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About Pieter-Dirk Uys shows on DVD: an interview from 2008 with updates

 

At present there are DVDs of my work that span the last 30 years of politics and life in South Africa, reflecting the way we were and the realities of today through the cracked mirror of humour and satire.

 

My first one-man show, Adapt or Dye, went onto video in 1982 and was arguably the most successful local product for some years after its release. Highlights from Adapt or Dye (1982) and Beyond the Rubicon (1986), with my depictions of PW Botha, Piet Koornhof, Evita Bezuidenhout, Nowell Fine, Desmond Tutu and Pik Botha, are to be enjoyed in BLAST FROM THE PAST.

 

FARCE ABOUT UYS (1983) features the entire Bezuidenhout family as portrayed by Evita’s gay son De Kock, when Sersant Uys of the Security Police (Chris Galloway) visits the South African Embassy in Bapetikosweti to grill members of the family about irregularities in their lives. We meet Oom Hasie, Billie-Jeanne, Izan and Ouma Ossewania, as well as Ambassador Evita Bezuidenhout. Sophie the maid (Thoko Ntshinga) supports De Kock in his farcical ordeal amid huge laughter.

 

SKATING ON THIN UYS (1985) finds Evita Bezuidenhout in a panic: oil has been discovered in her homeland and PW Botha wants it back for South Africa.  However, if Tannie Evita allows her white daughter Billie-Jeanne to marry the terrorist son of the president of Bapetikosweti, the problem can be solved.  But apartheid and all the Bothas stand in the way!  This film has a host of stars, including Thoko Ntshinga and Chris Galloway, with special appearances by Minister Piet Koornhof, Dr Connie Mulder, Helen Suzman and Mimi Coertse.

 

THE GREAT COMEDY TREK explores where we were in 1992 when the lights started going on again after decades of darkness. Nelson Mandela was free, the negotiation process was taking place, people were stocking up on tins of tuna and no one knew what lay ahead. On this DVD, superstar Joan Collins plays Jani Allen, while Mangosuthu Buthulezi, Margaret Thatcher, Pik Botha and Evita Bezuidenhout cause hilarity and relief.

 

DEKAFFIRNATED (1999) focuses on racism and the fragility of democracy, as illustrated by Tannie Evita’s Election Trek through the country, bringing voter education to the people.  We meet many characters along the way, including a golliwog who wants to be un-golliwogged, an old Jewish refugee in Hillbrow, Nowell Fine queuing up to register for the election, a sangoma on the beach in 1652, PW Botha and other delights.

 

FOREIGN AIDS (2002) was presented throughout South Africa, Europe, the UK, Australia and the USA, where it was awarded the prestigious Obie in New York in 2002. Here humour is used to highlight fear of the HI-virus and Aids, and shows us that laughing at fear helps to make that fear less fearful. My Aids-awareness entertainment, For Facts Sake, with its accent of safe sex and knowledge, which I have taken to schools and over one million learners during the last 8 years,  is also explored and put into perspective.

 

THE END IS NAAI (2004) is inspired by where South Africa finds itself five years into the new century.  The ANC is getting more touchy about criticisms, the honeymoon with democracy shows signs of becoming a way of life without much fun, and politicians are like monkeys — the higher they climb the pole of ambition, the more of their arses we can see!  We meet a vast spectrum of familiar faces, from PW Botha, through Bill Clinton, Pik, Grace Mugabe, Desmond Tutu and even President Thabo Mbeki in conversation with the old Krokodil!

 

DARLING: THE PIETER-DIRK UYS STORY (2006)

Julian Shaw is a teenager from New Zealand who came to Cape Town and followed me around with his camera when I visited schools with my Aids-awareness entertainment For Facts Sake. His documentary film, Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story (www.darlingmovie.com.au), is a unique voice of youth on my work, on South Africa’s struggle against denialism and stigma and on the passion and optimism that our young people exude. The film won the DOCNZ Best Film award at the Australasia International Film festival, was one of the top five international films at the South African Encounters Festival, and Julian was awarded the Independent Spirit Award 2007.

