Comedy Review: Mark Banks – Take It To The Banks, Or Observational Excellence

April 30, 2016



More Banksrupt / Starring Mark Banks / Studio, Pieter Torien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg


The “More” in the title here speaks to Mark Banks’ one-man show being a continuation of some of the same themes explored in his Banksrupt set last year. That doesn’t mean he repeats the same material, although a couple of his stock gags pop up occasionally. The new angle here is a good one: Banks invites audience members to place on the stage any item they feel they no longer need, which he then incorporates into that particular performance. The items are then either auctioned off during the show or donated (along with any funds raised) to charity. This set-up ensures freshness and helps take the edge off some of the more caustic punchlines (there’s one that combines references to genocide and an Afrikaans talk show…).

Some excellent audio-visual segments add bulk to the show, as well as being the platform for a different kind of joke to what Banks is able to deliver verbally. The introduction to the show is a case in point, using footage of a famous World War Two battle and from the days when Johannesburg and Fourways in particular were being developed to crisply satirise the faux-Italian surroundings of the theatre.

From there, the stand-up part of the show comprises loosely-linked spurts of observational comedy, interspersed with improvised reactions to audience responses to jokes or to the nature of his surroundings (including about the size of the stage – the Studio’s already compact stage is made still cosier by the positioning of the screen on which the visuals are projected, leaving Banks with an area about the size of a couch to operate in). There are also many examples of a Banks specialty: stream-of-consciousness nonsense that is so out of left-field that you sometimes laugh out of surprise as much as appreciation of the intelligence and wit on display.

The best parts of More Banksrupt, though, are the skits in which the comic plays characters from a range of characters based on finely-tuned observations of various archetypes in South Africa society. The most convincing – down to the palsied tremble of his free hand – and entertaining of these is Dave Rabinowitz, an elderly Jewish gent with an ear for gossip and a pithy line in social commentary. Also wonderful, though he’ll make you pensive as much as amused, is the car guard who wanders off the stage to deliver his unlikely – and worryingly familiar – tale of woe.

Where comedians are punted as pure stand-and-deliver funnymen, it’s easy to remember that they can also be fine actors, and Banks’ character work is superb; a reason in itself to go and see this enjoyably erratic caper through contemporary culture.