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

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Kurdish service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs