WHAT WOULD YOU deem the most difficult job in the arts industry? Could it be running a busy top-flight gallery with the difficult egos that come of sensitive artists? Could it be being head honcho to an arts fund-raising initiative, where you have to make decisions and by doing so force the end of careers? Perhaps it is something much more humble. Consider the lone stand up comedian.
In years gone by, political jesters of the ilk of Pieter-Dirk Uys would glibly boast that the government writes his scripts. Indeed it did, and all the foolish, cruel and dishonest shenanigans of government leadership, before and after the end of apartheid became grist for his mill, hilariously. But those were in the pre-social media days. Today, every blip and fart, every mispronounced word and spot of loadshedding is thrust up for public debate instantaneously.
Where does that leave comedians who need the political edge to survive, and people of the ilk of ventriloquist, Conrad Koch? His show Puppet Guy, reviewed on this blog last May, is currently on the boards again in the Studio Theatre at Montecasino, until April 14. And is it a laugh a second? Not quite: it’s the same material, fluffed out by different audience members called out and put on stage. The jokes are the same, the order of puppetry the same, the tricks and sleights of hand, the same.
And don’t get me wrong: Koch is a highly skilled performer and the words that he puts seamlessly into the mouths of dolls and socks, hoodies and your hapless husband who happens to have been pulled on stage, are sharp-edged and witty. But for the puppeteer who rocked South African stages in 2014 with his sharp tongue and quick, slick terrible jokes about Oscar Pistorius and other miscreants in our society, he seems to be pushing very hard with the same material. Too hard.
Is it unreasonable to expect him to have fresh material some 10 months after one season? Perhaps. But are there sufficient theatre goers in Fourways for whom this material is still fresh: this political repartee and these Trump and Zuma jokes, with a bit of penis and bum gibes tossed into the mix? Spare a thought for the guy at the mic, with several suitcases of puppets and material for improvising characters at hand: every day, the news is different and the crass foolishness of people in power rock social media. Every day there are a myriad new stories to prey on. The paradigm shifts and rocks with abandon. And all of us need a good fresh chuckle in which we can lose our inhibitions because it takes us by surprise.