Neil Green – He’s Ill (in the good way, I promise)

Published in the Sunday Tribune entertainment supplement, SM, page 5 on May 15, 2011.

GREEN BEAM

He’s a funny guy, on and off stage – and he’s got very awesome sideburns. Matthew Savides sat down with Durban comedian Neil Green ahead of his first ever one-man show

Neil Green has always been a little twisted, a little bizarre and a little warped. But not to worry, that’s just part of his charm.

He will readily admit that his brand of stand-up comedy is “abstract” – it’s “not very formulaic at all”, he told SM this week – and won’t be dumbed down. Not even a little bit.

“I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I do comedy,” Green said.

His one-man show I’m Ill will be on later this month.

“As the show name suggests, I am a little bit twisted. It’s not shock-rock; I won’t be biting the heads off bats or anything. But no matter what your expectations are or if you’ve seen me on stage before, you will be surprised.”

Taking a break from shooting his friends – well, more like being shot by his friends – during a session of Call of Duty at The Playroom in Overport, Green explained that the name of his show was a “hip-hop-erism”.

“Ill means good or awesome in street slang. It’s about the trend of teeny-bopper lighties, who walk around with the baggy jeans and takkies. But it’s also a description of what I’m like. My comedy is introspective. I don’t do a lot of politics or current affairs. It’s all personal and it’s about things that I see and that I notice. And I am a little bit twisted,” he said.

And Green promises to push boundaries.

“When I’ve told friends the material I wanted to do for the show, they said, ‘No, bru, you don’t say that” – so I’m going to say all of it! But I won’t say something offensive just to be offensive. I don’t say things just for the sake of it. Everything I say and every observation I make has a purpose.”

Green believes that there is a lot of “audience censorship”, where crowds immediately turn against you if you do certain material. He recalls a recent gig in Hillcrest, where he spoke of seeing people smoking weed from the pages of a Bible.

“I was storming that night and the crowd was really into it, but the moment I mentioned that, I could feel them turning off and turning against me. I wasn’t evening saying anything about Christianity or anything like that, but they just didn’t want to hear about it.

“It’s fine if you say things off-stage, but you find for some people your free speech ends the moment you get on stage. There are certain topics that are seen as off limits. As a comedian, people are quick to say that you’ve crossed the line. But comedians should be the people who push the envelope, that make you think and that deal with difficult topics. It’s like a newspaper. You can say things in the articles but you can say so much more and push more with the cartoon.

“But for some reason, stand-up comedians aren’t allowed to do that. Crowds want us to just talk, use racial stereotypes, to talk about Zuma, Malema and Zille. I don’t want to do that type of comedy. I want to do serious comedy seriously. And I want to deal with serious topics and things I’ve observed.”

Green, a born and bred Durbanite, started doing stand-up in 2007, but it was only two years ago that he started taking it seriously. Has his comedy changed in that time?

“Yoh! So much. I look back at footage from four years ago and I did material that I wouldn’t do now. I was a lot sillier when I started. My comedy was very coloured-centric. There has been a revival in the Durban comedy scene and I’ve had a chance to perform to different people in different places, and I’ve definitely changed.

“I used to draw my comedy from things that happened to me, now I look at the world and how to translate that into comedy – and there is a lot to draw from,” he said.

Green grew up in Mariannhill, near Pinetown – “if you know where that it, you’ll know I have many funny stories” – and has always always been a Durbanite. And while he is proudly from the city, he admits it isn’t an easy place to be a comedian. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“There isn’t the same comedy culture here as in Joburg or Cape Town. The conditions Durban comedians work in are very different from Joburg. In Joburg you have an established comedy and entertainment circuit. In Durban it’s a hard sell to get people to come and watch comedy. We are often sprung on unsuspecting audiences.

“From the moment you walk on a stage in Durban you have to prove to people that you’re a comedian. In Joburg people tend to know you or they will have heard your name before because they have a comedy culture there. Even if they’ve never seen you before, they go in thinking you’re funny. You’ve already won,” he said.

This is why many comedians head up north.

“There’s this feeling that once you’ve found your feet, you have to move to Joburg. If you look at comedians like John Vlismas and Mark Banks, they’re from Durban, and they’ve gone to Joburg.”

For this reason, Green said it was important that a Durbanite did a show in Durban.

“Although there is a fair number of working comics in Durban, there aren’t a lot of Durbanites doing one-man shows. I think there have been three in the past few years. Most of the one-man shows are artists from Joburg or Cape Town. They come here and we go and watch them. I wanted to do this show as a Durbanite, and to do it in Durban,” he said.

But, to steal an advertising cliche, that’s not all.

“I’ve got a job that will very quickly turn into a career, so comedy might become a forced second. I needed to do this show.”

And, you guessed it, there’s even more.

“I want people to look at coloured people differently. Coloured people tend to play the jester character. But I will do serious comedy. I want people’s perspectives to change.”

I’m Ill is on Saturday, May 28, at the Bat Centre at Wilson’s Wharf. Tickets are available from Computicket and will set you back R70. The show starts at 7pm and will last between 90 and 100 minutes.

A very considerate Green said: “And for the sports fan, I’ve already arranged that the Champions League final between Barca and Man United will be on big screens immediately afterwards.”

We’ve got three double VIP tickets to I’m Ill. Just |e-mail your best one-liner to sm.competitions@inl.co.za. with your contact details, and entries close on Wednesday, 5pm. Neil will choose the winners.

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