“You’re really brave to say the things you say.” And Bill smiled.
I read that and was amazed at that observation. Bill Hick’s autobiography, American Scream, opened my eyes up a little. Has that been my failing all along, that I’ve not been talking about what’s really inside me?
I’ve noticed the greats are doing that; Bill Hicks talked about his passion for an America he hated, “I’m gonna overthrow the government and replace it with a democracy.”. Richard Pryor was open about his failings, “Nothing like setting yourself on fire to make you realise you’re in deep shit.” Louis CK, in paying tribute to George Carlin and what he learnt about being a writer, “I have to dig deeper everytime I throw away old shit to find something new to talk about.”
I feel like I’m scared to really talk about what I’m thinking, that I hide my real comedy behind a layer of diatribe that’s been pulverised into a blender and regurgitated out for a massive few, while the greats constantly strove to work hard at being themselves.
There have been moments, however, when I’ve felt like myself. Most recently, I headlined Ellingtons in Bellville, Cape Town before one of the major soccer matches, and they had it on the big screen behind me. As I went up, I knew I had a short space of time to say before the game started, which reminded me of those many times when my dad told me to move out of the way from the television set, and the crowd bought it, it made sense. “Was your father a glass-maker?” “I don’t know, dad, I’m 4, what do you do?”
But I categorise my persona in two ways:
– When I’m surrounded by people that I think will get me, and that includes the comics and the promoter
– When I’m in an alien environment I’m unsure of, and I dish out familiar, bottled material in order to keep it safe.
How I should categorise my persona is as follows:
– Say what I like about what I’m thinking, and hopefully the crowd will get it.
I did a show last night in Melbourne, Australia, in a beautifully packed room with a good stage. No one knew me, I didn’t speak to the other comics, but I kept thinking about that line from Bill’s biography and decided to open with something familiar and proceed with something fresh:
“Hi everyone, nice to meet you. My name is Nelson Jose Goncalves Ribeiro, I’m 34 years old and I was born in Venezuela, to a Portuguese family and grew up in South Africa.
“This means, Australia, that I’m not your f***ing problem.” That got laughs.
“You don’t have to fret, I’m not endangering the social structure here, I’m purely passing through. I know it seems unfair, this f***ing foreigner coming over here stealing our spots in open mic nights away from decent hard-working local comedians who happen to also be lazy scumbags that can’t hold down a job, the b******.
“My visa ends on the 15th, my ticket is for the 14th. So no matter what happens tonight, the immigration question has been answered.”