The state of the comedy underground

It’s been nearly two beauteously twisted years since my involvement in the Obs art scene. My weekly show, which started at Obz Cafe, moved to Armchair because of the renovations to the theatre. While there we scaled it down, due to its lounge vibe, scrapped the microphone and the door charge and turned it into a workshop. A workshop with a missing fourth wall. The evolution didn’t sit well at first, but has since turned into a delightful melange that serves the circuit wonderfully. It’s a not so serious yet exceptionally useful testing ground for our new ideas.

The quality of work we’ve encouraged in each other has been astounding. With a sturdy gang of regular performers and locals all gathering around the wondrous tilted flame of alternative comedy. There is something profoundly kief about the ethos of the show. Even though I say so myself, given the fact I produce the thing, I should think so. My background is in education, so that pedagogical edge will always haunt my every project. My fascination with hunting down the place where progression happens cannot be curbed. To look straight into it, to sit and watch the birth and growth of these higher pleasures remains a lasting addiction. I do, of course, mean ideas and not the other process associated with placenta and heart burn. That’s just gross.

I think about all the gifted personalities and grandiose intentions and feel a resounding ‘aaaahhhhh’ sooth my O.C.D for a moment of suspended relief.

This is no fly by night, amateur hour event. It’s a gesture of such profound creative excess- the very stuff I expect from the bohemian temperament. A rig that has seen some of the strongest acts in the country showcase their swagger. The very experience I was hoping to find when I started the project.

The wild eyed devotion my siblings in the craft have shown humbles me. There’s something so authentic about what happens on a Sunday. We gather every week, Sunday after Sunday, to flesh out our ideas, keep each other inspired and get ripped beyond repair. Acts like (in no particular order) Milo Hot Chocolate, Dylan Skews, Rustum August, Kurt Langeveld, Gino Fernandez, Kellyn Coetzee, Carl Weber, Peter Ssweranga, Brenden Murray, Siv Ngesi, Laz Gola (though he be in Jozi now), Stacey Howell, James Enstrom, Angel Campey, Oliver Booth, Kagiso Mokgadi, Lungelo Ndlovu, Shaun Fickling, Shaun Jejane, LnK, Zinzi Mangweni, Liam Bento, Ryan Carelse, Schalk Bezuidenhoud, Rhys Woods, Bianca Clarke and of course the selfless geezers like Martin Davis, Martin Evans, Rob Van Vuuren, Nik Rabinowitz and the touring Jozi and Durban lads who don’t need the stage time but support the rig because they’re kief like that. You people (and the ones I might have forgotten to mention) have been a counter cultural dream come true.

There was a little piece I wrote at the end of last year and I think I can see it happening and that leaves me wrecked with excitement. Here it is:

