“It’s vital that we laugh. If we didn’t, we’d curl up in a ball of acid and die of bitterness,” says stand-up comic John Vlismas, who joined other comedians in calling on locals to lighten up and have a laugh before World Laughter Day tomorrow.
In an environment where the cost of living is increasing drastically, unemployment is high, criminals run rampant and political shenanigans are common, Vlismas says it’s even more important to find something to make you smile.
“The best comedy is about survival, not amusement. We have to laugh when we see some of the things that are going on around us. South Africa, as a nation, absolutely has a great sense of humour. If we approach things with humour, then we’ll all get along and everything will be cool.”
Joburg’s Tshepo Mogale said comedy was the chance for people to get out of a negative mindset.
“Laughter is a great escape, and it’s great to be able to flip reality on its head and look at life from a more humorous perspective. Sometimes it’s good to make light of a tough situation. When we laugh and when we look at things from a lighter point of view, it’s great for nation-building and brings people closer together. We’ve been through so much with all the politics, crime, things getting more expensive. But we’re still really upbeat people and that’s great.”
Asked about the need to laugh despite the difficulties facing the average South African, Durban-based Gareth Woods said: “I will only answer this question if you pay for my food and fuel bill. Deal? We can have an illegal tender process if you want, but just promise me the work. Anyway… what were you saying?
“I think it’s very important to laugh about things, but only at comedy clubs where I’m performing. No free laughter! Seriously, though, I urge everyone to try and find the funny side in everything. Humour is everywhere. Sometimes it’s innocent, like a small child farting, and other times it’s complicated and intellectual, like a maths professor farting. But the stink of humour is everywhere.”
“It’s just a pity it’s not a public holiday,” said Neil Green, a Durban stand-up. He says it’s in SA’s nature to laugh, even during harsh times.
“South Africans love to laugh at each other, but more importantly, we love to love each other’s problems and issues. Nothing makes people laugh more in our country than someone else’s pain. The world’s best comedians come from some of the worst backgrounds, but I think that sets them apart – and we love to hear about it,” said Green.
Joburg-based Chris Forrest said the country was good at laughing at itself.
“Be able to handle everything if we laugh at ourselves and at each other – but not in a bad way, of course. We need to learn to enjoy our differences. I’ve travelled all over the world, and South Africans are cool; we like to laugh at ourselves. And we need to be able to do that,” he said.
Cape Town stand-up Mark Palmer said: “We’ve got so much going on. There’s the politics, crime, corruption, price increases and models making stupid statements on Twitter. Incidentally, models shouldn’t be allowed to use any type of software. This is what happens when you give them permission,” he said, referring to the racial jibe by Jessica Leandra.
“With all this going on, it’s easy to look like people in those old photos, you know, the ones of people like Verwoerd, where no one is smiling. If we didn’t find things to laugh about, we’d literally go into a state of depression. We’d become a sour, miserable country. But we’re not like that. As a country, we’ve got an amazing sense of humour,” he said.
Palmer said the fact that there was a designated worldwide day of laughter showed just how seriously people take everything.
“We just need to laugh a little bit more. Life is funny. Let’s laugh at it,” he said.
Woods said that South Africans “generally speaking” had a good sense of humour, “but I do feel sometimes our over-conservative nature gets the better of us. You just have to look at the media frenzy we create every time someone drops a certain special word in public – you know, the chemical-symbol-for-Potassium word. Other than that, I know we all like to laugh and as long as we can keep laughing at ourselves things are looking good. So? about that food and fuel money. We had a deal.”
– Follow @FortyShort (Vlismas), @TheGarethWoods, @MarkPalmerComic, @NeilGreen82, @ComicalTshepo and @ChrisForrestSA on Twitter. – Additional reporting by Mitchell Harper
Aritcle was first published in the Sunday Tribune, May 6, 2012, on page 3. It was also published on page 8 of the Sunday Independent on the same day.