The Pickwicks Club on Long Street, which is Mr Pickwicks but the upstairs bit, has been a new home for my comedic allies and I for last two months. Well on Tuesdays. As with any show we had a few important questions to ask. What would it look like, where are the limits, who do we book?
Our other stand up show, at the Armchair in Obs, has taken on a life of it’s own. A beauteously twisted synergy of sketchy new ideas and playful contemplation has given it a bizarre, non centralized autonomy, an experiment in anarchistic entertainment. The show doesn’t need me around to work, a terrible realization but testimony to how everyone has bought into and taken ownership of it.
This new one, however, has remained a little hazy in that we’re still allowing it room to be figured out. The variety of talent within South African stand up is broad, but not numerous enough to sustain a show in one specific direction. We have story tellers, one liners, ranters, surrealist maniacs, pseudo intellectual quasi philosophical soap boxers but not enough of one genre to sustain a movement. Yet.
Here’s a clincher, something that Paul Snodgrass unpacked beautifully one whiskey soaked evening: comedy isn’t a genre. We are, at times, guilty of an one dimensional approach to stand up. Rating people as funny or not. If I didn’t like hiphop or jazz I wouldn’t be accused of not liking music, I’d simply not like jazz or hiphop. The same goes with the realm of stand up, we are too often rejecting acts instead of styles. It’s a destructive approach.
There are two styles that I have always rated above all others. Surrealism and rant, think Eddie Izzard and Bill Hicks and a combination of the two, namely Dylan Moran and Louie C.K. Me enjoying these acts more than Dane Cook is not a value judgement. It’s the difference between coffee and tea drinkers, barring the point that tea drinkers have no soul, but you get the gist. You’re feeling me, right?
Right, so this specific show, this first true babe of Johnny Cranko Comedy Productions has an identity journey to go on. We’ve been experimenting and tinkering and I think I’ve found something that could stick.
Rant style comedy isn’t about shouting, though people shout.
It isn’t about offending everyone, even though it happens.
It isn’t about being insensitive to minorities, though nothing is sacred.
It isn’t about jokeless preaching, even though points are made.
It isn’t about reducing an evening to live swearing, though our language can be putrid.
There is a whisper, a strange balance- barely graspable but incredible to behold. I get the same sublime sense of suspended belief while watching a flowing summer dress or a puppy yawning, it can’t be explained in entirety- but it’s real, if that’s your thing.
Few are capable of this style, fewer still like watching it but there is nothing like a room filled with this calibre of punter and comedian.
If you gaze out into the ether of the experience, you can see the mediocrity retreat. As razor sharp synapses cut and tears at will. The Bill Hicks/ Lenny Bruce/ Richard Pryor/George Carlin/ Louie C.K./ Doug Stanhope vein of stand up is possibly not even adequately described as Rant, but I’ll use a better fitting adjective when I find one.
The kind of disposition required is one of sensitivity, exceptional awareness and an ego-less manoeuvring. It’s about the plea of the underdog, it’s about challenging authority and tradition and standing in the gap for critical thought and authentic aggression. A spectacular melange of intellect, wit and nerve.
A rare and beautiful thing to behold. This coffee shop comedy. This thoughtful thing. This is what I want at the Pickwicks club.
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