22/11/2016 07:20 SAST | Updated 22/11/2016 13:30 SAST

Marc Lottering Does Authentic Comedy Over Tired Racial Slapstick, And It's Working

"Aweh, ma se kinders."

Baxter Theatre
Marc Lottering's career feels like a masterclass in longevity.

"Cape Town is home. It still feels so good to perform here. It's where I get the most raucous laughter. They're ready to laugh with you, but you'd better be funny," comedian Marc Lottering tells me. Lottering is relaxed, his mood light as he chats about the first few performances of his solo show, Hashtag Lottering!

The show opened its two-week-long final season at The Baxter Theatre in Cape Town with sold out performances, after traveling around the country. It makes sense that Lottering is headed to the Mother City for the final run. These are old stomping grounds for Lottering, whose 17-year-long career has brought him under The Baxter's lights hundreds of times.

"I grew up on the Cape Flats. When I started performing I was telling the stories that I knew and audiences identified with that," he tells me. "I was saying stuff that people were able to relate to. But time has gone on, and so the stuff that I talk about has to change too."

Lottering's career feels like a masterclass in longevity -- constantly growing, but remaining authentic and keeping audiences hooked. And fans who have been following him for almost two decades have had to evolve with him.

The WhatsApp family groups he now jokes about are something the characters in his original sketches never could have imagined. But as long as the audiences are laughing, he knows he's doing something right. "My greatest fear is still a silent audience," he says with a hint of dread. "But, sometimes, especially in Cape Town, I just have to walk on to stage and they're already laughing."

The way a Cape Town audience laughs

It's something he keeps coming back to -- the way a Cape Town audience laughs. "Here, audiences are screaming with laughter, sometimes even before I've reached the punchline. We understand each other differently, there's a familiarity that means the audience knows where I am going even before I get there," he says.

And while the Cape Town crowd welcomes their golden boy home every time he performs there, he is acutely aware that they've sent him out into the world to represent them. Coloured identity -- and particularly Cape coloured identity -- is something unique to South Africa and Lottering knows that. When he takes his show on the road, it's something he has to manage carefully.

"My material stays the same, but how audiences respond to it changes. Even in Joburg and Durban, it's different - the slang is not the same, and I'll be able to add tiny ad-libs in Cape Town that other audiences will totally miss. It's something I've really had to learn," he says.

Lottering believes it's our ability to laugh at ourselves that makes South African audiences unique. Satire has played a large part in how we have made some sense of our social and political landscape but Lottering relies on more than slapstick stereotypes for laughs. Instead, it's the nostalgic "Yes, me too!" response from his audience that he appeals to. It carries his work and has been the constant in his evolving performances.

He wants you to see your aunt fussing in her kitchen, talking about the neighbours; to hear that argument you and your cousins had every Sunday at your grandmother's house. It is this nostalgia that connects him with audiences when he performs internationally.

I always hope that I am performing to a majority expat community when I am overseas. There's always a longing for home and I can come out and say 'Aweh, ma se kinders,' and get roaring laughter and cheers because that's what they know and they haven't heard it in ages.

"I always hope that I am performing to a majority expat community when I am overseas. There's always a longing for home and I can come out and say 'Aweh, ma se kinders,' and get roaring laughter and cheers because that's what they know and they haven't heard it in ages," he says.

It's not always that straightforward, though. "There are times that I'm backstage and have to be reminded to do the show in mostly English because the audience will be 60 percent foreign and not understand Afrikaans, for example," he adds.

Regardless of which language he performs in or what the makeup of his audience is, Lottering's distinctive hair has always caught the spotlight. "I know that it makes a statement no matter where I am performing," he says.

I ask if the hairstyle was a deliberate move to get and stay noticed. "No, it was never intentional. But it worked and it keeps working, so I'm not going to change it. Hair remains such a political and emotional thing for so many people," Lottering says, acknowledging that, especially for the coloured community that he represents, hair is an incredibly sensitive topic.

It has been a politically and socially divisive part of the identities of coloured families, where something as seemingly arbitrary as the texture of a family member's hair once had the power to change their racial classification. Lottering's hair is probably the most powerful statement that he has been able to make with his public profile. It highlights the power of representation, allowing audiences that look like him, or who have backgrounds similar to him, to see themselves on stage too.

While comedy has been used as a mechanism for South Africans to interrogate and critique our race relations, Lottering's approach has always been different. The dynamics between different groups of South Africans have not been core to his work, which is instead focused on celebrating a group of people who are often left out of South Africa's racial discourse.

He is uniquely able to present and perform coloured idiosyncrasies without falling into tired stereotypes or pandering to the standards and expectations of a colonised society. His comedy authentically tells the stories of real people - and telling stories is what he hopes to keep doing with his career.

"I'd like to write a comedy-drama series or film," he says. In the established Lottering style of storytelling, he wants to keep writing from a place of familiarity, and says that through gaining a better understanding of himself, he's been able to create even better and more authentic material.

"Cape Town is such an integral part of who I am. I know the place, but most importantly, I know the people and that is the perspective that I want to write from," he says.