This was published in the City Press
What was infamous puppet and political satirist Chester Missing’s first break? Well, few know this, but it happened during the very first episode of Late Nite News (LNN) with Loyiso Gola on e.tv, and it involved pornography.
I hear this from Mpheng Morobe, who has been writing for LNN since its first season. He’s telling me about LNN in the early days, before the show was nominated for that coveted Emmy award. Twice.
“The first episode ever, we had a pornographer. The first South African porn movie, Mapona Volume 1, had just been produced. I don’t know how they managed to find the guy, but he didn’t want anybody to know who he was.
“I guess he hadn’t told his parents he was now a porn producer,” Morobe quips.
“We agreed to let him hide his identity, but for some reason we didn’t have face-blurring technology, so he did the interview with a paper bag on his head. Obviously, the channel saw that and said: ‘What the hell do you guys think you’re doing?’ And that’s actually how we ended up having Chester Missing on the show – because we needed an emergency replacement. Chester came, it worked out.”
While LNN now sits firmly on the throne of comedy TV in South Africa, Morobe says in the early days
they shared offices with a mine blasting company in Melville. “They really hated it when we came, and didn’t want us to park in their parking spots, so they made us all park far away. They used to shout at us for laughing too much in the shared offices.”
Fresh off the train
I have been working as a scriptwriter on LNN for a couple of months. But my first day here started out as a bit of a disaster. I had left Pretoria without an umbrella only to get off the Gautrain at Park to pouring rain.
My sense of direction abandoned me, and instead of walking towards the Nelson Mandela Bridge and Braamfontein, as I had done previously, I headed in the opposite direction.
It was only when I looked up to see the buildings getting dodgier with every block, that I decided to turn back, buy an umbrella and walk in the opposite direction. It was probably nerves. I was about to start working as a writer on the biggest satire show in the country.
I remember thinking to myself: “But what the hell do I know about satire and making people laugh? I’m a journalist. At best, I make people cry with some of the things I write.”
Diprente Films produces LNN. Their offices are located just behind De Beer Street, where all the Joburg hipsters congregate on Saturdays at the Neighbourgoods Market.
On that first day, I met the writing team – Gola and Kagiso Lediga, as well as comic Christopher Steenkamp, LNN’s head writer Karabo Lediga, and fellow writers Camilosalz Saloojee and Morobe.
The writing room
The weeks turned into months. I got a chance to write a script, and although I am still finding my confidence as a satirist, the team has been very supportive in helping inject some comedic relevance into the things I write.
Brainstorming sessions take place Friday mornings in the boardroom. The room is normally packed because LNN has an open-door policy, where anyone is allowed to come in and contribute. There are usually some toasties, coffee, tea and fruit, so one can say the team has come a long way since the early Melville days. But the laughter is still there and, thankfully, the neighbours do not complain.
After brainstorming, the writers each write segments for the show. This is followed by a read-through in
the afternoon and some possible rewriting for the scripts that don’t make the cut.
Karabo Lediga, who joined the show in its second season, says LNN’s advantage is that it has been on TV since 2010, and that longevity has allowed the space to improve with time.
“I didn’t even think we’d make it this far. I think a lot of shows [in South Africa] don’t live long enough to get to a place where they get it right because with TV, it’s practise, practise. So a lot of the props go to the channel because they’ve given us the opportunity to make an Emmy-nominatable show.”
Her brother Kagiso, LNN director and co-creator with Gola, says: “This one we definitely owe to the Economic Freedom Fighters, President Jacob Zuma and Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Thank you so much for getting us recognised by the international television fraternity.”
The big leagues
LNN did not win the International Emmy for best comedy for the second year in a row, but for Saloojee, what matters is that it means they have upped their game.
“It’s exciting and scary because it’s like playing in the Champion’s League – once you’ve tasted it for the first time, you can’t go back to the Mvela League.”
Saloojee started as a runner and driver on the show and says it has been an brilliant experience growing with LNN.
“I am studying politics, now doing my PhD, so it’s like the two worlds – satire and politics – are tying together for me, which I find very exciting. Our very first interview on LNN was a pornographer and now the show has advanced to the level where we have people like Paul Mashatile. Sometimes I miss those days of the masked pornographer but the show is still very exciting.”
Cape Town comic Steenkamp, who joined the show last year after coming up to Joburg to attend the Savanna SA Comic’s Choice Awards, says writing for LNN has changed his life.
“The learning curve has been massive, I never read newspapers as critically as I have over the past year. Before, I’d read them but only in a lazy way. Like, if the headline sticks out. It seems like all news stories are about a certain kind of morality, it’s been fun to figure out why I care about certain stories and find them interesting.”
Treading the line
There’s a fine line between being funny and being offensive. Ensuring the show straddles it is not easy.
Karabo Lediga says: “If you’re going to make fun of anything, be fair, don’t just stereotype. When I am not here, they always say: ‘Karabo wouldn’t approve.’ Which I kind of like because looking at the world, I don’t know how far we are from gender equality. So I’m okay with calling them out when they cross the line … I don’t want to work for a show that’s sexist. It’s a bit of a motherly, aunty role, and that’s fine.”
For Gola, the idea is to keep pushing the show.
He says one of his most memorable sketches this year was when they took on Zuma’s statement that the ANC will rule until Jesus comes back. In the sketch, Jesus (played by the bearded Steenkamp) came back.
“We had a depiction of Jesus on the screen – you know Christians are quite finicky about that. We got away with it and the channel supported us.
“We treaded the line, we got it right,” says Gola.