 

EVITA FOR PRESIDENT (2008) chronicles the unfolding presidential campaign of the most famous white woman in South Africa, Mrs Evita Bezuidenhout, who in 2007 announced her intention to stand for the presidency of South Africa in the 2009 General Election. What was at first seen as a delightful joke has by now become a very serious alternative. Some South Africans feel that she is the only choice. The trauma that surrounds the ANC President Jacob Zuma only adds to the confusion.  If ‘Kill for Zuma’ has become a cry to action for some, ‘Kiss for Evita’ should provide some balance.

 

This Pieter-Dirk Uys comedy, filmed at the Baxter Theatre in November 2007, will help a nation laugh at its fear.  Various characters make up the chorus line: Kadar Asmal leads a seminar on how to become acting president of the country. Mrs Pietersen decries the fact that her coloured husband is not black enough for affirmative action. A bergie supports his old school friend, Trevor Manuel, for president. Kugel Nowell Fine has adopted a small Aids orphan and focuses on the future with rubber gloves. Thabo Mbeki joins Evita Bezuidenhout in a rousing finale where the future of South Africa becomes certain. It is just the past that is unpredictable.

 

ELECTIONS & ERECTIONS (2009) This show happened during the run-up to the 2009 General Election that brought Jacob Zuma into the hot seat. It is Pieter-Dirk Uys’s personal journey through the minefield of fear and fun, celebrating the two issues that were illegal for most of his life in South Africa: democracy and sex. Depending on Who was Who in the Political Zoo, Uys presented a host of familiar and upcoming politicians and opinion-shakers, from the Clintons and Obamas in the USA, a Tutu here and a Mandela there, old Nats, reinvented Communists, designer Democrats, Fat Cats and bloody fools. Filmed by Anant Singh’s Videovision Entertainment at the Sneddon Theatre in Durban, it is available from www.nextvideo.co.za.

 

From the 2008 interview (with updates):

 

Why so many old shows?

PDU: It is said: when history repeats itself, it turns tragedy into farce. Humour is a great weapon of mass distraction — it allows people to relax and react to issues they often try and avoid. Apartheid was a crime and a disgrace and yet so many of us were caught up in the web of intrigue and terror. We were all affected, blacks and whites. Those of us who watch these DVDs in the Pieter-Dirk Uys Collection, which highlight the obscene and absurd badness and madness of those years, will remember and realize how far we as a nation have come on this long walk to freedom. The young generation, who have never experienced the terrors, horrors and farce of those apartheid years, will be shocked by the familiarity of the racism and the ridiculousness of the cruelty. But it is important for them to know what happened. Bad politics often reinvents itself and comes back into society under a different name. The DVDs help us remember the past, so that we can celebrate the present and our future with humour.

 

Does this humour still work?

PDU: I’m not good with jokes, although I love laughing at them.  I find the truth is often funnier.  And politics is sometimes too good to be true.  Hypocrisy, denials and outright lies, when exposed, can be liberatingly funny. Many politicians have to live with their legacy of corruption and complicity and thanks to what we now have on DVD, we can refresh our memories of what they were responsible for and react with the ultimate punishment of contempt and laughter. Not because what happened was funny like a joke, but because we survived it, in spite of all the trappings of total power we were up against.

 

How relevant is a sketch about President PW Botha today?

PDU: Only in as much as it gives us details about what his history represents, which is also our heritage. And yet, even if there are viewers who didn’t know President PW Botha from television or parliament, his face and mannerisms, which are part of that cartoon, are funny enough to tickle. But there is also the irony of being in the 21st century, nearly 20 years after the PW Botha era, and finding the president of the USA, George W Bush, saying things that PW Botha said first. ‘He who is not for us is against us’ was part of the language of Botha’s Rubicon denials, and he used the phrase ‘war on terror’ long before 9/11.  So what we in South Africa suffered in the 1980s has now become an international hangover.  Fear is the means to an end for today’s politicians. We gave PW Botha total power because he frightened us with words like ‘total onslaught’ and ‘terrorist’.  Looking back while looking forward is therefore not such a bad way to feel more confident about where we in South Africa find ourselves today.

