At a media conference on Tuesday, 31 October, the alter ego of Pieter Dirk Uys, Evita Besuidenhout announced that she has made herself available to run as president of the ANC in a stunning display of satire, as the preamble to her umbizo at the Sneddon Theatre.
Evita gave a speech about her Luthuli house kitchen, her three “Barack Obama-beige” grand children and the importance of freedom of speech, as well as freedom beyond speech.
Sporting a design from the Denis Hurley Centre, the sensational lady of the hour oozed ‘mzanzi’ flavour with Shweshwe print and iconic Evita charm.
The loveable Tannie Evita Besuidenhout has become a household name in South Africa. From the TV screens of the 90s to the hashtags of modern social media, Tannie Evita has brought light hearted-laughter with an undertone of serious thought. Recently, The Weekly Gazette met the man behind the make-up, to talk about his legacy of satire, social change and the serious side of comedy.
WG: Do you think that Satire has more power to create social change than politics (or activism) and why?
PDU: Satire is a wide umbrella under which many things can shelter. Usually it’s defined as ‘tragedy+ time= satire’. here in SA there is seldom the time, so what happens today must be confronted tonight. Often it is aimed at targets with vicious comment. Sometimes it uses a gentler approach to seduce the audience into a comfort zone, and then wham! them with a cotton-wool ball with a blade in it. They then are shocked to see some blood. In my opinion often more lasting than politics or bitter activism.
WG: Do you think that women have more power to create change than men? Why?
PDU: Yes, for good and not so good. Power seldom changes anyone. Patience and a bit of humour can go a long way. And most women are better at it than men.
WG: When did you first have the idea to use comedy as a vehicle for social commentary?
PDU: It was not an idea; it was a necessity. During the apartheid years it was usually illegal to laugh at politicians. To get them to laugh at themselves was the first strike in the battle to dismantle their ego. There is also a difference between comedy and humour: comedy is the joke you remember to tell someone else; humour is often very personal and is seldom ‘funny-‘ it is mainly laughing at fear and making that fear less fearful. Apartheid was never funny-the hypocrites who sold it as an accepted way of life were/are.
WG: Have online channels like Youtube made it easier to express your views without censorship?
PDU: I have never bothered to cut my foot to fit the shoe of censorship. I just tried to invent ways to say things that don’t fall into their definitions. In the past it was to learn the Publications Act off by heart and trap them with their own law. Today it is avoiding that red line of racism that creeps into so many attitudes and criticisms of government and power. YouTube is a wonderful dirt bin of treasures and trash. Evita se Perron has a channel and on it we have stored many gems. Especially her weekly ‘Evita’s Free Speech’ reality chat.
WG: Have you achieved all that you want to achieve as Evita, or do you still have a lot of goals? Anything planned for the future?
PDU: I spend about 2% of my time on her, mainly dieting for this woman who doesn’t exist. As long as she is real enough for the women to recognise the woman and the men to forget the man, Evita will have her own echo in the noise of politics. She is always 10 years older than me which is quite a relief. Politics will lead her.
WG: Was it always your dream to be involved in comedy? What did you want to be when you were a kid?
PDU: The theatre usually chooses who it wants as a slave. I wanted to be a teacher, but then was high-jacked by drama at UCT and have been doing it since 1967. So I know nothing about anything and everything about something!
WG: Would you define yourself as a comedian, performer, activist or writer… or something else?
PDU: ‘Entertainer’ is the most complete description of what I do – and if it doesn’t entertain there is very little point in wasting people’s time.
WG: Is it true that Evita was named after Eva Peron? Are there any similarities/ differences between the two?
PDU: The editor of a Sunday newspaper in which I had a weekly column during 1978/79 gave her the name. She was then a character in the column who once a month shared the gossip about the then Information Scandal. He called her the ‘Evita of Pretoria’. It was at the time of the musical too, so I read a biog of Eva Peron and found the perfect blueprint for the life of my Evita. Eva Peron died; so far mine hasn’t.
WG: Did you draw inspiration from Australian comedian Barry Humphries’s character Dame Edna Everage- tell us a bit about how the lady of the hour came to be?
PDU: I am a great admirer of Barry H and especially his early work which had a darkness that suited the times. Dame Edna of course was a great inspiration and still will be. But she is a social monster, my beast is a political virus.
WG: If you were not a performer what would you do?
PDU: I have no idea – because being a performer means I could be anything I choose. Isn’t every job in life a performance? Probably a writer.
WG: Do you think South Africa is going through uncertain times? What are your hopes for the future of the country?
PDU: Yes, uncertain times are usually seen as negative energies, but then as Evita says: the future of South Africa is certain; it is just the past that is unpredictable.
WG: Do you think that comedy/ satire can bring healing for social/ racial/ gender problems of the past/ present?
PDU: Yes and yes and yes – but it must never look like a list of intentions. Use all the weapons of mass distraction to help the people to laugh at the things they don’t dare to even think about. A sense of humour helps on every level. Social, racial, gender issues can suffocate themselves with a woolly scarf of moral high ground fabric.
WG: Has comedy changed you?
PDU: From day to day, minute to minute, second to second. I stick to my definition of 49% anger / 51% entertainment.
WG: How did it feel to be on TV and branch into advertising?
PDU: It all depends on the fee.
WG: How have you used comedy to educate / inform the community on issues such as HIV?
PDU: Laughing at fear and making that fear less fearful was essential with regard to HIV – which was also totally unfunny. But sex is a gas. And talking to learners about sex was an eye-opener for them and me.
Complete the sentence
My dream holiday is…sitting in my garden and watching the bees have breakfast in the flowers.
My perfect day would be…today if I don’t allow the memory of yesterday to spoil it.
If I had a super power it would be…to be invisible and just watch and listen.
Night out or stay in? Stay in.
Mansion or tent? Mansion.
Lemon and herb or Extra hot Peri Peri? Both.