In the armpit of the en­emy

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Your new show, the echo of a noise, opened this week. do you still get open­ing-night nerves af­ter 70 years on earth and 45 years on stage?

The big­gest strain on an open­ing night is sort­ing out that list [of peo­ple] who ex­pect to be in­vited ... Nerves are a funny thing. I rather say: I am ex­cited on open­ing night, be­cause ex­cited means I can do it; ner­vous means I can’t. The feel­ing is still the same; you want to kots [vomit] and poep [poop] and run, but there’s a smile on your face and your tail is wag­ging.

How have au­di­ences changed over this time?

In the old days of dark­ness, the few the­atres I was al­lowed into – The Space, The Mar­ket and the El­iz­a­beth Sned­don – pro­tected the small flames of free speech. There we played to the con­verted. But slowly I man­aged to sub­vert the re­sis­tance and then played the Pre­to­ria Opera House and the Nico Malan in Cape Town. I un­der­stood my col­leagues’ dis­com­fort at not boy­cotting those venues, but that is where I needed to be: in the armpit of the en­emy, mak­ing them laugh at them­selves and maybe re­alise how ridicu­lous their su­pe­ri­or­ity was in the eyes of rel­a­tively sane peo­ple. To­day what I say on stage is only my opin­ion and voice be­cause hap­pily ev­ery­one has free­dom of ex­pres­sion in tone and tweet.

In this one you are sit­ting on a barstool in an ‘al­most fa­mous’ t-shirt and a black beanie. is it true that you don’t con­sider your­self en­tirely fa­mous?

I have never done that: sit­ting on any­thing. Al­ways on roller skates from one icon to the next aikona. The T-shirt I found in New York and it is such a de­light to see peo­ple dou­ble-take and say: “Re­ally? Al­most Fa­mous?” Then I can say: “Ja-nee, ex­cept at the Spar in Dar­ling. There to­tally fa­mous!”

To me you will al­ways be one of my queer moth­ers and fa­mous as f**k for stand­ing up in a time we were il­le­gal.

I am so thrilled to meet young – some­times not that young – gay men who say that my non­sense with Evita and her fam­ily dur­ing the 70s and 80s helped them con­front their own fear and so­cially im­posed shame. I re­mem­ber in 1985 in a ho­tel in Bloem­fontein, a jour­nal­ist from the Volks­blad con­fronted me with that dreaded ques­tion: ‘Are you a queer?’ I took a deep breath. ‘I am ho­mo­sex­ual on Mon­days and Wed­nes­days. On Tues­days and Thurs­days, I’m het­ero­sex­ual. On Fri­days, I’m bi­sex­ual. On Satur­days, I do it my­self and, on Sun­days, I rest.’ Even that old fas­cist f*cker had to laugh.

What are you chat­ting about in the

I think now that I’ve passed that road sign that says, ‘You can speed over 70 now’, I can leave the se­cu­rity blan­kets of char­ac­ters and the dis­guise of mon­sters, madams and moffies, and just tell the sto­ries be­hind the story. Of be­ing a young boy in that old South Africa, fight­ing with a strict fa­ther, ador­ing a mother who al­lowed me to en­joy and not to fear. How the bum­ble­bee of the­atre stung me and changed my life. How cen­sor­ship from a hu­mour­less gov­ern­ment gave me the courage to use their vi­o­lence and rein­vent hu­mour at their ex­pense.

Will you per­form till je­sus comes back?

I hope Je­sus comes back soon, be­cause I have an empty seat in the sec­ond row that I keep for a spe­cial per­son. But sadly, Ja­cob Zuma has never at­tended my shows. The Echo of a Noise is at the The­atre on the Bay in Cape Town un­til June 18


QUEEN P Pi­eter-Dirk Uys tells the sto­ries be­hind the story

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