Of comrades and comedy

Of all the art forms, comedy in general – and stand-up in particular – is the most subjective.

What one person finds funny another might find dull, boring and…well…unfunny. This is more-so the case than with music, film, TV, books, etc.

This is probably because people like to laugh. It’s good to laugh. Laughing makes you feel good. It’s scientific – and if it isn’t, it should be. And if you promise people laughter and they don’t find you funny, they’re going to be upset. That’s just how it works – and even if it isn’t the fault of the comedian, they’re always going to take the blame (whether rightly or not doesn’t matter – that’s how it works).

With this, I read with great interest the piece by Sipho Hlongwane questioning the state of comedy in South Africa based on his view of Late Night News with Loyiso Gola. You can read the piece HERE (and it’ll be a good idea to read the RESPONSE by Warren Robertson, a professional satnd-up comic).

In his piece, Hlongwane puts forward, among other things, that South Africa doesn’t have the comedic genius of John Stewart or South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. And he may well be right in this respect because, let’s be honest, there aren’t many people anywhere in the world who are as comedically genius as they are – oh, wait, and the dozens of people they have on their writing teams that South African comedians don’t. Why do you think other programmes haven’t taken off like South Park did? Because there aren’t people who can rival it. They are just head and shoulders above the standard. Fact.

What is interesting, though, is Hlongwane’s conclusion that because LNN isn’t funny (like Warren, I found it to be hit and miss – sometimes brilliant, other times poor), stand-up in South Africa is of a poor quality. I believe this argument is fatally flawed, foremost because the natures of TV and stand-up are vastly different.

As Hlongwane would know, there are things you can say on a blog that you can’t say in print, on radio or on TV. There are different rules, guidelines and standards. In the same way, there are things you can say on stage – parallels you can draw, comments and implications you can make – that you can’t on TV. You can’t deliver the same material in the same way on TV as you can on stage, making the linking of the two extremely tenuous. It’s the clichéd apples versus pears argument, that you can’t fairly compare the two because the bases are different.

Now Hlongwane might watch comedy at various comedy clubs, at bigger shows or at pubs. If he does, he hasn’t mentioned it in his piece. But I don’t believe he has, because the stark differences between these performances and what’s seen on TV would have come across in his comment, which it doesn’t.

Let me give an example: the stand-up comedy scene in Durban.

Fact: it’s thriving. Fact: it’s producing some exceptional talent. Fact: it’s not perfect and it has its flaws. Fact: it’s completely different to LNN and anything on TV. Based on what I see (and I do watch loads of stand-up), the comedy we see on TV isn’t anywhere nearly as good as what we see on stage. Having watched a lot of comics from Cape Town and Joburg, I get the feeling that my view would be replicated in those other cities.

Given this, I make the exact opposite conclusion to Hlongwane’s. I believe that the question should be asked as to why comedians are funny on stage but not necessarily on TV. I feel that the conclusion that comedy on TV isn’t funny so SA comedians aren’t funny as being backwards logic. Where is the problem, with TV or the comics? I believe you’ll find “comics” is not the correct answer to that question…

Take Trevor Noah as a prime example. I don’t find him particularly funny, to be honest, but he has become a household name and has dominated stages across the country (and now in the States) because people find him funny. But what happened to his show on M-Net? Frankly, it wasn’t great and the shows were often saved by little gems from Eugene Khoza. It was done in one season.

Let me try sum this up.

Stand-up in South Africa is healthy. It’s funny. It does well. But it doesn’t always translate well to TV. And that’s not a fair reflection of the quality of the comics, it’s a reflection on the restrictions placed on TV content. Oh, yes, and because it’s entirely subjective.

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One thought on “Of comrades and comedy

  1. Very good point and well put. Thanks for taking the time to highlight the fatal flaw in Hlongwane’s argument. And thanks for supporting comedy brother!

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