BILLY SUTER chats to Durban engineer-turned-actor BEN VOSS, star of the Mamba standup comedy shows, and also a big hit in drag as Beauty Ramapelepele. Vos and longtime pal and working partner, Spud author John van de Ruit, are soon to tour their third Mamba stage comedy, Mamba Republic, which premieres at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre with a run from May 16 to June 4. It is a rapid-paced, satirical sketch-comedy looking at all that is wrong and very wrong in the Rainbow Nation. Booking is now open at Computicket outlets.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO PEOPLE TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO SEE THE NEW ‘MAMBA’ SHOW?
The Mamba shows were a cult hit in the 2000s – Green Mamba and Black Mamba played over 400 performances each.
Mamba Republic is the only real satirical sketch show in the mould of the great Pythons, Not the Nine o’ Clock News and Little Britain. This immediately makes it unique.
It is South African, it is clever, it is fast-paced. But mostly people should see it because… it’s F*#%ing funny!
WAS A THIRD ‘MAMBA’ SHOW ALWAYS IN THE PIPELINE – AND IF NOT, WHAT INSPIRED IT NOW? ALSO, IS A FOURTH SHOW LIKELY?
It was not always a certainty… and then the political and social landscape in South Africa became what it is and we thought, “Seriously, are we not due a good laugh at what is wrong and very wrong in SA?”
The country demanded of us that we put it into perspective. How could we ignore a political climate so fraught with goons and hilarity?
A septic boil just waiting to be skewered with a barbed tongue. All we have to do is let it ooze… and hopefully that will ease our pain.
THE SHOW TOUCHES ON ‘AN ALTERNATIVE NATIONAL ANTHEM’ AND ‘THE MOST UNUSUAL FOOTBALL MATCH IN LIVING MEMORY’. PLEASE ELABORATE.
The football match is a humdinger between the ANC and the DA. It is The Football Union Cup, or F U cup – Fucup for short. After the DA are sent off and the EFF have set fire to the stands, the ANC contrive to score an ‘own goal’ against no opposition.
Eventually the umpire reveals herself as speaker Baleka Mbete, who awards the ANC two penalties in extra time… and the ANC manage to win 2-1 under dubious circumstance. It’s a classic Mamba sketch.
The alternative national anthem is revealed at the opening of Parliament and involves a hybrid orchestra of all sounds and songs South African. “Point of order”, “Pay back the Money”, gunshots, sirens, hadedas, “touch me on my studio”… all make it into the final, resounding, new song.
EXAMPLES OF OTHER ISSUES/TOPICS AND CHARACTERS IN THE NEW SHOW?
We rip into China, Trump, dating, technology, white racists, the state of the world, sport… the works!
WHAT KIND OF SET IS PLANNED FOR THE SHOW?
We are still working on that. Mervyn McMertry will direct. He is the ex-head at the drama department at UKZN and offers a unique design eye, so he will bring that element too. The set needs to be portable but effective, as we already have a national tour lined up.
DID BOTH YOU AND JOHN CONTRIBUTE TO THE SCRIPT? AND WHAT, FOR YOU, IS AMONG HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SHOW?
Yup, we both share all the responsibility for this show. I think “Pest Means Business” (named after CNN’s flagship business/economy show “Quest Means Business” with loudmouth Richard Quest) is likely to be a showstopper. In it, we have a go at the SA economy. Interviews with Gordhan, Des van Rooyen and the Gupta brothers make this a potential classic.
WHAT HAVE EACH OF YOU BEEN UP TO MOST RECENTLY?
John has been writing a new novel. He has been at it for two years solid and has a publishing deal through Penguin Random House books… but is not prepared to let the book out before he feels completely ready to do so. He wants to spend one more year getting it perfect.
I have been working on Wickedly Odd – The Night Garden in Botanic Gardens and touring with Beauty Ramapelepele – my alter ego. I also shot two movies last year, one of which comes on circuit in 2017. It’s titled Beyond the River. I play the baddie.
HOW LONG WILL YOU BE INVOLVED WITH THE NEW ‘MAMBA’ SHOW?