“Here, in the tumultuous aftermath of enlightened beatnik rockstars; Bill Hicks, Sam Kinnison and George Carlin, we have left been left a wake too big to fill. We need an army.
These comedians didn’t exhibit genius, but they pursued it. Cutting edge rebellion, vandalizing the core values of middle America, they surely didn’t have everything figured out but the spirit in which they created and performed material was nothing short of awesome. Like the first Greek philosophers, their stance superceded the content of their work, perhaps with less boy sex but their curiosity and gusto remained flawless. It’s intoxicating to listen to these old records. Their approach, their wordy rebelliousness, the stuff of great commentators. The fuck you swagger they hid in every text, it’s not for what but how they stood that made them so captivating. Now I won’t be able to give a clear picture of what that was, though I’ve listened to a considerable amount of their work but they weren’t exactly offering systematic expositions on their inner worlds. In hind sight that could be called intentional, undevoted to a specific dogma but let’s not get carried away. Not to take anything away, they were well written and concise but ultimately haphazard stabs at the world as they saw it.
But they’re gone now, add Dr Thompson R.I.P (rest in psychosis), Bob Dylan – who’s alive but has finally fallen through his own indecipherable arse. Terence Mckenna, through his advocation of hallucinogens, died of chronic migraines. It is somewhat amicable that many of these counter cultural zealots died due to taking their own advice. Hedberg, left us face down in a puddle of regurgitated heroin guts- well the list could perhaps go on.
Despite it’s incredible irrelevance it remains my favourite kind of social commentary to listen to, subjective rants that leave me with an anarchistic afterglow and a hefty dose of irreverence for all things sacred. Carlin went full atheist, ballsy for the time- now it’s somewhat of a cliché attribute of the soap box. It’s easier now that the middle class have done some reading of their own.
But still, to insist on access to someone’s thought life whilst exhibiting hostility towards their believe system is a tricky balancing act. Hicks, despite his aversion to all things organized, remained aligned to theism. Giving his angle a little messianic twist, which also is a bit of a tricky balancing beam act with spiritual crack pot and egotistical maniac looming on each end of that continuum. God knows what that ego would have attained had he sidestepped cancer.
But through all their bullshit and half baked quasi philosophical tirades they managed to pull it off. Rock star Nietzschian super geeks showing off for fun and fame.
I’ve been looking for a contemporary flame equal to theirs, a 2.0 of that same spirit. It seems that looking for a South African version might seem a little too ambitious but I could try.
Drum roll, enter John Vlismas, he’s taken center stage awfully well. From the outset Vlismas exhibits what alternative commentary should look, feel and sound like. Our society focuses on aesthetic texts just as critically as it does content and Vlismas looks the part. His performances remain, somewhat irritatingly, out of reach. I’ve seen him a few times but haven’t digested nearly enough of his material to make concrete observations about his stance. His blog on thoughtleader, though not comedy, is the dark, abstract and cutting noise you’d expect a mind with such aspirations to showcase. He is the comedian’s comedian, everyone established or un, will mention him as a favourite. He isn’t made of that greasey self promotional discharge some comics can’t wash off their business smuck smiling faces. Promoting yourself comes with job, sure, but there’s a non pyramid scheme way of doing it and he’s switched on about that. This allegiance the comedy scene shows Vlismas has to do with what he stands for and how he pulls it off. This asymmetrical tattooed foully verbose pierceling drenched in black exemplifies the grade and that is no small achievement. When I discussed him with Martin Davis, our quintessential underground geezer, he portrayed him as unwavering and intense. He told me of how Vlismas doesn’t water down or ease off his style when it comes to catering for suites. I like that. I look forward to seeing more of his work.
Many Saffers deserve to be mentioned in this realm, we are blessed, from Ben Travato to Fred Khumalo, even Barry Wronger has his charm. Comics like Nik Rabinowitz, Kagiso, Alyn Adams, Loyiso Gola, Riaad Moosa, Melt Sieberhagen, Martin Evans and Rob Van Vuuren all exhibit a unique and edgy satirical genius. That spark of twisted intelligentsia committed to counter cultural marching orders. That’s what makes next year’s comic’s choice awards a special event. It seeks to recognise the progression of twisted creativity seriously, moving it to a realm of tangible appreciation. For those of us bored with facts and endless moralizing by objective tosspots, having the newspaper translated by a slanted cynical genius is pure gold. The average twenty something isn’t really interested in social justice, freedom or salvation. These are mere platforms for initiating coitus, our real interests revolve around making money and being entertained, more than often a sexy balance of both.
This is what comedians get, that when all the bullshit dissipates all we are left with is a blistering chunk of bullshit. Eat, drink, laugh, fuck, work if you must and then die. Evolution has rendered society an entire generation that thinks like this. There is no sweeter platform suited for this journey than that of alternative comedy.
So dear father Christmas, here’s my demands:
I’m looking for a tuned and twisted mosaic, a violent combination; of Lenny Bruce’s conviction, Jimmy Carr’s precision and Hicks’ passion. Politicians, priests and parents aren’t enough, send us an army of comedy gods and deliver us from the middle.”

In the words of Martin Davis, it’s been ‘fucking brilliant’.


  1. Obs theatre is fucking useful

  2. […] I started Comics@Work, Audience Welcome at beginning of 2010 at Obz Cafe Theatre. It ran there for just over a year when the shop closed for renovations. Not wanting to close the show for that period I negotiated to have it moved to Obviously Armchair. Given the feel of the room we were forced to change the feel of the show. I decided transform it to a workshop with the fourth wall taken out.  It’s a place with a distinct pedagogical edge. […]

November 21, 2011 Early Tilt