Comedy Taking no prisoners

Taking no prisoners

Analysing stand-up comedy can feel a bit like describing dance steps to someone over the telephone. It’s unavoidably pedantic, and comedy criticism that doesn’t just transpose the jokes like reusing a teabag, is difficult to do.

Daniel Friedman performs in Deep Fried Man Kills in Scout Hall in Grahamstown on 3 July 2015 at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Deep Fried Man Kills is a one man show musical comedy. (Photo: CUEPIX/Kate Janse van Rensburg)

Daniel Friedman performs in Deep Fried Man Kills in Scout Hall in Grahamstown on 3 July 2015 at the 2015 National Arts Festival. Deep Fried Man Kills is a one man show musical comedy. (Photo: CUEPIX/Kate Janse van Rensburg)

In South Africa, it can often seem as though there’s only one joke, and that’s our inability to see our own silliness. It’s why satire has so much currency here, as you’ll have noticed at this year’s festival. The constant point being hammered home is that in a country where the ridiculous is the everyday, comedy is often simply a matter of reading out the news headlines. That’s an oversimplification, but it’s against this background that Deep Fried Man appears to pluck at our collective anxiety with his musical stylings.

The subjects are familiar: into the age-old mix of witless white people and the worries of politics, there are newly ripe societal markers to aim at, like hipsters (Grahamstown crawls with the inanely bearded and the sleeve-tattooed semaphoring their uniqueness), overpriced beer, twerkers and the EFF.

Deep Fried Man Kills runs to an easy hour. The comedian stands, backlit with a guitar, dressed always in the uniform that has become his trademark. Anyone who braves a fedora in this day and age raises my suspicions, but he pulls it off. His particular brand of comedy begs obvious comparisons with Flight of the Conchords, but I’d bypass that and say he belongs to a South African tradition of people like David Kramer, who use folksy bow-tie humour as a vehicle for advancing cutting social commentary.

As such, the subject material is well-chosen to chime with the concerns of the audience. When Deep Fried Man sings a clever ditty about crime to the tune of a Cyndi Lauper song, we laugh because it’s true, and because there’s a frisson of excitement in watching someone on a stage wittily saying things we dare not say. The irreverence is where the humour lies. He makes fun of people who take themselves too seriously, like the trust-fund-bearing, hospice-clad denizens of hipsterdom, but in doing so he draws attention to the shallowness that underpins these people and their behaviour.

What adds to his likeability is that he’s not afraid to poke fun at himself. He takes swings at his Jewish identity and the neuroses it engenders, before going at the typical white suburban anxieties around security. There’s a funny skit on the obsessions of rap music, and a joyful alphabetic vignette.

Some of the material felt a bit worn-through, and while I get the sense that there’s fresh work in the pipeline, Friedman should perhaps prop up the sagging corners of the routine. The improvised stuff was sometimes slack, and there were undercooked moments which were shown up by the quality of the work around them.

Still, anyone who can cleverly link the EFF to the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine deserves to be watched. There’s an argument to be made for quirky, offbeat humour, and there’s a rebuttal of this argument that states that the quirky and the off-beat are now mainstream. Somewhere between these two poles sits Deep Fried Man, with a show that will entertain and hopefully cause a pause for thought.

There’s humour, to be sure, and that humour is the experience of the darkness into which we are often plunged.

Wamuwi Mbao
Cue specialist writer

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