By BRUCE DENNILL
Savanna Comics’ Choice Awards 2016 / Directed by Rob Van Vuuren / Teatro, Fourways, Johannesburg
This showcase for South African (and soon to be African, according to a recent announcement) comedy, has, in six years, become a prestigious event to be seen at and an important marker for progress in the local industry. For that reason, the slow-moving preamble – media interviews, networking, getting drinks and so on – was not surprising, with more jokers gathered in the Teatro foyer than there are at the opening of Parliament.
However, from a production perspective, the event might be becoming a victim of its own success. The show commenced 45 minutes late, purely on the basis that guests apparently couldn’t be bothered to get into the auditorium at the time specified on their tickets. As it became clear that the curtains wouldn’t be going up as planned, there was an announcement to request patience and advise that, in the great scheme of things, such tardiness was not a major issue. That’s absolutely true, but in the same way that your neighbour playing Kanye West at window-shaking volume at 2am is not a major issue. The irritation is secondary to the aggravation that comes with becoming aware that respect for a community (fellow professionals in this case) is not guaranteed. This was, sadly, confirmed later, when the interval also ran on twice as long as it should have.
The production, when it did get going, was at least worth waiting for. A new writing team including Warren Robertson, Chris Forrest and Deep Fried Man and director Rob Van Vuuren were tasked with increasing accessibility to a mainstream audience (read: fewer inside jokes that only comedians would understand) and keeping things light and fluffy (read: make people happy rather than disturbed).
They responded, as you’d hope, by including a raft of inside jokes, but just making them either subtler (Roni Modimola plays a character who uses a sjambok to resolve issues), far more abusive than usual (Leon Schuster doesn’t come off well) or more personal (Chris Forrest is referred to as a “former comedian”). And every skit is linked by the antics of perhaps the night’s most enjoyable aspect – the Good News Bears. A mash-up of the Teletubbies and the Care Bears if either of those were characters in Lauren Beukes book, they acted as both entertainment in their own right – the performers proved to be a very talented a capella quartet – and as bouncers when award winners hung around after their allocated time. The lyrics they sang, written by Deep Fried Man, contained some of the evening’s best jokes – particularly a stanza about their perspective being “irony-free”.
That last phrase couldn’t apply to the act that closed the evening, four-piece band Satanic Dagga Orgy, who performed in thongs, singing a song about what Darren Simpson, playing the “god of comedy” (now that’s irony) informed Ebenhaezer Dibakwane (Newcomer of the Year winner and hardest-working skit actor on the night) is the golden rule of stand-up comedy – “don’t be k*k”.
Rob Van Vuuren’s direction was sure and precise. The acceptance speeches of the winners were not in his remit, however, and it showed, with emotion (good) spilling into often meandering outpourings (less good), which stunted the pacing of the production.
Generally good, then, but ideally, the cats need to be herded more effectively if these awards are to run in as polished a fashion as they should be, given the respect they’re accorded.