By BRUCE DENNILL
It’s been a dramatically different year in terms of news cycles and the usual sources of inspiration for a stand-up set. Where have you found the funny in a pandemic?
It certainly has been a strange and unsettling year for creativity and positive or uplifting thoughts, but I guess human nature at its essence, is resilient and fights for survival. And that energy is often facilitated by coping mechanisms like laughter and humour in adversity. South Africans are superbly skilled in finding the funny or the bizarre or the incongruous in moments of darkness or despair. We lead the way in comic memes, chirps, online comments and so on. I guess I’ve tapped into that. But I’ve also tried to avoid just talking about COVID-19 or the pandemic specifically. The humour rests in the minutiae of how we live in this “new normal”
Lying kings, sadly, remain a standard (in Zuma and Trump, among others). From the point of view of accessibility and relatability for the audience, how important is consistent idiocy in politicians (“leaders” feels like a bit of a stretch)?
I think comics have to punch up wherever we can. There are so many examples in our society of “leaders” or seats of authority that need to be called out or shown to be what they are. I don’t consider myself a satirist or political comedian, but everything we speak about in todays world is laced with inherent politics and viewpoints. The most important thing for me is always to look for the laugh first. If I can get a good resonant laugh, then the rest is bonus thinking material.
Are you consciously aware of wanting to try and help audiences process what has happened in 2020 (and what might happen next year) with this material?
Not really. My job is to entertain and make people laugh. If the material strikes a chord and allows people to see or perceive events in a different or new light, then that’s great. I don’t focus on the result. I think it’s more useful to focus on the art of making people laugh in varying and interesting ways.
COVID regulations are necessary and sensible, but a different experience for both performers and their audiences is inevitable. As a solo performer, are you finding that (or do you anticipate that) the energy aspect of performing has significantly changed?
I suspect it will be a different energy, but I’m excited to find out what that is exactly and how we can use and manipulate that energy to create good theatre. The fact that people are able to gather, albeit socially distanced, in a room is already cause for excitement and a palpable energy connection will exist as a result of this. I have been lucky enough to do a number of hybrid events online in the last eight months, where we have had small live audiences in the room and streamed out to large numbers online. There is no doubt that the energy and connection in the room warms the online performance and allows those plugged in digitally to enjoy the show in a more tangible way.
Have you tweaked anything to try and affect audience dynamics – to bridge the gap between getting caught up in the laughter of a full room and needing to generate it as part of a smaller group?
No. I haven’t really seen the need yet. But this will be the test. I have two runs of many performances coming up so I guess it will be a better litmus test of the kinds of reactions I might get from different audiences.
Short runs and limited interaction with fans are other pandemic-related outcomes. You’ve been making and posting videos during lockdown – how are those working in terms of staying top of mind for audiences and what else do you feel might have to become standard practice in terms of staying visible?
It’s important to keep your brand visible in these periods of isolation and restriction. But I’m grateful for the chance to play live shows in Jozi and Cape Town over the next couple of months. That is what I do best and it will serve, hopefully, as the most effective reminder of what I do as an entertainer.
Heading straight into Apocolaughs Now after The Lying King: Circle Of Laughs: how different is the material? Have you tried to cover different themes? And are you planning to return to a cycle of shows – developing one after the other and rotating them between venues, like in The Good Old Days?
The Lying King is last year’s comic offering that was meant to have an extended run in the middle of 2020 in Johannesbirg. Those plans were obviously scuppered by the pandemic, but now there are these 10 performances in which I haves slightly tweaked and re-worked the material – mostly not talking about COVID and pandemics – and share it with the public. It’s a funny look at living in a world where everyone practices deceit and delusion as common practice, but we are always surprised when others do it to us! Apocolaughs Now is the brand new show for this year. It is completely different from the stuff in Lying King and focuses more on the comic incongruity that this year has offered up. We’ve had earthquakes, sinkholes, the breakdown of democracy and the strange exorcising of Katlego from Outsurance ads….surely these are the end of days. My new show explores a bit of a lot of that.
What is the maximum allowable number of puns on a single poster?
It’s 37 puns, as as set out in the poster-apocalypse agreement of 1876.