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Deepfried Man, Gareth Woods, The Brothers Streep – they’re all musical comedians who have made a mark on South African comedy. Tracey-Lee Oliver may not sling a guitar across her chest, but she is fast joining the ranks of hilarious musical comedy acts to see, writes Helen Herimbi.
Just this year, actress and singer, Tracey Lee Oliver, was nominated for a Naledi Award for her role in Richard Loring’s Knights of Music. But lately, she’s been swopping the theatre stages for the comedy clubs and nights of laughter.
This weekend, Oliver will appear in The Kings and Queens of Comedy national tour which comes to a close in Gauteng at Emperors Palace on Friday and Saturday. The stand-up comedy tour is hosted by Riaad Moosa and will feature UK comedians Ava Vidal, Paul Chowdry and Prince Abdi. The South African flag will be flown by Chester Missing, Stuart Taylor, Celeste Ntuli, Mark Banks, Trevor Gumbi, Jason Goliath and Donovan Goliath.
It was through the encouragement of the lads from Goliath and Goliath that Oliver began performing comedy at popular nights like AWEdnesday Comedy Jam. In between a laundry run, Oliver told Tonight her story: “Jason (Goliath) had seen me perform at Carnival City,” she says. “The comedians used to come and perform at Carnival City after a show that I was in.
“I went up to Jason and chatted to him. Initially, I thought he was from Cape Town so I spoke Cape slang to him and he didn’t respond and I was like, now I have to deal with the coloureds from Joburg! Damnit,” she laughs.
“Nevertheless, we got along really well. He had this idea of me singing a song with actual conviction, but the lyrics are funny. I happened to mention that I do impressions as well,” she pauses to giggle. “I remember when we had to meet, it was him and Donovan (Goliath), and I had to do my impression of Macy Gray and Britney Spears doing Mariah Carey’s Hero song. All I saw was Donovan disappear behind the couch and Jason was lying on the couch, laughing. Then I had this moment of ‘damnit guys, I am funny!’”
That moment led to her and Jason penning Burns When I Pee, a parody of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep.
“There’s a fire starting in my pants, wanted to use a condom but you told me to take a chance,” she sings in the comedy segment.
Oliver, who is working on a one-woman show, admits that writing original and funny material is not as easy as being given a script and, say, transforming into Deena Jones in Dreamgirls (for which she garnered a Naledi nomination). Singing the words to Burn When I Pee was also not done without a thought spared for her mother.
“It was difficult for me to sing the song because initially I was like, what is my mother going to think?” she recalls. “Because not only am I singing about hooking up with a guy, but then I sing about him giving me an STD! I’m like, you’re in your 30s already and I think you qualify as an adult now. It was refreshing.”
What’s also refreshing is finding a woman in the musical comedy genre who actually pens gags to contemporary songs. So, we have to ask, like the musical comedians who are booking stage and TV gigs, is she planning to get a guitar soon?
“The guitar has already been done,” she mock-sulks. “Next thing you know, I’m going to have a full band on stage doing musical comedy. I want a 45-minute set of musical comedy so you can properly break (the comedy) down. Maybe I will strum my guitar on my iPad (laughs). Actually, it’s a good idea to have a full band…”
Citing French entertainer, Florence Foresti, as a major influence because the production behind her is “on a massive, awesome stage,” this Joburg girl who moved there from Cape Town nine years ago has big plans for her future.
“You know, as South Africans we’re so scared of telling people our dreams, we don’t have the audacity,” she starts. “But I’m just going to say it: I want to take my musical comedy to the level where I am selling out FNB Stadium. Rihanna can’t be the only person who gets to do that.
“Everything I have experienced has brought me to this place. Growing up in Grabouw, a little farm town where they make Appletiser, wasn’t such a bad thing. It gave me material and my sense of humour, too.”
• See The Kings and Queens of Comedy at Emperors Palace on Friday and Saturday from 8pm. Tickets are priced from R180 to R530 and are available at the box office or Computicket.