Comedian Finds Something Funny About South Africa

A comedian from South Africa uses humor as an antidote to South Africa's modern ills and racist past. NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault has the story.

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Following a contentious election, South Africans now have a new government to try and deal with a lot of longstanding problems: crime, poverty and AIDS.

But NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault met one South African who thinks he may have some solutions.

Unidentified Man: Please put your hands together and make some noise for president-elect David Kau.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: This definitely is South Africa's election season, but David Kau is not running for anything, except the freedom...

Mr. DAVID KAU (Comedian): (Foreign language spoken)

HUNTER-GAULT: ...to make people laugh.

Mr. KAU: Laughing together we can do more.

HUNTER-GAULT: Over the past ten years, this black South African has done more to make people laugh, transforming the landscape of comedy and race, bringing all of South Africa's colors and clans under one tent at least for one night, and sparing none of them. Tonight's show was called "Blacks Only."

Mr. KAU: We'll start with the white people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KAU: White people, are you here tonight?

(Soundbite of cheering)

HUNTER-GAULT: A few hands go up. Pointing to them, Kau references the tiny right-wing white party The Freedom Front, formed after South Africa won black rule in 1994.

Mr. KAU: We're glad they all got in. They all came in one car.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KAU: And it was a two-seater.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUNTER-GAULT: Kau then turns to mixed-race South Africans referred to as coloreds, who carried a certain degree of social superiority over blacks under apartheid.

Mr. KAU: Colored people.

HUNTER-GAULT: Kau rags on them sitting in the cheap seats at the back of the packed hall of 3,000.

Mr. KAU: Recession is a bitch, isn't it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUNTER-GAULT: And then it was the Indians' turn.

Mr. KAU: Indian people.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. KAU: Those are the most expensive tickets, so they might have won tickets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUNTER-GAULT: And then pretending to be an Indian negotiating with his mates to go to the show...

Mr. KAU: Hey, Raj, where are you going? Come here. Listen, we don't all have to be there, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KAU: As soon as you go there, call me, leave your phone on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUNTER-GAULT: But Kau also featured other prominent South African comedians.

Mr. JOEY RADZIN(ph) (Comedian): I'd rather be black than gay. 'Cause if you're black you don't have to tell your mother.

HUNTER-GAULT: Joey Radzin took a shot at an issue still sensitive in some cultures here. And Thomas Gumedi(ph), another popular black comic, took on the subject of Michael Jackson, saying he's figured out why whites liked him so much.

Mr. THOMAS GUMEDI (Comedian): I got older and I realized they thought that he was going to convince all of us to turn white.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUMEDI: Not going to happen. Okay? It's not going to happen.

HUNTER-GAULT: No one was spared, not even Jacob Zuma, the president of the ruling African National Congress, who will probably be the country's next president. He's a polygamist and Kau had this to say about Zuma's tendency to get married a lot.

Mr. KAU: I'm not even making this up, he's actually the only person in the world that if you gave him a call on a random Saturday afternoon, he would actually answer his phone and go, excuse me. Yeah. I'm just getting married here quickly. Can I call you back later?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HUNTER-GAULT: After the show, I ask David Kau why he got this groove on.

Mr. KAU: I think we all need to acknowledge there are black people, white people, Indian people and colored people in this country. I think it starts with acknowledging that we're different.

HUNTER-GAULT: Kau says it might even be easier for people to laugh who've survived racially oppressive systems like apartheid.

Mr. KAU: And I think the more pain you've been through in your life the more you're able to laugh.

HUNTER-GAULT: And in terms of this audience, he was right. Marvin Chedi(ph) is one of the Indians attending the show.

Mr. MARVIN CHEDI: Being Indian listening to black jokes, them making fun of Indians, I think it's all fun.

HUNTER-GAULT: Seizway Shisholbee(ph) says he thinks the racist past is in the past, mostly.

Mr. SEIZWAY SHISHOLBEE: We'll get by. There will be still people are going to be so stuck up about it, but we're okay.

HUNTER-GAULT: Nadine Hembrid(ph) says ten years ago she would've been one of those stuck up about it.

Ms. NADINE HEMBRID: I wouldn't even have attended this because I would've been too sensitive to it, and I would've thought it distasteful. But now it's more something that we can enjoy together and laugh about. Yeah.

HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you.

Ms. HEMBRID: Pleasure.

HUNTER-GAULT: And laughter is a good note to leave on.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Johannesburg.

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