Comedy Review: The Savanna Newcomer Showcase – Better Bits, Or Packing A Punchline

January 31, 2024




The Savanna Newcomer Showcase / Hosted by Robby Collins / Sandton Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg


A newcomer showcase, in any field of the arts, can be a hit-and-miss affair, with the best case seeing audience members loving being in the room the moment a fresh talent takes flight and the worst case seeing people leaving the event feeling somewhere bemused and emotionally damaged.

Comedy is a tough space in which to try and break through. There is only the performer on stage, sometimes a stranger to every single person in the room, and they are under strictly observed time pressure. Genuinely funny entertainers can miss the boat on the night due to nerves or just a single punchline not landing and be justly annoyed that they were not fairly represented by the format – 20 comics one after the other, their order of appearance established via lucky draw.

In this context, this year’s Savanna Newcomer showcase was a roaring success, with fully half of the (mostly) young performers meriting an immediate desire to see them do a much longer set – and soon. A number of the comics succeed based largely on their onstage energy and movement, with the delivery of their material being at least as entertaining as the jokes they’ve written.

An unexpected crowd favourite – he is, as he noted, a white heterosexual male from a middle-class background; not a person who can find the humour in the persecutions he’s suffered – is Callum Hitchcock, whose mixture of casual confidence and self-deprecation is charming enough to distract from his pimp moustache. Also charming, in non-aggressive ways that let their facial expressions, apparent diffidence and physical presence (respectively) fuel their jokes are Molokela Makola, Zachary Esau and Thula Sithole with Aghmad Ismail hilariously satirising his own blindness with a touch of edginess. Mick Pillay delves a little further into darkness, but stays pleasingly on the right side of vulgar while channelling Jim Jeffries to some extent.

Other strong sets come from Emile Alexander, Khabane Moloi, Nhlanhla Biokgantsho Shabangu and Mzonke Maloney, with Mr Chase raising a succession of guffaws with his vernacular-only material (which this sadly under-equipped reviewer cannot comment on).

There is plenty of potential among the remaining shortlist, and their gags may tickle different funnybones, but even without those extra possibilities, this showcase suggests that there may be several good reasons to book tickets for comedy shows in the short- and mid-term future.