Playing dangerously on the idea that ‘dying’ and ‘killing’ in theatre mean doing badly and doing well, respectively, Daniel Friedman, 33, aka Deep Fried Man (pictured), spoke to the SA Jewish Report on the eve of the opening of his third one man show, Deep Fried Man Kills. (Owing to space constraints, the article which appears in this week’s print issue of the SA Jewish Report is an appended version. Here follows the full interview)
“It started with an ad I saw for illegal pharmaceuticals in South East Asia,” he said, changing his tone to something hilariously threatening. “‘Warning: Illegal pharmaceuticals can kill.’ It had this big skull and cross bones. Working on an idea for my one man show, I thought it would be a good idea to use the hat and bowtie I wear and put them onto a skull and crossbones and do it as a kind of warning ad.
“It’s a brave marketing thing,” he laughs nervously. “The show is an hour and a half of new songs. Unlike my first two shows where I experimented with visuals, and dance, and silly little bits in between, I have decided to just basically sing my songs. So I’ve stripped it down quite a bit. I’m just going to have a spotlight on me and I’m going to sing my songs.
“Obviously as an SA comedian who is topical, it’s hard because SA has a very short attention span; I almost feel like some of the stuff I was writing about last year, is out of date. All the usual suspects are there, whether it’s Nkandla or Oscar or eTolls – but on top of that I’ve got a few songs which are more about me and my life.
“They’re all comedy songs, but in a one man show, you have space to do songs which are not necessarily as laugh out loud funny as the ones I would do in a comedy club. In a one man show not all of it needs to be that obviously full of punch lines.
Having hosted three one-man shows so far in his career, he is aware of having evolved. “The biggest change has been in my stage persona. I used to be very awkward on stage; I’ve gotten enough stage time for that to go away, but it hasn’t necessarily been a good thing because in my awkwardness and terror on stage I had a recognisable stage persona. The fact that I was so meek on stage counteracted the material which was the opposite of meek.”
All his material is new for this show. “Every time I do a show I plan to develop about 20 new songs. That leaves me with new material, from which I pick out what’s worked the best, which becomes my set for the next year. Occasionally there are a couple of songs from the previous show which people expect and want and they don’t get as tired as the rest, so there’s always the potential of mixing those in.
“Comedy is all about people’s ability to relate to you. Sometimes I’m mystified by the fact that I have been on mainstream line-ups like Heavyweight Comedy Jam and Bafunny Bafunny, because I’m more alternative. And I’m blessed and grateful to have that.
“All comedians have to talk about their identity and I’m quite a renegade in the Jewish community,” he talks briefly about being perceived as the Jewish go-to guy for Jewish gigs. “There was a time when a lot of Jewish organisations wanted to book me because the thing is if you are a Jewish organisation and you’re having a comedian in your show, you want a Jewish comedian, and in Johannesburg, you are very limited in your options.
“You might want Nik Rabinowitz, but he’s in Cape Town and he’s expensive. The next option might be me. There’s uncle Mel Miller, but he’s slowing down in his workload and there’s Tracy Klass maybe, and … you can count us on one hand. For a while, there was a time when they wanted to me as an entertainment option, but there are various parts to my personality and history which make that difficult. My Jewish background is alternative and and my dad’s political academic Steven Friedman, which doesn’t help.
“I have to make peace with the fact that I need to develop an audience. There’s not one kind of Jewish person: I’ve found I’ve had support from people who maybe disagree with me politically but who still come to my shows and we chat afterwards.
“Being a topical comedian all your material is provided for you. What keeps me on my toes is trying to find my own angle. No matter what I talk about, it’s always gone through my filter and it always has to sound like a Deep Fried Man song: there’s always a little bit of absurdity to it, always a little bit of cynicism and always that cringe factor.”
He cites Larry David and Ricky Gervais as his main influences: “You’re laughing but part of it makes you uncomfortable as well. I’m very interested in that style of comedy. It’s a little bit acerbic and it borders on satire as opposed to being straight comedy. That’s the kind of stuff I try and go for, and hopefully I get the balance right.
“Like all things deep fried,” Friedman’s media statement says, “his unique musical comedy is very tasty but comes with health risks. Be warned that this show will leave you in stitches, struggling to breathe or even losing control of your bladder.”
After Deep Fried Man Kills, Friedman goes to the National Arts Festival with Chris Forrest and Warren Roberts and two other comedians for an ensemble show, which performs at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Sandton, come October.
• Deep Fried Man Kills is at The Joburg Theatre Fringe, Braamfontein May 7-10.