“You can probably guess that I’m from the Cape Flats – born and fled that is!” So starts another night of impassioned, edgy and often bitingly satirical comedy from some of South Africa’s rawest young comedy talent.
The townships of Cape Town aren’t known as hubs of comedy, but the Starving Comics, an almost exclusively black and mixed-race group of young funny men and women, most of whom hail from troubled areas such as Mitchell’s Plain and Gugulethu, aim to change that perception. After decades in the international wilderness during apartheid, when comedy from the US and Europe was all but impossible to watch, this clutch of new comics have a voracious appetite for international skits and stars, and are deadly serious about giving South Africa a distinctive comic voice.
So this means an eclectic cluster of moneyed bohos, grizzled old Afrikaners, township residents and tourists can be found in a variety of modestly sized venues above bars and in tiny theatres across Cape Town on any given night to hear comics blaze a trail through comic journeys both satirical and surreal that can take in everything from political corruption to ice-rink etiquette.
To watch a gig with the Starving Comics is to be reminded that it’s possible to create comedy out of absolutely anything – even issues as tragic as the South African crime rate and the legacy of apartheid. It’s not the slickest comedy experience. Performers forget their lines, audiences are sometimes barely in double figures and getting info in advance about gigs can be difficult. But this is comedy at its rawest, bravest and most exciting. Even if, after watching these guys, you may never feel the same way about Nelson Mandela’s rugby shirt ever again.