In my family we don’t differentiate between boys and girls – fuck that shit – we make a distinction between shooters and non-shooters. We have 3 shooters and 5 non-shooters.” [Mario Joyner – ouch]

It was refreshing (if a bit filthy) to see 7 fine comedians doing standup at the Cape Town International Comedy Festival. Hosted by Mario Joyner (US), the best acts were in fact local, and African: Trevor Noah (SA), Daliso Chaponda (Malawi) and Nik Rabinowitz (SA). I think that that’s both a reflection on the power of proximity – authenticity perhaps, as well as the simple fact that these 3 were better entertainment than others from Australia, the UK and Canada. And I speak as one whose culture has always centered around things British.

I laughed, I cried, I winced, I yawned. 4 seasons in one evening. I know I had a good laugh, don’t ask me to remember too many of the jokes. Typically I remember about 1 joke each year, for an average of about 3.75 tellings. It is just not my gifting.

Most of my experience listening to diatribes from the stage have been in the context of church. It was refreshing to receive tirades of passion from such a different sector. All that is off limits in an environment of piety suddenly rushes on to center stage.

It lead me to do a comparison between the standup rant and the preach.

The subject of the rant is, well, everything, especially if it’s lewd. Anything from the underbelly of society or of the soul’s darkside is fair game. The preach, however, sticks to “sanctified” topics, especially if it distracts us from the lewd underbelly of the soul and society.

The preach is pious, sanctimonious, proper, serious, often severe, is at times honest, and deals with topics apparently important. The rant is lewd, subversive, breaking whatever rules it can identify, is at times honest, and deals with topics apparently trivial.

The preach is long on theory and precept, attempting to elevate you to a higher view, while the rant is pretty much stories and observations that come from the life of the comedian, and will usually get you a lot closer to the gutter. A lot has to do with the literate traditions – knowledge passed on and abstracted via mediated writings – of the preachers culture, as against the oral ones of the comic. Comedy is spoken, and immediate. Gesture and context is everything, while in the preach these subjective elements are kept minimal so that “eternal” concepts can be communicated.

It’s quite ironic that while humor is quintessentially active and immediate, and not up for discussion, it somehow elicits a deep response: when you laugh it’s often from the recognition that something is simply true. What I mean is it’s not a discourse – the comic says it and it’s either funny or not. But nevertheless, it creates tension, which creates a certain type of conversation despite being one way.

I must say that the crueler the comic, especially on the hapless front row, the less it appeals to me, although I see the appeal of being on the edge of belief, suspended between “Why is he being so MEAN?” and “Oh he’s just pointing out ironically that I saw that as mean”.

And let’s not discount how some preachers do actually get through to the heart, releasing life and truth in a unique way. Pity about how seldom, though. I think this has something to do with how hard it is to get satire together with love, criticism with acceptance, breaking down with building up.

I’m not saying that preachers can’t be funny, or that comedians can’t be sublime. But wouldn’t it be good if we could get these things together in a new hybrid? What about the HeheVangelical, or Divine Kharmedian, who engage in practices such as comiletics, unapologetics, or humorneutics?