 

South African comedy? Can it compete with the rest of the world?

PDU: We never need to compete as far as our originality is concerned. South African comedy is unique, because it is grounded in politically incorrect issues like racism, homophobia, chauvinism and words like ‘poep’ and ‘kak’ — totally South African!  Some funny people are vulgar and unsubtle.  Other comedians are more cerebral and unforgiving. But no matter where the laugh comes from, the combination of our languages with their vivid descriptions, our musicality of words and sounds, and the hysterical diversity of us as a nation of so many flavours, colours, sounds, histories and expectations allows South African comedy to go into areas where angels fear to tread. And yet, even angels have sometimes been heard to laugh!

 

Is satire not a bit of an off-put?

PDU:  Satire in the 1950s and 1960s was very relevant . It was the umbrella over ways to highlight political and social abnormalities, absurdities and crisis areas. It was brash and loud and recognizable, because in those days the world was relatively sane.  So the clown had to have purple hair and a green nose.  Today the world is insane.  Women put bombs in prams with their baby to blow up in a supermarket.  So because the world now has purple hair and a green nose, the clown must be real.  Satire doesn’t have the same meaning in today’s merry-go-round of political ups and downs.  But most people associate the word with laughing at politicians and politics — and that’s alright by me.

 

Is Evita Bezuidenhout past her sell-by date?

PDU:  If she was a product on a supermarket shelf, yes. I’d spray her with Doom and call in pest control!  But Evita Bezuidenhout’s been around since 1980. Not static, not just representing that era, but adapting and not dying.  Evita came at a time when South Africans needed an outlet for their reaction to fear and frustration.  They laughed at her for many reasons:  the Boere Tannie, the braai-baroque clothes, the upwards inflections — alles oulik en fraai.  She was part of the Afrikaner elite, the BEE tribe of that time who plundered the nation in the name of their so-called democracy.  Tannie Evita had a blade in her smile.  She would expose the culprits of carelessness through her naive support and racist ‘Christian’ attitudes.  She was also a theatrical concoction, a man who was dressed up as a woman.  In the 1980s that was not just against the law. It was also funny!

 

Politics took Evita out of the safety zone of the theatre.  When the homeland fiasco was launched in the early 1980s, it presented her with a job as South African Ambassador to the fictitious homeland of Bapetikosweti, soon more famous than the real Bantustans. Evita became the Madonna of her chorus line of political clowns, from Pik Botha, through PW Botha, Piet Koornhof, Magnus Malan and all the other real players on the blood-soaked stage of South African politics.

 

When in 1994 democracy swallowed her homeland and her job, she happily retired to the kitchen and true to the slogan ‘Boer maak ‘n plan’, cooked for the new leadership of her country.  Her black grandchildren reflect her dilemma as a famous white Christian Afrikaans member of a defunct and disgraced National Party, now trying to convince as a designer democrat and reconciled to a future without privilege based on the colour of her skin.  She is now the delighted gogo to her liewe swart kabouters.  And as the waters of the new Rubicon swirl round the ankles of comrades, communists and cabinet ministers, Evita Bezuidenhout has made herself available for the presidency of South Africa in 2009. So she will always be relevant. The politics of the day will lead her.  All I have to do is keep her trim, elegant, up to date and real.  Let the women recognize the woman and the men forget the man!

 

Are there any new shows to be added to the Pieter-Dirk Uys Collection?

PDU:  In 1994 MNET presented a 12 part series called Funigalore directed by Pieter Cilliers. In this series, Evita Bezuidenhout interviews the most prominent politicians of the day — from Pik Botha and Piet Koornhof to Tokyo Sexwale, Cyril Ramaphosa and Nelson Mandela.  From icon to aikona — or vice versa. The series was a unique way to introduce our new leaders to a nation still unsure of what democracy would bring. The entire series is being released on DVD. (2011: It never was.)

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