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

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Nigerian Islamic School Tries to Combat Boko Haram

Kaduna school headmaster teaches his students that what militants are doing is are doing is 'a total misunderstanding of the Islamic religion' More

University Trains Students to Advocate for Deaf People Worldwide

Program prepares graduates to advocate internationally for access to education, jobs for people with disabilities 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid