News / Africa

Comedian's Unusual Characters Shine on South Africa’s Comedy Scene

Darren Taylor
This is Part Four of a five-part series on 
South African comedians
Continue to Parts: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 


Etienne Shardlow takes the stage and before he’s even said a word, the large audience is roaring with laughter. The reason – he’s a 36-year-old man dressed as a schoolboy…in a black blazer that’s hopelessly too small for him, tiny, tight gray shorts, long gray socks and scuffed black shoes.
 
As he prepares to deliver his monologue he stares blankly at the people before him and wipes his nose repeatedly with a yellowed handkerchief.

  • Etienne Shardlow takes to the stage as his hilarious ‘Schoolboy’ character (Courtesy E. Shardlow)
  • Shardlow is known for his bitter, dry and sarcastic wit. (Courtesy E. Shardlow)
  • A poster advertising ‘Etty Spaghetti,’ with Shardlow as ‘The Chef’ character (Courtesy E. Shardlow)
  • An advertisement for Shardlow’s ‘Etty Spaghetti’ show (Courtesy. E. Shardlow)

 
“That’s my best known comic character, ‘The Schoolboy.’ He’s been around for eight years. He’s supposed to be 11 years old,” Shardlow told VOA after a recent performance. “For me to dress up and try to pull off an 11-year-old character is interesting. It works; I’m not sure how but it works!”
 
In a squeaky voice and with a pronounced stutter, The Schoolboy reveals his warped views of the adult world.
 
Shardlow’s act is often in the style of a speech that a child would give at school, entitled ‘My Dad,’ in which he describes the antics of his almost seven-foot-tall, hard-drinking, heavy metal music-loving, racist, homophobic, sexist and foul-mouthed father, who’s constantly insulting him and calling him useless…but whom The Schoolboy nevertheless adores, thinking him “the cleverest man in the world.”

In one joke he mocked the practice of lobola among some ethnic groups in South Africa, according to which a man must give a certain number of cattle to the family of his prospective bride before he’s allowed to marry her.
 
Shardlow’s character then went on to describe a family visit to the east coast city of Durban – famous for its beaches and its huge population of South Africans of Indian origin.
 
“My dad says Durban is a lot like South Africa, except there’s a sea,” said The Schoolboy, who then paused at length before adding, “…of Indian people. My dad says [that’s why] it’s called the Indian Ocean.”
 
Wordplay and dry humor
 
Shardlow said, “The Schoolboy works because he’s believable. We’ve all been at school and we’ve either been just like him, or we’ve known a school kid just like him. His [delivery] is very innocent on the surface but there are layers of innuendoes in the speech and that’s what makes it so funny, because it’s almost as if the character doesn’t know what he is saying.”
 
In another recent show, The Schoolboy referred to South African talk show host Felicia Mabuza-Suttle, who was much parodied and pilloried for supposedly interviewing her guests in a fake American accent and for a style that many viewers found irritating on her show – ‘Felicia on E’ - on the e.tv channel.
 
“My dad says he doesn’t know why that program was called ‘Felicia on E.’ My dad says that Felicia was never on E [the recreational drug Ecstasy]. But he thinks heroin maybe,” The Schoolboy squeaked.
 
Sarcasm, a deadpan, dry wit and clever wordplay are features of Shardlow’s comedy.
 
“That’s the kind of humor that I identify with. The comedy that I do onstage is more my mother’s sense of humor, which is bitter and dry and sarcastic,” said the comic. He quickly added, “My mother, she mustn’t hear this interview; she’ll kill me, you know!”
 
‘Laugh at yourself’
 
Self-deprecation is also a hallmark of Shardlow’s style. He often satirizes and mocks his hometown of Springs, a town 30 miles east of Johannesburg.
 
“Springs is a little industrial town now; it used to be a mining town. It has that very small town mentality. It has a reputation for being backward, for not having the smartest population. It’s the kind of place where if you wear jeans, you’re considered the town eccentric. If those jeans are flared, you’re likely to get beaten up,” said Shardlow, smiling.
 
“I know people from Springs who go to the big city of Johannesburg, which is 45 kilometers away, once a year. That trip is the highlight of their year.”
 
Shardlow’s adamant that to laugh at yourself is an “essential tool of survival” in the modern world.
 
“If you can’t, you’re going to be miserable for most of your life. Don’t let others have the monopoly on laughing at you; laugh at yourself in a way that uplifts you and gives you strength to face the next challenge,” he said.
 
A gay homophobe
 
Another of his popular shows is called ‘Etty Spaghetti.’
 
“Etty Spaghetti’s actually a nickname I got in primary school because of my structure – my long, skinny legs and arms. And I’m also super-pale, just like spaghetti,” Shardlow explained.
 
He added that the show is presented by four characters – The Schoolboy; himself, Etienne Shardlow; a chef…“and then there is Erak, who is possibly an extreme version of someone I used to be – a gay homophobe,” said Shardlow. “It sounds like a bizarre concept but there are so many gay people who are anti-gay. I used to be one of them. For a long time I denied that I was gay, and I did this by going out of my way to insult gay people.”
 
The comedian is also a gay rights activist, and he often touches on homosexuality in his work. In particular, he satirizes homophobes.
 
“Erak is obviously gay. But everything he says is violently anti-gay…. If there’s anything wrong in the world, he blames homosexuality for it. Anytime there’s conflict anywhere, he’ll find the cause to be rooted to homosexuality,” said Shardlow.  
 
At a recent performance of Etty Spaghetti, Erak barked at the audience in a feminine voice, “Gays cause all the conflicts in the world. They cause problems with all the different religions and they cause problems in the Middle East. All the trouble between America and Iraq and Afghanistan – it was all because of the gays. The gays even caused the earthquake in Japan.”
 
But it’s The Schoolboy persona that Shardlow said is his “true home” as a comedian.
 
“That character is proof that I’ve never grown up,” he commented, laughing. “And I hope I never, ever grow up.”
 
Listen to profile of South African comedian Etienne Shardlow
Listen to profile of South African comedian Etienne Shardlowi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid