I had the time of my life!
I just returned from five days in South Africa at the Johannesburg International Comedy Festival (#JICF). Never have I experienced more open-hearted, creative people and supportive energy in my 17 years as a standup comic. What’s so funny, so special, and so important about South Africa? All shall be revealed in this series of blogs dedicated to the fine comics and people of Johannesburg.
Let’s start out with the least special part. That would be the 30 hours it took to get to So. Africa. Ten hours to London. Ten hour stop-over. Ten hours to Joburg. When I arrived, this happy, smiling man named Vioux said he was there to take me to my hotel. I told him I didn’t care if he was there to kill me, I was just happy to be off the plane.
I often vent about the horrific hotels in which comics are expected to lay their heads. Not a compliant here as we were holed-up in the 5-star Four Seasons. When I learned that my comedy buddy Orlando Baxter, the only other American at the fest, had left the US a day after me and arrived hours before me, a competition arose that could not be quelled.
When the receptionist handed me the key to Room 205, I asked “Is my room better than Orlando’s?” She sweetly assured me that all the rooms are beautiful. I said, “ I know, but mine has to be more beautiful than Orlando’s.” She looked at me quizzically. I told her I was creating a fake competition. When Orlando saw my room, he said in his understated, thoughtful way, shaking his head slightly, hating to break it to me, “Maureen, my room has a better view.” Damn! Let’s move on….
South Africa has 11 official languages from Afrikaans to Zulu. But which one uses the “clicks?” I wanted to know more about the clicks. So I asked comic Carl Ncube who had just arrived from Zimbabwe. Here is what he told me:
It turns out that Carl speaks Ndebele, a lovely language no doubt but not the one I was looking for. The language I was looking for is called Xhosa (pronounced Kosa, of course). Carl is a fine chap, but he is from Zimbabwe, which is not even in South Africa; it’s in the south of Africa. So close yet so far. My research tells me there are not nearly as many Xhosa speaking people in Zimbabwe as in Johannesburg. It was my error. My asking Carl to explain Xhosa was like asking someone from Canada to explain a New York accent. You live and learn.
Here are the 11 official languages should Alex Trebek every ask: • Afrikaans
• English • Ndebele • Xhosa • Zulu • Sesotho sa Leboa • Sesotho • Setswana • Swati • Tshivenda • Xitsonga • Indigenous creoles and pidgins (unofficial)
More to come about So. Africa, the comedy scene, my tour of Soweto with Kedi, a big-hearted man who was imprisoned during Apartheid, and more.