Cape Town’s stand-up comedy fans would have done well by being at the River Club on Thursday. Golf balls set sail into the night as a boozy tourist crowd sipped their colorful drinks and cut up their pizzas. It could have just as easily been a guttery club, though. It’s refreshing that even here, stand-up still finds a way to bring out the worst in people.
A line-up of Dave Levinson, Brent Palmer, Loyiso Gola, Oliver Booth, and Stuart Taylor, all did a terrific job talking about the region while still producing wanking-and-snot-inspired, world-class style comedy. MC Dave Levinson continually kept up the good humor between sets. His style set the tone for the night, with notes about city life, “I live in gangster central. The other day I saw a Ferrari on a flat bed truck.”
Follow-up Brent Palmer started with the appalling stuff, appealing to the crowd with the observation that some people cross the street so slowly they must be trying to kill themselves, before relating some of more awkward and strange sidewalk encounters: beggars singing, kneeling, somersaulting, etc. More humour was found once he started mining the stock standard racial observations and his own coloured background. “Whenever I tell people I’m coloured, they always ask where the knives, guns, and tattoos are! But when people beg for change and I say, ‘hey I’m not white!’ I get told to stop making excuses.”
Loyiso Gola was probably the night’s stand-out performer, but surprisingly not by that much. He certainly showed the most confidence onstage, giving way to manic facial expressions and explosive fits of laughter. His bits talking to couples in the audience were superb. He also covered the broadest subject range, next to Dave Levinson. But mostly, you’ve got to admire a comic who can make the whole room laugh by simply giving some statistics (that black people make up 12% of America but 90% of the prison population) and then giving the enthusiastic proclamation: “How fucked is that!?”
All in all the night seemed to be themed around relationships in a dire economy – Stuart Taylor buying a fake Louis Vuitton bag on the street before placing it in a Macy’s bag and presenting it to his wife. Crime and the absurd racial oppression that continues the cycle, was an oft-returned to stock standard to get the laughs. Levinson detailing bike-riding drug dealers in Johannesburg getting their drug-laden bicycles hijacked: “You’re on a bicycle. They’re walking. Surely you’ve got an edge. ‘Oh we caught him on the uphill!’” Social isolation in the digital age made a brief appearance in Gola’s set with his bit on people in serious need of Blackberry chargers, as well as the superfluous nature of emoticons. And of course mockeries in the media: Levinson recounting the time he saw Jacob Zuma give a sinister laugh in the middle of a dismal state address: “He just told himself a joke!”
I suppose we should address Stuart Taylor, who did well enough with the audience to stand alongside Gola and Levinson. But his family/relationship theme seemed a little too tame for anywhere else, but among this martini herd. A little too Ray Romano, but hey there’s plenty of middle-aged couples out there right? And they can generally afford the cover charge and the drinks. And now to Ollie North, the drama school whirlwind. I enjoyed the bit where he talked about how Peter De Villiers always sounds like he has to take a shit when speaking during press conferences. He even demonstrated the world Rugby event where Peter De Villiers takes a shit for the first time, complete with commentary. If only I had some idea of who Peter De Villiers is…
But I suppose comedy clubs are like this all over the world. Naturally, you get a lot of immaturity and crossing-of-lines you didn’t even know existed. You get awkward moments and uncomfortable silences between the guffaws, the chuckles and knee slaps. But what really stood out for me was the great sense of positivity present in the South African stand-up routines, in both the delivery of the jokes and the reaction of the audience. You’d think the subject matter wasn’t offensive at all. And that’s something to be optimistic about.