Archived 2014 Articles about  Pieter-Dirk Uys

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PERSONALITY | Pieter-Dirk Uys On Comedy, Humour, and Mandela's Legacy

– Aimee Dyamond, Par Avion, 18 January 2014

"I don't like complementaries,"  says 68-year-old Pieter-Dirk Uys to our packed boardroom. "When I go to the Oriental Plaza and they recognise me and ask for some, I say, well, can I have that dress over there? No? Well, then you can't have tickets! It works both ways."

He arrives at our offices dressed in ordinary shorts and sneakers, wearing a peak cap. From a distance, he doesn't look like an actor. Or an activist. Or anyone particularly famous at all.

But then he starts to speak.

His effortless conversation begins with a critique of comedy itself.  "There's a difference between comedy and humour. Comedy is the punch-line of a joke, and I always get these muddled up. But humour — humour is found in reality; in honesty. It's more real than comedy."

"You take the time to come to the theatre. You feed your Rottweiler, arm your alarm system, close your security gate and hope a Nigerian or Ugandan or whoever doesn't run in. You sit in traffic. By the time you're in your seat, you're thinking, 'God, this is boring.' Theatre these days is too safe."

Certainly, Uys' flamboyantly camp renditions of parliamentarians, politicians and social stereotypes have endeared him to the world for over 45 years. One can understand his take on comedy by simply watching Evita Bezuidenhout in action. He's real about his comedy. He addresses reality with a tone of satirical frankness that most stand-up comedians fail to achieve, and instead of replacing comic commentary with forced witticisms and apologetic one-liners, Uys tackles the present head-on with an artistic fearlessness that captivates audiences.  

He turns his focus to the late Nelson Mandela.

“It took me years to find the Mandela voice." He demonstrates, we laugh, and he proceeds to delve into Mandela's own use of humour to capture the attention and love of a nation. According to Uys, Mandela's use of subtle, honest humour inspired and influenced people, and helped him to communicate his politics without politicking.

He shares some anecdotes about Mandela, particularly about the time when the former president visited Mrs Verwoerd after the election. She had chosen to stay put in Orania, an all-white settlement of conservative Afrikaners in the Northern Cape, and the only place on earth where you can find a statue of Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, the 'architect of apartheid'.

"It's a small statue, because they don't have a lot of money. Mandela stood next to it and said, 'I didn't know he was so small!'"

But Mandela's era is over, Uys reminds us, and what lies ahead is uncertain.

"Remember the Weimar Republic?" he challenges. "It was the democracy Germany enjoyed between the two World Wars. and then who came along? Adolf Hitler. We're living in a very dangerous time. A tatty red beret can become an icon, a symbol; young people these days are reluctant to vote. They say, 'What's the point?' Voting is the most selfish thing you can do. By voting, you have a say towards your future, towards the kind of life you wish to enjoy."

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