Conrad Koch is changing direction. Picture: Sarah Isaacs

For the last couple of years, Conrad Koch has been the mind and body behind the most famous political satirist and puppet, Chester Missing. But after a successful union, Koch is reinvigorating his style of comedy with his new show Puppet Guy, which enjoyed positive reviews during its recent run in Cape Town.

When I chat to Koch on the phone, he’s a little peeved. He’s just spent most of the day trying to explain his change in direction. It’s slightly understandable that there will be such resistance to the idea because Chester has over the past couple of years become a household name.

With Chester, Koch created a personality, a social and political commentator of sorts who can ask some of the most brutal questions to politicians that are laced with humour and sarcasm, and they’re more than willing to play along.

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With more than 360 000 Twitter followers thanks to his sharp tongue and equally sharp wit, it’s easy to forget that Chester is literally a puppet with Koch’s hand up his nether regions.

With Puppet Guy, Chester is no longer the coolest puppet on the block. He is one of them. The show features Chester, Hilton the Ostrich, Mosquito - who, Koch adds, doesn’t like the sound of clapping because that’s how his dad died - and DJ Hoodie. The show is all ventriloquism and the characters are made from everyday items. For example, the ostrich is made from feather dusters and DJ Hoodie from an actual hoodie and Koch’s legs.

When Koch began the journey to the creation of Chester, it was during the time when he was in the middle of completing his Master’s degree at the UCT.

He wanted to explore how we relate to race with humour, but also to explore the politics of taste.

Conrad Koch. Picture: Sarah Isaacs

“My aim was to create a show that was Afrocentric, where the people who are laughing hardest are the people of colour.

“The joke was never Chester and his colour, it was me and my white privilege. That’s where Chester was born. As an arc, I unpacked how we strategically use race when it suits us and ignore it when it doesn’t, infused with the idea that race never really leaves us,” he said.

Seeing as Chester has become something of poster boy for ventriloquism and comedy in the country, I asked Koch if he was prepared for the possible reluctance from audiences to move beyond Chester and his politically framed comedy. He had this to say: “It’s not that I am done ever talking about that. It’s just that if Chester stayed being of colour, I’d have to stay having this conversation about race. Comedically and artistically, I’ve had that conversation.

“He now is a politically progressive white guy who is exposed in another show I did. In the show I expose how I forced him to be black to get gigs and the joke is like with Helen Zille or Leon Schuster. I should just go back and make a movie with them called, ‘Oh Shucks I’m Privileged’.”

It’s also, Koch said, part of the realisation that Chester had inadvertently become the voice of black people in some spaces.

This is problematic because Koch is Chester. As a white male, this only served as another manifestation of white privilege, something Koch has striven to be conscious of and wouldn’t allow for further growth.

After spending three years working on this show and travelling the world to get ideas on what was globally making people laugh, Koch came back with a couple of pretty nifty ideas of how to merge technology, ventriloquism and humour, which led to what he terms, “a beautiful, fun, light show that all races can have fun in that it’s also politically aware”.

In this show, Chester and Conrad tackle a variety of issues, from cricket to the drought in Cape Town. But the idea is to also develop ventriloquism as an art form in the country, which allows Koch the opportunity to really explore and grow in his chosen art form.

“It’s a really joyful show. It’s me being happy with me and feeling like I’m working towards mastering my craft. The show has many characters and it’s all ventriloquism.”

In getting the show together, Koch had the assistance of Janni Younge who helped him with puppetry, Chris Weare who provided direction, and actual musicians who assisted him with the tricks of the trade when it came to making music for his DJ set.

When asked why people should see Puppet Guy, Koch said: “Because this is a hilarious groundbreaking show for everyone. Just about the most fun you can have in one hour, 10 minutes.”

Puppet Guy is now on at the Pieter Toerien Studio Theatre at Montecasino until May 27. Tickets range from R130.

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