Marianne Thamm: ‘Comedy allows us to say the unsayable’

Marianne Thamm is many things to many people. As a journalist, author, columnist and Fleur Du Cap judge, her influence on the arts in South Africa is well documented. She is also one of the funniest writers around, and her collaboration with the women of Cracks and the City in 2010 was a resounding success.

Currently in rehearsal for Cracks 2, we spoke to her about the sequel, the essence of humour and the difference between male and female comics.

BB: What is funny?
Marianne Thamm: Funny is what happens in that space between what we say and what we really think. Comedy allows us to say the unsayable in a very particular way. There are different ways of being funny and not everyone has the same sense of humour. Laughter, unlike an orgasm, can’t be faked. Which is why Cracks is unique in a way. We are four women who all make humour quite differently but it all ties together somehow. Personally I find the world very funny..I don’t consider myself particularly funny…in the end it is the audience that has the sense of humour.

BB: Is there a fundamental difference between male and female comics?
MT: Fundamentally no…There are just more men on stage than women. And perhaps we bring a different perspective to some things but our humour is located in the world around us and not specifically in being a woman, a mother, a girlfriend or a wife…

Laughter, unlike an orgasm, can’t be faked.

BB: How did the Cracks and the City concept come to be?
MT: Well, about a year ago I began thinking about why I didn’t see many of the funny women I know up on mainstream stages. Women were doing small comedy gigs in clubs while a lot of the male comedians were taking mainstream space at festivals and on their own. So I thought about who I would like to see on stage myself. I have always found Anthea Thompson to be one of the funniest character actresses in the country and I was just dying to see her on stage again.

I also wanted to push the rules and boundaries of what “comedy” could be and Anthea would never do traditional stand-up per se. She’s great at finding the humour in characters. So I called her with this mad idea and asked if she’s be willing to try this out. She said yes immediately. Then I had seen Anne and Shimmy work and just love the originality of their voices and the scope of their humour. They are just comedians, not female comedians and that’s what I was looking for. I didn’t want to be on stage myself but Pieter Dirk Uys had encouraged me after I told him about a “funny lecture” I had written about how the 21st Century is better than the 20th. He said perform it. I did and it became part of the original Cracks And The City.

BB: What can audiences expect this time around?
MT: We’ve written new material and sketches. We did three months of month-end, Friday shows at the Flipside.

All our friends and our brilliant director Alan Committie told us we were mad and that no one has ever done that.

Come up with completely new material every month. The usual comic routine has a shelf-life of between six months to a year. Some comedians do the same routine for many years but it changes and gains nuance and different significance depending on the world around us. So we found loads of new material that we’ve expanded and honed for this show. We’re also going to film new sketches which is an important component of the show.

Our sketches bring a different rhythm to the evening and we work with the fabulous filmmakers at Zootee productions, Stacey Kepler and Faheema Hendriks who understand visual comedy and always make us better.

BB: Tell us about your co-stars in the show?
MT: Well, I have mentioned a bit about them in the question about how we came to be but apart from that we are all very different but we get on and understand and respect each other. I love the creative space we create when we work together and when we get into a comic groove I think we’re really very funny. We’re more a collective than anything else although we all write our own material…I wouldn’t dream of performing something without first checking what Anthea, Anne, Shimmy and Alan think of it…And I trust their judgement…I just wanted to add here that none of them are very good at X box…I got the highest scores the other night.

BB: Has South African comedy come of age?
MT: Yes, long ago…

BB: Where to from here?
MT: We’d like to do something for TV..we’re working on it….

Cracks and the City 2 begins its run on the 1st of August in the Golden Arrow studio at the Baxter Theatre. Click here for bookings.