/ 1 June 2008

Beyond a joke

The International Cape Town Comedy Festival — now in its 10th year at the Baxter Theatre — also hosts an Afrikaans stand-up night at Artscape called Bek Lash.

Included in the multi-venue programme is ad hoc street comedy in downtown iKapa, a series of club gigs at the Bang Bang Club and a short comedy film festival at the Labia. All this happens without a headline sponsor.

The Main Arena of the festival is the flagship, repository of the finest comedic talent on display. There has been a slight dip in the pedigree of the comics from last year, but United Kingdom guest Alistair Barrie guided his audience through the evening with a slightly effeminate English charm. His comedy revolves mainly around dissing Britain’s colonial history and arrogance and its relationship with the United States in the war against Iraq. At one stage he described Tony Blair as such a brown-noser that ‘he wears George Bush like a balaclava”.

South African comedians David Newton and Nik Rabinowitz tended to get most of their laughs from mining the subject of race relations in the new South Africa. This is grist for the mill for most local comics. Some of it is getting more risqué — like when Newton cracks a race joke and then looks at the coloured guy in the front row and says: ‘What are you laughing at, you coloured ‘ous’ take the whole family down to Steers for just one ice cream.”

Rabinowitz almost brought the roof down with his comedic blend that relies heavily on the dynamics of language and culture. But he is just good and clean. His routine leans heavily on the fact that he speaks a fine and fluent Xhosa.

Londoner Steve Best is totally psychopathic, appreciated for a personality that is, to say the least, absolutely bonkers. Audiences laughed at his mannerisms and presence long before he uttered his first word.

His routine involves a series of fast-paced theatrical poses and silly Monty Pythonesque gestures. Then he contradicts himself: ‘My grandfather is dead. No he’s not. Yes he is. No he’s not. Okay, he is. I was just kidding. He’s dead. Yes he’s dead. He died trying to break up a fight. It was called World War 2.”

He swallows a balloon, impersonates Elvis, ‘a fat man; the king of food”, then fakes defecating and pulling the balloons out his arse. You had to be there.

Also at the Baxter, you can catch the more risqué Danger Zone programme, where the comics can swear and talk about body functions as much as they like — because no kids are allowed. The highlight here is a brash, burly American jock called Bert Kreisher, who disarms with his honesty and does a wickedly funny routine about marriage and childbirth.

South African Kevin Perkins fails to impress with his alter ego Michael Naicker. Falling firmly into the mould of blunt South African racial comedy, in the end Perkins is just another white guy doing an Indian accent, only this time he’s on stage and not in a bar or at the rugby.

The Danger Zone highlight has been a hard-rocking Aussie called Steve Hughes, who looks like the bass guitarist from Spinal Tap. Someone in the audience bleated like a sheep and Hughes looked up and said: ‘We fuck ’em. You eat ’em.” He proceeded to lambaste the war on terror: ‘How can you have a war on a noun?”

He finished off with a fine twist on homosexuality: ‘Most people think being homosexual means you’re soft. But that’s not true. I mean straight guys want women. They’re gentle, they’re pretty, they smell nice — That’s soft, mate! Gays are hard, they want blokes — Being straight is the new gay.”

A night of stand-up comedy is a great way to have a good time. Forget the arguments about whether it is dumbed-down solo theatre or an elevated form of oral history, it is a pleasure to contribute to an industry selling laughter.

The Cape Town International Comedy Festival runs at various venues until September 23. For programme details go to www.comedyfestival.co.za