Mhlongo: Gay Man-Whore. Dineo Ranaka: Psycho. Jack Parow: White Trash. Khanyi Mbau: Gold Digger. And indeed Kenny Kunene: Jailbird Tycoon Politician.
This is useful for the audience. Like any comedic play, movie or TV show, when the characters are clearly defined, the jokes can flow.
Tonight, we need to be reminded who some of the characters are. A couple of barbs from Roastmaster Jimmy Carr and we understand what PJ Powers’s role is going to be: Old Lesbian. The last time PJ was at an event this big was at the opening ceremony of the Boer War. PJ is where they got the idea for biltong. Etcetera.
Carr apparently writes his own scripts. If so, he’s done his research. By the time he’s finished we know which role each of the 10 assembled panellists will perform. This roast thing is closer to acting than stand-up, since it’s quite tightly scripted. There’s also a teleprompter as a safety net.
Once you have the right characters assembled – and it’s a great line up – the roast is all in the writing and the delivery.
Kenny Kunene is the famous former teacher jailed for running a ponzi scheme. He emerged from prison and soon found wealth that he flossed tastelessly, guzzling champagne at his ZAR nightclubs, driving supercars and eating sushi off the bodies of young women.
This is grist to the roaster’s mill and Kenny reclines regally on his throne chuckling at the insults like they’re actually about someone else.
The line-up of amateurs is leavened with a few pros. There’s Jimmy Carr, the world-famous British comedy import (Sick Pervert). Manic SA comedy legend John Vlismas turns up (Skinny Freak Drug Addict), as well as the always excellent Tumi Morake (Fat).
Jacaranda presenter Riaan van Heerden completes the lineup. He’s almost unknown outside his radio audience, so he almost gets away clean. What can the other roasters really say about him, except, “Who the fuck are you?!”
It turns out he’s pretty sharp though, so when he gets his turn at the podium he delivers his zingers with perfect composure and timing. “Somizi, you’re so gay, even my gayness goes, ‘Yooooh’!”
It’s a kind of zinger fest. Also, it’s misleading to assume that at a Roast of Kenny he’ll get the worst of it. It’s really equal-opportunity insults, Kenny just gets to go last and have the final word. That’s almost the best position to be in.
If anyone can be said to have the got the short end of the stick, that would be Khanyi Mbau. Of course she built her own public persona as former actress turned gold-digger, with a string of sugar-daddies, from whom she extracts clothes, trinkets, pocket money and sports cars until they have been milked dry and fall on hard times.
The writers cannot resist. She’s like manna from comedy heaven. And she loves it. In fact she shows up in the most whore-ish outfit she can find – 100 percent see-through, with gold hotpants – and she works it.
The scorn rains down upon her. Khanyi screwed her way to the bottom. Her vagina has an echo. She once sucked a cock so hard a Lamborghini came out…
To her utter credit Khanyi laps it all up and carries on acting like the kind of gold-digger who would pomp Stephen Hawking if it meant she didn’t have to work.
This is crucial to the success of the show – and it IS a roaring success. Because if one of the roasters starts taking the insults personally and breaks character, then everything goes pear.
Khanyi holds her poise, then regally ascends the podium and responds with aplomb. “Who knew this was going to become the roast of Khanyi Mbau’s pussy!”
Who knew indeed, but it did, and the lady comes back strong. Let it not be forgotten – especially not by Khanyi herself – that Khanyi Mbau is an excellent actress. Watch Check Coast on Vuzu if you don’t believe me.
After Khanyi’s comebacks, Kenny delivers a perfectly workmanlike riposte to his many detractors. “I learnt comedy last night,” he tells John Vlismas. “And tonight you’re opening for me.”
He segues from there into a bit about using Tumi’s G-string as a stretch tent before climaxing with another Vlismas diss.
We’ll leave that particular gem for you to savour when you watch the show on Comedy Central.
The sound of that joke is still echoing around the Lyric Theatre and we’ve already disappeared in a puff of dust.
We remanifest at the Back Of The Moon bar, where an after-party of stunning proportions is kicking off. There, Khanyi Mbau is doing TV interviews alongside Kenny and basking in the glow of being called a whore all evening. Never has gold-digging been played so believably!
Whether that counts as acting the whore or whoring your acting, we’ll never know. But that lady was truly the Queen of the Night.
* The Roast of Kenny Kunene will be broadcast on Comedy Central, DStv Channel 122 on Monday, 28 April at 9pm.