JOE BARBER comedy shows are as much a stage sitcom as an institution. Coming on since 1999 when they first created Meet Joe Barber in a tiny Kloof Street venue, David Isaacs and Oscar Petersen have found as much work as Joe the barber and his friend Boeta Gamat as they have elsewhere.
And, for every time either one of them appears in a movie, tv series or serious stage play, there is always someone asking: “When will you do the next Joe Barber show?”
The productions tend to have a long shelf life, particularly at the Baxter Theatre (Joe Barber 5 – School Cuts ran for 17 weeks), which puts a huge amount of pressure on them as they carry all the responsibility.
But, if they want to put food on the table, creating the work rather than waiting for someone to offer, is the more sensible choice.
Each version of the previous five productions has always been an experiment in form, but this one particularly so as they are thinking of branching out into the television world.
For Joe Barber VI – Life, they have created a mockumentary around candidates who have been nominated for a community award, with recorded video material mixed into the stage narrative.
Not only does this bring Boeta Gamat, Joe and Wasiela into the world of social media platforms and lessons in how to present yourself to a camera, but it potentially changes how the audience engages with the characters.
Both actors have experience working in front of cameras and this new iteration is a possible step towards the small screen.
Already part of their audience doesn’t even engage with the live stage show but watches the dvd recordings, and the characters have proved to be infinitely inventive. Not just because they are always getting up to some sort of mischief (or at least Gamat does, and then Joe has to rescue him), but also because they have gained a life of their own.
The actors have travelled around the country (and to other countries) with the show, but the characters have also travelled in their own world, and evolved over the years.
In a way, Joe and Gamat have grown to exist in real time and come to mirror 39-year-old Isaacs and 46-year old Petersen more so now than they did 15 years ago.
At first they looked to their fathers and uncles for inspiration (and, of course, the man who gave the production its name, the owner of the real Joe Barber in Parkwood), and stripped down the stereotypes around coloured working class men to ask the fundamental question – who is this person?
“For us, it was a process of acceptance,” Isaacs says about creating the characters as people who may not have letters behind their name, but are learned in other ways.
At first it used to freak out Petersen when people identified him as the character rather than as David the actor, but he has come to see the recognition in a positive light: “If they say ‘Boeta Gamat’, its an extension of me. I used to be scared of it, but… people embrace you back.
“As a performer you live examined lives,” said Petersen.
He finds it ironic that now that he has started accepting the moniker, people sometimes address him as Mr Petersen.
Isaacs agrees that there seems to be a growing recognition in their audience that they don’t just do this one thing, but that helps them to create the next step for the characters because they have so much to drawn on.
“You can only imagine them in a public space. But, would you take the character into the toilet? That’s the question. “When you start merging what happens in the intimacy of a character with what he does on stage…
“I’ve realised we’ve only been scratching on the periphery of the characters. What is their real joys and sorrows, what’s deep inside,” asked Isaacs.
“When David talks about it, I wonder, will we ever get to that? How do you shift the brand to maintain it but also bring in some other element. Where could this go?” countered Petersen.
• Joe Barber VI – Life opens at the Baxter Theatre tomorrow and runs until May 10 at 8pm.
Tickets costsR100 from Tuesdays to Thursdays, R130 on Fridays and Saturdays. Block bookings of 10 or more, R80 at Computicket.
Check www.baxter.co.za for further details.