Comedy crosses the language barrier at New Wimbledon Theatre’s Cape Town Funny Festival

Despite being 6,000 miles from South Africa, the rainbow nation’s premier comedians looked very much at home at the New Wimbledon Theatre last night.

And why shouldn’t they? For this weekend at least, the theatre is about as English as the dried biltong meat and other South African snacks on sale at its concession stand.

To a mixed crowd of ex-pats and curious locals, the Cape Town Funny Festival kicked off it three-night run with five varied acts: Alan Committie, Siv Ngesi, Marc Lottering, Tumi Morake and Nik Rabinowitz.

“As South Africans we do things which are slightly different,” said Committie, last night’s energetic and engaging host – and he wasn’t wrong.

He proved his own point almost immediately by orchestrating a standing ovation five minutes into the show ‘just to get it out of the way’.

This physical comedy was typical of the evening, with the performers all bringing an unusual mix of subtle observational humour with a total inability to keep still.

Whether it was Lottering thrusting his way across stage, Morake twerking, Rabinowitz impersonating a certain Paralympian sprinter or Ngesi dancing to a medley of hit songs, the evening was dominated by whoops and cheers from the crowd as the performers let loose.

The topics discussed were equally forthright, with race, crime, sex and (inevitably) Oscar Pistorius all confronted head-on.

For a country with such a turbulent history, comedy can take on a new importance.

Speaking to SW Londoner, Lottering declared: “I still think that laughter continues to play a significant therapeutic role in our country. It’s how we cope. It’s how we survive.”

For non-South Africans, the show dipped slightly after the interval, as the performers began to speak Afrikaans more.

Rabinowitz especially told whole jokes in the language, while others chose to build up their gags in English before delivering the punch-line in their native tongue – a frustrating format for a small portion of the crowd.

“Ask your friends what that means afterwards,” joked Lottering at one point to a bemused group of audience members.

Nonetheless, laughter is contagious in any language.

Any annoyance at missing out on a few funnies was cancelled out by the heartening sight of hundreds of South Africans laughing together.

It’s a long way from Cape Town to Wimbledon, but for one night, at least, they were home.

The Cape Town Funny Festival continues with evening shows tonight and tomorrow.

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