By BRUCE DENNILL
Savanna Comics’ Choice Awards / Directed by Neels Clasen / Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City, Johannesburg
Even though the published start time for this event continues to be the first punchline of the evening, there are other aspects that are less predictable. For one thing, the faces in the foyer are never the same, with fresh young performers hitting the comedy scene at what feels like a much higher rate than is the case in theatre or other performance arts.
Another fluid aspect is the narrative that links the idea – often a string of skits that’s only connected in the vaguest possible way. This year’s ceremony featured something of a crossover, with musical theatre actor Neels Clasen collaborating with a number of comics to script a story about a young man whose dream is to become a comedian but who is confronted by the many difficulties littering the path to success. It’s an interesting theme in that it confronts current realities – the closing of the Goliath & Goliath club in Melrose Arch is included, for instance – as well as perpetual problems like unscrupulous managers (a role in which Clasen is almost outshone by an hilariously ridiculous wig. Much of this story is told in big musical numbers with choreography in kind – a pleasing diversion from the regular fare in such awards ceremony gaps, in which inside jokes often alienate those in the know.
The set and staging fitted the scale of this vision, with performers and presenters appearing on multiple levels. And presenters – even those whose presence was obviously down to contractual obligations (in the same way that you get film stars presenting Oscars, it’d be great to have comedians presenting awards to comics) generally stuck to their scripts and kept things moving along well.
With awards being spread between promising youngsters (Chomi Ya Jeso, Tsitsi Chiumya and others) and experienced campaigners (Loyiso Gola, Celeste Ntuli – twice – and others), there seemed to be general satisfaction with outcomes, and it was lovely to see Lifetime Achievement Award winner Soli Philander tripping over parts of his speech as he became choked with emotion.
It could be argued that any event where a large number of comedians are in attendance together could be expected to be rather more edgy and boundary-pushing than this year’s version of the Comics’ Choice Awards was. Equally, though, there are those who find comedy traditions like roasts to be unpleasantly harsh, So an evening in which celebrating talent trumped the airing of dirty laundry and the entertaining creativity of those from allied industries (theatre and music) allowed the comics to relax proved a winner.