Comedy Central: Final lowdown

I’ve never been this happy to lose.

Ever.

It’s a week later and still, the events at Comedy Central‘s Open Spot competition stir a blend of pride, wonder and the classic “shoulda, woulda coulda” -all in a good sense, though.

The finals brought all nine contestants back to the POPArt Theatre in Joburg on 2 June and, after a few delays with setting up the TV equipment, we were summoned to a dimly-lit corner on the fringes of the actual performance space.

We had a briefing from the show’s director (this was the real deal and set to be recorded for broadcast) and then were told to sit tight while final preparations were being made inside.

Step up to the mic
Step up to the mic

They started giving us a list of directives well before the show started. Remember this. Do that. “Don’t start talking until the music is dead,” they said.

This was not the time to die up there.

It was all pretty stop-start. The make-up personnel were having car trouble so we had to wait around as they were getting assistance.

Crew members were buzzing all around the place, headsets fixed on and occasionally stopping by a small mounted gazebo to grab a slice from a stack of pizza boxes.

It was fun to watch and definitely made it feel like even more of a step-up than the settings I’ve become used to.

At a second briefing with GOLIATH&GOLIATH (comedy collective which runs The Box Comedy at the venue), it was time to draw the running order.

I let out a sigh of slight disappointment as my number read: “1”.

“OK, Tyson,” I said to myself. “You’re the opener”.

As the rest of the comics gave me physical and verbal pats of consolation, I immediately set my mind on the kind of energy approach which was now needed. Opening a comedy show, as is the case with hosting one, is a unique skill – one which I had long thought I did not possess.

But now wasn’t the time to be thinking such.

I was calmed by the fact that it would be over so soon. but bleak that I wouldn’t have the chance to suss out the competition before I went on.

After getting the small mobile mic strapped onto my body (I felt like a snitch in The Wire TV series), it was time for make-up. It was about a good 30 minutes after the initial brief and the make-up artist had arrived.

After getting that done, it was showtime.

Comedy lined up: Comedy Central's competition culminated in a show on 2 June. Pic: Steven Seller
Comedy lined up: Comedy Central’s competition culminated in a show on 2 June. Pic: Steven Seller

My pre-performance custom of immersing myself in a space of silence and solitude was slightly disrupted that night. One of the crew members had his camera trained on my face from the moment I arrived in the space and waited for my name to be called.

They were recording everything; the nerves, the moments before showtime and my playful little jigs with my expressions.

 

Whereas my previous performance was defined by an unprecedented calmness and comfort, this one definitely felt different. And I think it translated on some level or another into the general feel I had on stage.

About three minutes in, something behind the curtain sounded oddly like the walkie-talkie systems being used by the crew. As I was setting up another joke, half of my mind retreated from what I was doing and the following internal conversation took place:

  • What in the world was that?
  • – Did they hear it?
  • Of course they heard it
  • – The feel of the room has just changed… you know this
  • OK, OK… Do I acknowledge it?
  • – Of course you should… You’re an improv performer!!
  • What about the time!? They told us not to go over time

All the while I was continuing to speak in real-time. Simulating complete comfort and looking the audience squarely in the eyes.

Tyson performs at the POPArt Theatre on 2 June: Pic: Cindy Ellis/Comedy Central Africa
Tyson performs at the POPArt Theatre on 2 June: Pic: Cindy Ellis/Comedy Central Africa

My heart wanted to break away from the set and acknowledge the source of the sound, but my mind vetoed that.

The rest of the set went by without too much of a hitch and I ended up closing with a completely new bit. A risk which partially paid-off.

It was a good night of comedy.

The level of competition was, as expected, quite high.

Congratulations to Glen Biderman-Pam, whose theatre and performance background could only aid his performative aura as he blew the judges away with some creative character work which won him the competition. A memorable and deserved victory.

Zakkiya Khan was another whose explosive hilarity was engaging as it was interesting to hear. Highly impressive and is another new comic in line for the Comic’s Choice Awards. She definitely has my vote.

Werner Cloete rounded off the last of the top three performers adjudged to have excelled on the night. It was my first time seeing a mastery of dark comedy on a South African stage.

Mo Mothebe and Lumkile Tyesi tapped into both pop-culture and ethnicity in their material. They drew out big laughs and had the audience eating out of the palm of their hands.

Jzuan Dreyer delivered his set with the coolness of seasoned veteran. His bravado and confidence was particularly inspiring for me. He gets around on a wheelchair and is definitely likely to make waves on the scene for his razor-sharp wit.

Adriaan de Klerk is also a student and was competing the night before his exam! His style of delivery was quite calm and daring as he took the audience to some uncomfortable places, before coolly bringing them back onside.

Overall, an unbelievable experience and definitely unforgettable.

It was too big an opportunity to pass up and I’m grateful for a memorable return to the Joburg comedy circuit, for the mistakes I got to make and the insight I gained.

I live to learn.

Stay tuned…

-Tyson

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