Race jokes in South Africa: An oldie but a goodie

Jun 4, 2015, 10:07 AM
File: In this Oct. 27 2009 file photo, South African comedian, Trevor Noah, is photographed during ...
File: In this Oct. 27 2009 file photo, South African comedian, Trevor Noah, is photographed during an interview in Johannesburg. Noah, will in September replace Jon Stewart, on "The Daily Show" in the U.S. giving hope to local comedians that they too could resonate with a global audience. (AP Photo / Bongiwe Mchunu-File) SOUTH AFRICA OUT NO SALES/ARCHIVES
(AP Photo / Bongiwe Mchunu-File)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — In a Johannesburg bar with peeling velvet wallpaper and a grimy carpet, a new generation of South African comedians line up dozens of borrowed wooden chairs to turn the dance floor into a makeshift comedy club that they are hoping might produce the next big name in world humor.

The elevation of South African Trevor Noah to the exalted throne of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” has inspired this nation’s comedians who over the last two decades have used their unique history to turn apartheid and race issues into punchlines.

The news that Noah will in September replace Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” was like “comedy New Year,” said comedian Robby Collins a lanky, tattooed comic who has opened many of Noah’s South African shows. “I think a lot of guys have (since) visited the U.S. Embassy,” he added with a laugh.

Collins, 28, moved to Johannesburg from the coastal city of Durban five years ago, and was spotted by Noah, who already had his own late-night South African television show and lucrative sponsorship deals that plastered his face on billboards across the country.

Noah’s “Daily Show” ascendancy is an affirmation to other South African comics that they, too, can resonate with a global audience.

“Whenever someone you recognize yourself in breaks through the glass ceiling, it changes your ambition,” said Mojak Lehoko, 28, a wry comic and one of the hosts of the weekly comedy show at Kitchener’s, a tattered bar in an old hotel that is seeing a rebirth as a hipster hangout.

The contrast for now is quite stark and these comedians are a long way from the swank theater across town where Noah is in the midst of a sold-out three-week run in what may be his last show in South Africa for a while.

In his act, he jokes about being the new guy on the red carpet for the New York Met Gala and boarding international flights as an African during the Ebola outbreak. A biracial South African, he still hits on race as a topic, like these undiscovered comedians in Johannesburg’s less tony establishments.

In the cramped room at Kitchener’s, named after the British colonial lord and filled with hip twenty-somethings, budding comedians throw out quips about race and ethnicity along with observations about life in South Africa.

A young white man in the front row is teased by Collins for trying to use black slang.

Another joke plays on white South Africans’ unfamiliarity with the nation’s African languages. One diminutive black comedian said he intimidates beefy whites by aggressively shouting “I like potatoes” at them in the Xhosa language.

White South African comedian Arieh Esra described his recent university graduation, contrasting his parents’ polite applause with the wildly enthusiastic ululations of black parents. Esra said the difference was understandable because whites have a “400-year head start” in celebrating graduations, while blacks for the most part weren’t allowed into universities for centuries.

Lehoko, who has taken his act to international stages, said race is often shorthand for social differences, whether in South Africa, the United States or many other places.

“Race is a global issue,” he said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Entertainment Latest

motley crue...
Kevin Stone

Valley show featuring Motley Crue, Def Leppard rescheduled for 2021

The Stadium Tour, with headliners Motley Crue and Def Leppard, has been reset for 2021, including a date at State Farm Stadium.
3 years ago
Tucson Festival of Books...

List of Arizona events canceled or postponed in response to coronavirus

Here is a list of events in Arizona that have been canceled, postponed or otherwise impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
3 years ago
Zac Brown Band...
Kevin Stone

Zac Brown Band postpones Phoenix show as coronavirus spreads

The Zac Brown Band announced it was postponing a show at Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix this month, citing "public health concerns."
3 years ago
Justin Bieber...
Kevin Stone

Justin Bieber downsizes Valley show from stadium to Gila River Arena

Pop star Justin Bieber's Valley concert set for June 5 has been relocated from State Farm Stadium in Glendale to neighboring Gila River Arena.
3 years ago
Kevin Stone

Ozzy Osbourne cancels postponed farewell tour, including Phoenix show

Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tours 2 tour, which was scheduled to stop in Phoenix this summer, is no more because of the metal legend's health issues.
3 years ago
Rage Against the Machine...
Kevin Stone

Details released for Rage Against the Machine concert in Phoenix area

It turns out that Rage Against the Machine’s upcoming Phoenix show – which will actually be in Glendale – is part of a seven-month world tour.
3 years ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
Race jokes in South Africa: An oldie but a goodie