Mr Wise Guy

INTRO: Alan Committee is one of South Africa’s funniest guys but Dawn Kennedy discovered that when it comes to building a successful career he’s not fooling around.
COPY: Alan’s passion is laughter. He says, “I love laughing and making other people laugh. I created my first comic character, Villy, at age five and kept friends entertained with his adventures.” Fast-forward thirty years and he’s entertaining hundreds of people with the antics of the Afrikaner security guard – Van Der Welt – “The Basil Faulty of D’aar.”
From the moment he saw the Boswell Willkie circus at age five Alan knew he wanted to be a clown. This came as a shock to Alan’s conventional parents. “My Dad was in the navy and my mum’s a housewife – there’s nothing theatrical in my genes at all. However, my parents were supportive and allowed my dream to grow. In standard four I asked ‘shouldn’t I be joining the circus now?’ My Dad had to explain that I couldn’t actually join the circus.
I decided that if I couldn’t be a clown then I’d be an actor. My Dad agreed but insisted I have something to fall back on. I decided to be a teacher. Even though I was a young guy, it was very clear in my head.
I got a BA in drama and an HD in teaching from UCT. Since then I’ve not had moments regret. The only time I ever stopped to ask if I was doing the right thing was in the fifth year of studying my HD and had to turn down parts offered to me by CAPAB.
My career has been marked by luck – essential, I think, to any career. I taught part time at Westerford. The salary was meagre but regular. I saved R500 per month and built up a kitty, which allowed me to put on a show at Grahamstown. It cost me R6, 000 to stage and I made R1, 000 profit.
Grahamstown led to Artscape, which led to Olympia Bakery and Kalk Bay theatre. A career was born
I tell young actors coming out of drama school that the secret is to do. If people don’t see you they can’t offer you something and that can’t lead to the next thing. You can suit at coffee tables all day and talk about the projects you want to do, it will never happen. Nowadays, since I do a lot of corporate work, I’m around many motivational speakers, and they all say action is everything.
So many actors, with more talent than I have in my left pinkie, wait for management to find them places in productions that only come around once a year. I never wanted to be like that. I need to be in control. I admire people who are independent and get out there.
Alan believes in staying “comedy fit:” “ I’m always performing and learning new skills. I’ve been busy for 230 nights a year for the last two years. Even Lawrence Olivier at age 60 still did two hours of voice practice every single day.
Like any performer, I’m always observing. I carry a notebook and Dictaphone. When I read something funny, I cut it out and keep it in a writing file, which is the first place i look when I start a new show. A comic’s job is to pick up points of connection with the audience: you need to be aware of what people are talking about and the collective feeling.
I also follow the old dictum – Write what you know. I’m big on popular culture. Some of my material is a bit quirky. I talk about Enid Blyton and Drive Ins. A lot of my stuff has a nostalgic tinge because I think that brings an audience together.
Laughter is good therapy. Physiologically it release stuff in your body that makes you feel immediately better. In this country it’s essential. There’s been an explosion of comics in the last ten years because we’ve got to laugh otherwise we’d cry. The tougher things get the more material for the comics.
There are certain nights when you know that between you and the audience it’s not going to work. It’s exactly like when you don’t click with a person, except with an audience you’re not clicking with 3 or 400 people.
I have died a million deaths on stage – audiences have totally ignored me. Performers are strange creatures: you can have thousands of people loving you and wanting to have your babies and one person won’t laugh – maybe he’s had a mild heart attack – but you fixate on him and see your performance as a failure.
Because of the laws of probability, you will have awful nights. The task is to be as good as you can be on any one night
As a performer, I’m very self-aware. That makes some performers arrogant. But I like to think my friends and family keep me grounded.
I’m a big cricket fan and I love the saying that a cricket player is never bigger than the game. It’s the same with comedy. As a comic, you’re never bigger than comedy. If you are arrogant, the audience will pick it up immediately and it’s important that the audience likes you.
Jpg 530 “A comedian sees the world form unusual angles,” says Alan
Jpg 552 Can you recognise Mr Bean?
Jpg 516 Alan takes time out from his hectic schedule to enjoy the sun at Groot Constantia Wine farm.
Man about town.
Alan often lunches at JB Rivers in Cavendish 021-683 0840. He has his hair cut at Partners Hair Design for Men in Cavendish 021 683 1251. His ideal evening out is a relaxing and intimate dinner with friends at Thai World in Hardfield Village 021 671 7462.
Alan loves reading and is often found perusing the shelves of Exclusive Books in Cavendish 021-674 3030. On his bookshelf now is the autobiography of American 1950’s TV legend Cid Caesar, The Diaries of Kevin Smith and Woody Allen’s new collection of short stories. His favourite local author is Tom Eaton who he describes as: “Witty, clever, acerbic, punchy…and that’s just the titles.”
Alan’s all consuming passion (except for comedy) is cricket: “I’ve not missed a single day of a Newlands New Year’s Test match in the past10 years! And if I am somewhere else in the country, or even overseas, I try to catch whatever big game happens to be on, even if South Africa is not playing.”
Alan’s biggest extravagance is “The constant need to buy DVD’s.” The one item he could not contemplate being without? “My sense of humour!”

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