We will probably tour for the next two years. After our May launch at Durban’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre we have been offered 10 shows on the Main Festival programme at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown for 2017, which is very exciting. It is unprecedented to do this many shows as part of the main programme.
We also have a contract with the Hilton Arts Festival in September and a season at the Auto and General Theatre on the Square in Johannesburg from August 1 to 20.
Cape Town is in the pipeline but, as yet, unconfirmed. We are also in discussions with Gary Hemmings in Port Elizabeth. So the nation will get to see it. No doubt.
ANY OTHER NEW PRODUCTIONS BREWING FOR EITHER OF YOU? ANOTHER ‘SPUD’, PERHAPS, FOR JOHN…MORE FROM BEAUTY FOR YOU?
Mamba is our focus now. Often comics and creatives overstretch themselves. We like to do one thing at a time and do it properly with all our energy and resources. So, no.
WHERE AND WHEN WERE YOU BORN AND HOW DID YOU GET INTO SHOWBIZ?
I was born in Harare in 1973. After completing a mechanical engineering degree and working as an engineer for two years, I threw in the corporate towel and went full feral.
WHAT MARKED YOUR FIRST ‘BIG BREAK’ – AND WHERE AND WHEN WAS THAT?
Probably Green Mamba with Johnny in 2000, I think.
WHAT WOULD YOU RATE AS TWO OF THE BIGGEST HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE?
Hosting the Gauteng Mayoral debate as Beauty Ramapeleple for the Johannesburg Press Club. Also, I will never forget arriving at the arts fest in Grahamstown, and a ‘kippie’, to discover that Green Mamba was completely sold out.
WHEN AWAY FROM THE SPOTLIGHT HOW DO YOU RELAX AND UNWIND? WHAT HOBBIES, PASTIMES, FAVOURITE THINGS?
Golf, swimming, Playstation 4 (currently playing Uncharted 4 which is a work of art), fishing (Transkei and Zambezi) and eating out.
I travel overseas for a month every year, too. We recently got back from Sri Lanka which was mind-blowing.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS (HOIWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT MOST PEOPLE ARE NOT LIKELY TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?
I play PlayStation. I went to a predominantly black school in the 1980s. My brother-in-law is going for stem cell replacement therapy to try tocure his MS (send him all the love you can when you read this)I once lost three cellphones in a week. I have an itchy butt right now.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST UNINTENTIONALLY AMUSING MOMENT IN THE PUBLIC EYE?
Amusing and tragic. I once got pulled off stage at a Samsung function because the visiting Korean managers could not understand a thing I was saying.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST HOLIDAY TO DATE – AND WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF A DREAM HOLIDAY?
I like a bit of everything. I have done four weeks in the centre of London in great hotels; a year’s mission around Asia on R100 a day; a 10-night fishing trip to Transkei; a month in China with a one-year-old; a month in Sri-Lanka with a five-year-old; and a motorbike trip through Europe for six months … and plenty more.
I adore travelling. It feeds my soul and gives such an important perspective on how irrelevant we all are as individuals, but how important we are as a species. But as I sit here I think taking a motorbike through Laos must rate as one of my best trips.
WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN?
I had what a psychiatrist called a “psychotic attack” while stuck on an island in Mozambique. I couldn’t sleep as I was suffering from panic attacks and ended up eventually falling asleep on the plane back to Joburg… and they couldn’t wake me at OR Tambo.
So I found myself 17 hours later in a hospital in Joburg having only remembered taking off from the tiny island. That was a character builder.
THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON YOU HAVE MET – AND WHO WOULD YOU GIVE GOLD TO MEET?
Probably John Cleese. When I say met, I was lucky enough to work with him on the Spud movies and had proper chats with him. I’ve met other famous people but Cleese is more memorable because I felt I got to know him just a bit and he is in my field – sketch comedy.
I would give gold to meet Jim Carrey.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘VASTLY OVERRATED’?
Umhlali golfcourse. Anthony Hopkins. Long-distance flights. Two-prong plugs. Caviar.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS ASKED OF YOU?
“Can I have your autograph, Mr Uys?”
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE ENSCRIBED ON YOUR TOMBSTONE?
No tombstone for me. Take my organs, burn me and let’s see where I end up!