South African police comedy Blitz Patrollie is still to be released to local cinema houses but its creators are already eyeing international audiences. The film, which stars local comedians David Kau, Joey Rasdien, Mel Miller and David Kubuuka, will be showcased at the Cannes International Film Festival, the world's biggest movie market, in June.
The Mail & Guardian spoke to the film's writer, Kagiso Lediga, about taking South African comedy on to a global stage.
How did the Cannes showcase come about?
It's a market screening. All the international buyers and distributors can come and see if they want to buy it for their territories. It's not like we're in competition or anything like that – we're not competing against The Great Gatsby. It's a great opportunity, and we're going to take it with both hands. Because that's what you do with opportunities.
This is a very South African comedy. It's very specific. Do you think audiences will get it?
When we made it, we made it for a South African audience. We never intended for it to go beyond that. But a week ago a German company had a look at it, and it killed them. They called us and said it was the funniest thing they had seen and they had never seen anything like it from Africa. They wanted to partner with us and distribute it. They said it reminded them of '80s Hong Kong action films. And obviously if they do buy it for European territories it will get dubbed into German and Italian. David Kau could end up being an Italian superstar. But I still have to see how other people react to it.
How did the writing of this script differ from the way you write your stand-up? Obviously you're putting words into the mouths of characters and relying on other actors to carry your comedy.
Essentially I wrote the script for these actors. I said I wanted Joey Rasdien and David Kau to be cops. I've known them for a long time and I know their tone, so I wrote with that in mind. I'm not taking anything away from them, but it's not like they really had to break with what they usually do. Mel Miller, all of them; they fit certain types. It's a great cast, and it's almost like it was cast before the script was written. So that was the easy part.
Tell me a bit about the filming and production process. Was it easier because you worked together often in the past?
Obviously that was a bit easier. But with a film of this size there are also a whole lot of strangers. I couldn't deal with it for the first few days. Because they were bringing their culture into my workspace, and we [production company Diprente] are still a new company, so we were still trying to figure out how we do things. But you figure it out.
The big thing though, because of the budget, was time. You don't have a lot of time to do everything you want to, and sometimes you have to lose things, because there isn't the time and not enough money. Or someone might decide it's not justifiable to spend that much time and money on some things. So you have to make a lot of sacrifices. It's something I'll take with me when I make the next movie. Either get more money and time or don't write things that require money and time.
So no 'the fleets meet' in your next one?
Unfortunately, no, none of that.
M&G reporter Kwanele Sosibo spoke to you a while back about the role race plays in South African comedy. Do you think that writing in English has any part to play in who the audience is and who the comedy plays to?
I think South Africans watch comedy in English and it's just the way it is. If I had to do stand-up in Tswana I would probably be a bit more shit than I already am. English is just the chosen medium. I mean, when David Kau does his Blacks Only shows, its 3 000 mainly black people coming to watch black people make jokes in English.
Would this film be quite typical of what you see in stand-up in South Africa?
When I wrote this I wanted to play into stereotypes. I read something about developing cinema, and action comedies are the thing; gags, and action. And I thought, "Well, that explains [Leon] Schuster." So I thought it would be a cool idea to do something slightly more sophisticated than Schuster. Well not much more sophisticated because I wanted to make the same amount of money as Schuster, but playing into the stereotypes and playing into the race gags. South Africans like these racial gags.
As comedians, there's always that thing about doing black and white gags again. And Indian jokes. But I thought, why not make a meta version of those race gags. So in this film there is a white guy raised by an Indian family, who is really annoyed by all the Indian gags. And every time he speaks people think he's trying to be funny but he's not. And so he's the one character in the movie who has this chip on his shoulder about all the racial kak.
How careful do you have to be? Are people more accepting of these jokes when they are written by a black comic?
I hope not. I've heard that being said, and there was a time when I believed it too. [Affects white guy voice] "Because you're black, hey, it's like, your struggle, you can say whatever you want, hey, geez". But I hope it's different now. I think John Vlismas gets to say whatever he wants, and everyone should. If you're being racist, you're being an asshole, you should be punished by your audience. If your audience are idiots, then fuck them and fuck you as well.
Do you think that South African audiences are quite sophisticated when it comes to satire?
I wouldn't say sophisticated. But I think it is true that our politics are so in our faces that as soon as we start making jokes about it we become this great satirical nation. If we lived in a culture of Kim Kardashian, that would be our thing. It's just our default.
What happens when the race jokes get old? Or do we just accept that this is who we are?
I've been thinking about it a lot. This race thing. South Africans don't really talk about it. There is no forum for us to air our issues or even stand on a crate and scream about it. Our media content, the TV we watch … most soapies stick to the status quo. Drum magazine is the same as the You, but for black people. All of that kak. Until we start thinking ourselves outside the race thing, and start making content that is convergent, people are never going to change the way they think. So there will always be that racial edge. I think its one of the reason stand-up is doing so well in this country. It's a place to go laugh about those edges.
So comedy just takes to the extreme what already exists around us?
I think so. I hope it does. I get a bit jaded sometimes, when I go to comedy clubs and hear the same things. But then I hear someone talking about the human things like love and relationships, and I get excited again. And I think that is where comedy is going to go in this country. The next frontier.
Blitz Patrollie opens in SA cinemas on May 10.