By BRUCE DENNILL
A comedy show that’s not only about racism, but about challenging its viewers to admit that they are racists? Hilarious, right? Well, just about. And necessary. And brave. Which is something Conrad Koch has been for a long time. As has Chester Missing, though that’s not as big a deal, as latex heals a lot quicker than skin and bone if some irate anti-satirist feels like putting a boot in.
The gimmick here is that the show is supposed to be a Ted Talk-style presentation by Chester, but that never happens because he and Koch get into an argument about what constitutes racism and how that is manifested in Koch’s own under-examined privileged white man life. The Covid-impacted format – the show is now a Zoom webinar, rather than a live interaction between a performer and a crowd – is interesting. The material is designed to be interactive and to bring in input from audience members – the improvised back and forth that so often adds an extra dimension to stand-up shows – but online, this requires fans to write comments in the chat section of the app, hopefully in time to allow Koch to work these insights or gags into his flow in real time.
In addition, given that Covid doesn’t allow extra technicians in close proximity to performers, Koch has to use his spare hand to operate the board that activates green-screen slides, sound effects, camera cutaways and various visual embellishments.
Still, none of this earns the comedian any points from Missing, who’s grumpy, borderline aggressive attitude the entire show suggests someone has shoved something up his arse. Still, he makes a great number of excellent points, usually brusquely and with acid intensity, leaving Koch to analyse and contextualise perspectives – sadly far too on the money to be written off as gags – that reflect poorly (and realistically) on anyone who feels that racism is a topic that can be given anything less than full-time attention.
This is the challenge of White Noise – to provide the basis for an ongoing chat (or several different ones) between those who see the show so that racism as a topic and as an unthinking philosophy does not become the phenomenon after which the show is named (or the other interpretation of that phrase, at any rate). It’s incredibly easy to let tough topics slide off the radar – and completely understandable that avoiding conflict is the default position for most people. But Koch’s and Missing’s reputations and profile are such that you’re unlikely to attend – or tune into – a show of theirs without knowing that you’ll be challenged to step up philosophically. Many comedians claim the effectiveness of their speaking truth to power, when all they do is make politicians the punchlines of their sweary posing. This show encourages a more cerebral – and ethical – response, without ever being preachy, succeeding in inspiring laughs both cheerful and awkward and hopefully keeping audiences on a path towards greater involvement in creating genuinely fair and understanding communities. In closing, Koch offers that he is always seeking to find new and better ways to communicate that goal in the show, making the piece – like South Africa and every other society in which different races and cultures co-exist – a work in progress.