Okay, this is more like it.
At last year’s Savanna Comics’ Choice Awards we had no idea what the fuck was going on.
That was fine, since the CCAs are an awards show by comics for comics. And we’re not comedians. But after the third or fourth segment whistled over our head like a Qassam missile over an iron dome, we began to feel almost unwelcome. Maybe we weren’t supposed to be here? Perhaps this was just a comedians’ jol.
This year there was hardly any of that. There was entertainment. Showbiz. Laughter, mirth and applause. Less of the mystified side-eyeing.
In fact, we were pretty much laughing our heads off from start to finish. With the laughter interspersed with just enough WTFs to keep us on our toes and not overly spoonfed.
The start consisted of an opening prayer by “Desmond Tutu”, who turned out to be a barely fathomable Nick Rabinowitz. He asked the Almighty to bless the Jews – “Rabinowitz, Deep-Freeze Man, Vlismas…” and thanked him too for the Dutchman, who brought us domestic violence, in between swearing whenever his skullcap fell off.
So far, so blasphemous. Excellent.
The theme for the show – subtitled “The Point Of Funny” – would not be blasphemy. That, the visual theme at least, is video games from the Eighties. So the stage is adorned with six or seven arcade game consoles, retro games monitors, a joystick the size of a rocket and a start button that doubles as a small performance stage. The video links are designed in two-bit graphics reminiscent of Donkey Kong and there is some Pong-style tomfoolery to kick things off.
Then there’s a rap reunion featuring Jack Parow and one of his earliest collaborators, Rufio Vegas aka RufiYOLO, the man with the best hair in SA hip-hop. The performance comes complete with cheesy dance moves and video accompaniment and is part of the show’s general outreach to the mainstream.
Then an extremely easy-to-look-at Khanyi Mbau presents the Audience Choice award to Elton Mduduzi Ntuli. He rallies from his initial shock to do a stand-up bit touching on room dividers, disciplining kids and some ethnic stuff.
Because there are only six awards, and they’re mostly voted by your peers, winning is a big deal. So winners are often emotional, which makes for rather iffy stand-up. It’s hard to be funny while you’re choking back tears of surprised joy.
But all the winners manage to produce something representative of their talents. For the record, the winners of this year’s Waldos are:
The Savanna Newcomer Award: Loyiso Madinga
The Breakthrough Act Award: Kagiso KG Mokgadi
The Times Comic’s Pen Award: Chester Missing
The Savanna Audience Choice Award: Elton Mduduzi Ntuli
The Lifetime Achiever Award: Mark Banks
The Comic’s Choice Comic of the Year Award: Loyiso Gola
A skit featuring Chris Steenkamp and Robbie Collins is of the reflexive, “comedy about comedy” style, but here it’s more illuminating than alienating for the audience. There are bitchy bits about promoters who don’t pay and little inside digs at other comics. You assume the objects of these disses will have a sense of humour about them.
Then there’s an odd bit called Opfokkalypse, by Radio Raps, that satirizes zombies, as well as reactionary Afrikaners. That segues into the return of Twakkie and Corne from the Most Amazing Show, here as their zombie alter egos. They launch a few barbs at the soul-sucking “SANCBC”, and generally rekindle the vibe that made them cult favourites a decade ago.
Banks comes up to collect his lifetime achievement award, and does a good job of ridiculing the idea of older comics’ having no PC-wys. “The night was… are you allowed to say very dark, these days?”.
Then another of the night’s recurring themes kicks off: Naai’d School Musical. Narrated by Debora Patta, this tells the musical tale of Modimolle High, the most dysfunctional school in SA.
Given the title, we’re braced for something loose, but the writers still manage to sink to some pretty impressive levels of depravity. The lyrics to Don’t Stop Believing are changed to something about semen, and the second part of the skit features teacher KG Mokgadi shagging his colleague on a desk and bellowing, “Asijiki!”
A commentator with the right feminist credentials would probably point out that women are under-represented in SA comedy performance, and that this show did little to correct that. Tumi Morake was the sole female nominee, and the other representatives were playing slags and/or were Khanyi Mbau. Okay, there was also Deborah Patta.
But National Women’s Day this was not. At least the political incorrectness was hell funny.
But SA comedy is transforming in other ways. A most fascinating example of this is Pule the White Skhothane, who pretty much steals the show.
This guy, aka Nicholas Welch, delivers a blistering harangue against society and the industry in authentic kasi Sotho before pouring a litre of Ultra Mel on the boots of the entire front row and being dragged offstage.
He has vernac in his bones and can actually create a character and be funny in Sotho – not just use lingo as the punchline. His performance should be a game changer. And it’s justified that he performed the climax of the show, as a skhothane suicide bomber, strapped with six litres of UltraMel!
Before that, Cirque de So Laime by Bevan Cullinan and Brendan Jack is interpretive dance at its most ludicrous, and Conrad Koch wins a deserved Comic’s Pen Award. He then launches into a bizarre sketch where he breaks character in about three different ways, fucks it up completely, but still gets laughs. Which is the point, after all.
Another show highlight is the satirical hip-hop tour de force starring Nick Rabinowitz as Oscar Pistorius and Riaad Moosa as Shrien Dewani. It’s so epic you want to find a recording and parse the lyrics word-for-word.
Then Loyiso Gola wins Comic of the Year. This would seem a no-brainer as he is undoubtedly funny, brave and outspoken as public face of LNN With Loyiso Gola – arguably SA’s greatest satirical voice. LNN is collaborative comedy at its best, though, so what actually goes on in the LNN sausage factory, casual viewers may never find out. But the comics vote, and they should know!
Loyiso had to win one of these eventually and it’s about time we moved on from the Trevor Noah fixation of the past couple of years.
It’s a sign of how accessible this year’s Savanna Comics Choice event is that we feel compelled to blag our way into the after-party. There we are soon high-fiving winners and doing the hand-jive to George Kavakian and assorted kwaito classics.
We just feel part of it.