Cape Town - Comedian and ventriloquist Conrad Koch will not be shy to tackle issues of white privilege and racism with his new show, “Nice Racists”, which is set to open in Cape Town.
“It’s like South Africa is Cape Town and racism is Table Mountain. It’s everywhere. You may not be thinking about it, but it’s there. And ironically, the closer you are to the mountain, the more racist you probably are.”
The double Emmy-nominated comedian and ventriloquist, with his politically aware and often abrasive friend, Chester Missing, is attempting to create a politically safe and kinder space in which conversations around racism can take place.
One of South Africa’s most well-known ventriloquists, Koch, is preparing to showcase his Nice Racists show in Cape Town, Johannesburg, East London, Gqeberha, Kariega and Durban in May and June.
Missing is best known for his short and rapid-fire social commentary and interviews with South Africa’s political elite, and holds a number of regular radio and TV slots as well as an award-winning book, “Chester Missing’s Guide to the Elections ’14”.
Koch, a Master’s degree holder in Social Anthropology from UCT, shared that the self-reflective nature of the subject had given him insight into the world he had not been able to see before.
“Anthropology is self-reflexivity. You reflect on your own cultural position as you describe the surroundings, which informs everything. Ventriloquism is perfect for it because it's sort of like talking to yourself.”
When it comes to race identity in South Africa, what drives the comedian “nuts” is the “essentialising” of a person based on the race.
“There’s many types of being black and white and coloured as they are those identities and they are often diffuse and broken. And we don’t always hold that in regard, because most people really don’t know anything about race. We just assume we do, other than the fact that people of colour of course understand how whiteness functions.
“That doesn’t always mean that people have the tools to describe it, or sometimes a lot of people of colour collaborate with the system, you know, Marikana … So it’s a nuanced world. So what the show’s trying to do with Chester is speak back to the idea of racial essentialism.”
The show is expected to comically address questions around apartheid, white privilege and people who say “I dont see colour/race”.
“Chester is a puppet, so its lack of power comes from, look where he is right now,” said Koch, pointing at the suitcase containing Missing.
“That’s why he’s angry. The race dynamic becomes a conversation within that. It comes from speaking truth to the puppeteer, which is quite a strong metaphor in South Africa and in the world, to be honest. Colonialism, money. Who owns the means to … Can you talk back to the system,” Koch said.
“We keep thinking racists are some other people. But the truth is, if you try to get people to really talk about racism, you have to start with yourself, because it sounds pithy, but if you don’t, you’re just kind of being a judgmental a***h***.
“Why should anyone do it if you wouldn’t do it yourself? And the problem is that we’ve all learned some racism. And the sort of saying, oh, white people are racist. No, no, I’m saying everyone’s racist and white people in particular. We all grew up in a Western environment.”
“Nice Racists” has been developed over years with the intention to take the show to a more global, western, and in particular white audience.
The show is expected to go to the 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August.
“The conversation on racism that works, I mean, no point doing it for black people because they in general know it. And also, it’s not my place to tell black people what I think about race, but with white people getting them in the door to consider them, their place in the country, that is of course a big goal for me. So now I’m building towards it.
“So I’m so excited. This show I started before lockdown, now I’ve taken it way further and it’s going to the Edinburgh Festival, which is huge,” Koch said.
Koch said his comedy is intentionally creating a space that is politically safe for everyone, with the show described as an hour-long conversation between himself, a centre-left white guy. and his more politically-aware best friend.
“So we can have conversations in a way we sometimes can’t do anywhere else and that’s really exciting. And what I’m trying to do is create kind of like a loving, but stern place that that happens.
“So where the ‘rainbow nation’ offered a fake rainbow, that had no real sense of justice or fairness, maybe we can do one where there is justice and fairness.
“I’m not saying I’m going create that, I’m trying to create a space where that conversation is beginning to be possible.’’
“Nice Racists” runs in Cape Town from May 4-14, Johannesburg May 26-29, East London on June 3, Gqeberha June 4, Kariega June 5, and Durban June 10-11.
Tickets can be purchased via Computicket, thebioscope.co.za and Quicket.