Comedy often serves a dual purpose in South Africa – not only entertaining, but tackling issues that are otherwise hard to swallow. This can lead to controversy. The last Nando’s ad took a pot-shot at Robert Mugabe, showing Bob sitting down to an empty Christmas dinner table and reminiscing about good times with his old mates – recently departed dictators.
South Africans loved it and chalked it up as ‘another cheeky Nando’s ad.’ But the international response was quite different – it was seen as disrespectful, controversy for controversy’s sake and was quickly pulled in Zimbabwe as Mugabe supporters threatened Nando’s staff. So why did South Africa enjoy what others found tasteless? Has the violent past rendered it insensitive to the horrors of war? Or is there something more to it?
On the surface, the Nando’s commercial contrasts the innocence and joy of Christmas with the atrocities that the dictators stood for. Morbid, yes. But, South Africans have long used humour to face the darkness that still lies beneath the rainbow nation. In a country where many people are apolitical, politically uninformed and avoid reading the news because ‘it makes me depressed’, the kings of comedy don’t only entertain, they create a news format that tells the truth in a bite size, palatable format. Something you can stomach despite the content. Being able to laugh at racial, political and societal issues helps South Africans deal with them.
South Africans rely on their comedians to reframe the frightening, the obscure and the challenges of daily life in way that makes them easier to handle – allowing these jesters of culture the space to be offensive, insensitive and rude in a way that’s not tolerated in other situations. Like broccoli and cheese sauce, they prefer reality served with a good helping of comedy.