Deep Fried Man Kills (Joburg Theatre Fringe, Braamfontein), until May 10.
While his stage persona, replete with its expressionless face, and neat bowtie and hat, is enticing, evoking the gods of irony and the kind of juxtaposition of emotional values that Charlie Chaplin’s persona did, the impetus of the work of Daniel Friedman, aka Deep Fried Man doesn’t always convince. And while it feels heavy handed to say unequivocally that he kills or doesn’t (in the theatrical sense), on stage, his performance is underlined by a level of his own terror that kills any potential charm in the piece. You are so aware of his sweaty palms and dry throat, they could be your own.
Friedman’s opening night last week was plagued with a couple of software-based glitches, which precluded us in the audience from seeing the performance of a song invoking Putin and the Ukraine, but more serious to his oeuvre is a bluntness in his political humour and satire, and a level of crudity which renders the material unsophisticated.
What Deep Fried Man needs more than anything, is a ruthless and thoughtful director. As the show, which comprises some twenty new works, unfolds, Friedman’s liberal peppering of the songs and the interregna between songs with explanations and counter-explanations, dull any polish the show might have had.
Having said that, through the trajectory of this show, there are sparkles and gems of wit and observation which glimmer and shine beneath the more humdrum and mundane observations, forcing you to smile and lending you an inkling as to what makes this performer tick, but alas, these moments are too few.
Friedman markets himself as a topical stand-up comic. His digression into song is an interesting one, and but for some heavy handed strumming, which often is too brash to retain any thoughtful edge, it’s an approach which could contain the seeds of provocative material – a la performers of the ilk of Danny Kaye, Johannes Kerkorrel – or even Bambi Kellerman, Evita Bezuidenhout’s more outspoken sister. Like them, Friedman works with famous songs, shifting lyrics to exist within a critical South African political framework.
The comparison with these cynical songsters fades, however, in the face of the subjects, most of which are so over used, grubbied and sullied, there really isn’t any more of a fresh angle on them. We’re tired of Zuma jokes and references to spears and polygamy. Julius Malema bores us. Many of Friedman’s songs embody a one-lineness which is disappointing.
With the delightful exception of a song examining murder accused Shreen Diwani’s sense of being outdone by murder accused Oscar Pistorius in the headline stakes, the corruption of a Justin Bieber song which lends its considerable more nuance than the original, and some lovely hip hop solutions, the work trots out much social commentary that is tired.
The shallowness and sense of entitlement of the privileged South African is one case in point. Pieter-Dirk Uys was condemning and celebrating and laughing uproariously at the foibles and the earnest innocence of Jewish kugel Ja-Well No-Fine more than twenty years ago. For Deep Fried Man to really kill, the material needs to be bleeding edge fresh and completely untrammelled. Sadly it isn’t.