Tilt Republic. Johannesburg. New York. Cape Town. London.

the playful elect

There’s this documentary I’m co-producing about South African comedy and it has left me with an ideological hard on for our comedy industry and metaphorical hard ons, like I’m sure you know, are difficult to come by.

I’ve interviewed some of our country’s top comedians over the last few months, Nik Rabinowitz, Mel Miller, Kurt Schoonraad, Joe Parker, Marc Lottering, Ndumiso Lindi, John Vlismas, Paul Snodgrass, Martin Davis, Kagiso Lediga, Tracy Klaas, Brent Palmer and we’re about to interview Mark Sampson, all have offered up there insights and memories about the S.A comedy circuit.

I started reflecting on my interactions with these upper case jesters and pressed my mind for opinions. I thought about some angles for an article. One being a list arranging our top comics from smartest to dumbest or perhaps who smelt the best, but neither seemed to quite have the legs I was hoping for.

The question I decided to explore treats S.A.’s comedians as a collective. There are many dangers when it comes to this kind of approach, firstly it isn’t logical; comedy and individualism are inseparable. Look at the fundamental differences between Woody Allen, Frankie Boyle, Eddie Izzard and Doug Stanhope, they’re all comics, they all stand on stage and make people laugh, but after that the similarities begin to slip.

Well that’s what I thought until I found a quote that does the job, in a small paper written by Sigmund Freud in 1905 entitled Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious:

Aesthetic freedom lies in the playful contemplation of things”

Sounds fascinating. Simply put this sexy piece of philosophy covers the unrestrained appreciation of beauty. Which sounds like a wordy synonym for sexual assault, but only for the gutter minded. At its heart it’s a grand idea and quite inseparable to the comedic disposition.

Aesthetic freedom has a militaristic feel towards art and appreciation. Mostly concerned with dismantling the idea that preconceived notions, traditions and cultural prescriptions about what is socially acceptable, politically correct or even moral deserves to dictate our behaviour without question. Aesthetic freedom looks to break down barriers between the individual and the experience of beauty and this excites me.

John Vlismas said it brilliantly, ranting about how people use ‘being offended’ as an authentic response. Over privileged, middle class consumerist insomniacs who waste money even while they sleep feign offence at every, so called, transgression. Some people just don’t have the right to get offended.

Sure there are loopholes for the truly devious somewhere in that jumbled sentiment, but we live in an over regulated world and you could find a loophole in the back of a rice bag if you tried hard enough.

Getting carried away a bit now, let me return to the quote. Freud suggests that experiencing beauty in the fullest hinges on the playful contemplation of things. Just down from that another pearler rings…

Freedom produces jokes and jokes produce freedom.”


 “Joking is merely playing with ideas.”

.we have just hit terminal velocity, with regards to defining the intrinsic collective spirit that permeates the upper echelons of South African comedy. That quote is the tag line to my ideological boner.

What I’ve witnessed, first hand, is a relentless devotion to freedom, beauty, playfulness and ideas. Those ideas describe these people accurately enough. The styles, content and personal philosophies vary, but the common denominator blares beauteously; relentless thoughtful spacious playfulness. They’re in pursuit of freedom and they’re doing it by playing with ideas.

The light in their eyes, the profound shit that fell from their mouths, not to mention the constant joking, showed me a side of humanity too rare and fascinating to ignore. These people are our playful elect and they are in receipt of much excess. Also very serious at times, taking the greatest of effort to ensure that what they were saying came across clearly. A bizarre blend of front footed apathy and benevolent malice.

I’ve brushed up against them before, had a few close encounters backstage here and there, but this last flurry of filmic activity, sitting across a table for a 45 minute conversation about what it is they love about what it is they love left me spinning.

The grandest part of all is that these comics belong to South Africa, they’re ours. I can’t wait for everyone you to see this documentary, it’s beyond kief.