Cape Town Today speaks to John van de Ruit and Ben Voss, writers and stars of the hilarious comedy the "Green Mamba"
How did you guys get together the first time?
John: Ben and his brother, who was in the classics department at the university in Durban, wanted to put on a show of Oedipus. They were looking for actors and I was a third year student at the time and acted with them in that, and that's where we stuck up the friendship.
Where does the title “Green Mamba” come from?
Ben: That's just a thumbsuck, basically. Because it's sketch based comedy you have to call it something fairly generic because each sketch is about something different and we wanted to call it something colloquial, something South African. It's more in the mould of creating a brand, like Monty Pyhton which has no real frame of reference. Now it sticks in your head and is associated with what we are.
How did Greig Coetzee come into the picture as director?
John: Ben and I were cast in one of his plays and we struck up quite a strong friendship. Then Ben did his one man show "Men's Night"
Ben: I asked Greig to direct that, so we have another link there.
John: We bugger around like young fourteen year olds. We tease each other and have quite an infantile relationship running around trying to kick each other in the arse. Greig's got a great focus for the moment. One of his strengths is to see something and say, "If you just do this it will be funny" And he did that so much with Green Mamba.
What are your favourite parts in the show?
Ben: What I enjoy doing and what are the best sketches are two different things. I enjoyed doing the minister in the Reserve Bank robbery and the car guard.
John: Mine always changes, I would agree with Ben, I enjoy the horse race, but here in Cape Town the one I enjoyed the most was the chicken. I also enjoy the human taxidermy sketch. I find that very sick and creepy and it really appeals to my black sense of humour.
You’ve mentioned the chicken slaughtering incident and covered it in the one sketch. How do you feel about it?
Ben: I think it’s not necessary. I’m not saying it was done for shock tactic, but I believe that if you are going to do it you should do it on a regular basis and give the audience the privilege or lack of privilege to be involved in that every night.
John: They had a chicken they toured around with called Veronica and they didn’t want to slaughter it. They went and got another chicken, so the point is why do we have to watch a chicken being slaughtered when they themselves are feeling pity for their own chicken. It’s a grey area… can’t we just make a joke about it and move on?
Are you still adding or modifying the show?
John: We try to keep the script up to date – chop a line here and put a line in here.
Which parts do the audiences enjoy the most?
Ben: You get different audiences. You get an audience that is often just a rowdy bunch and they love slapstick – they love the car guard and the minster and big brother. But then all the intellectual stuff goes a little over their head. The ideal audience for us is the one who appreciate the things like the horse race, the Bin Laden blues. Those audiences are just awesome. You feel more respected. You get the laugh as well as the respect. I’d say about 50% of our audiences are like that.
Have people been offended?
Ben: Not too badly, but ja, there have been some. We had a review in Joburg calling us “risky, entertaining, offensive theatre”. Then there was also a guy in Durban who said we were racist and bigots, which was horrible. But we also know he’s a bit of an arsehole, so it doesn’t bother us too much.
I get a little bothered, not so much by people that are offended, but because I know I’m not racist or trying to be offensive, and that the piece is slightly unbalanced in places. And that’s just my fault. John doesn’t feel that as much. Like Bin Laden Blues – I feel it needs a second angle that takes the piss out of Bush as well.
John: A lot of people have said we’re like a breath of fresh air because we are not scared to say things. We aren’t. There’s always the odd person who comes thinking they’re going to have a funny night and then find it too political or too abrasive. But I think that’s our strength. To actually go from the guts.