By BRUCE DENNILL
Trevor Noah: Welcome To America (PG)
Loyiso Gola: State Of The Nation (16L)
Nobody’s Died Laughing: A Journey With Pieter-Dirk Uys (PG)
Even his established fans were surprised to some degree when Trevor Noah landed the prized gig as the host of the Daily Show. His talent as a comedian was never in doubt, but that role requires a depth of knowledge not everyone is capable of compiling and an ability to translate that information into meaningful commentary that is very rare indeed. Noah has since grown into the role, as his improved ratings will attest, but this 2016 show exhibits, arguably, the start of what has become the most convincing part of his career in his American hot-seat. There is the more or less expected range of current affairs and political topics any high-profile comedian would need to touch on to have relevance in Noah’s context (particularly when performing in Washington DC, as he is for this recorded show), but the jokes are not what is most impressive about this set. Rather, it is the focused assurance the comedian displays, his dexterity in manipulating layers of insight and a profound familiarity with his material and how it applies to his audience that makes this a great set by any comedian, and a superb one when delivered by a foreigner from a completely different background.
One of South Africa’s other international successes on the comedy front, Loyiso Gola steps onto every stage with his multiple Emmy nominations for Late Night News looming large (though not as large as the huge comic himself). That success might, ironically, place Gola under unfair scrutiny when it comes to being judged on his stand-up – a different routine in a different context. But a profile earned is still a profile that needs to be sustained, and State Of The Nation as a standalone offering doesn’t reflect Gola’s full talent. Relative to his more sophisticated satire elsewhere, this set fails to spark much intellectual engagement, covering the more or less standard gamut of local topics and riddled with foul language that adds needless static to the material rather than accentuating the punchlines.
Director Willem Oelofsen’s documentary about Pieter-Dirk Uys is a different beast to the filmed live sets mentioned above. That makes sense, given that Pieter-Dirk Uys is a different sort of performer to his countrymen, with many decades of experience in not only comedy, but also activism, theatre, world-class political satire and much more besides. In that time, he and his work have been massively influential on everyone from Oscar-winning actresses to the youngest of the schoolkids he visits as part of his ongoing Aids education programme to his neighbours in the Western Cape town of Darling, who enjoy the reflected tourism value of his base there at Evita Se Perron, his cabaret theatre and restaurant. This gently persuasive visual biography features archive material, interactions with Pieter-Dirk himself and a number of interviews with prominent talking heads including Charlize Theron, Eric Abraham, FW De Klerk, Desmond Tutu and Uys’ good friend Sofia Loren. This tribute is nothing less than a man of Uys’ calibre deserves, and it adds an enlightening layer to the clichés repeated ad nauseum in the multitude of previous stories about the entertainer.