“This is the weirdest sh*t I’ve ever seen!” said Gareth Cliff, talking about My Child: Teenage Mutant Azanians, which premiered on Comedy Central Africa last year. “South Park spliced with Animal Farm. I like it.” This adult animation, the disturbed brainchild of Nick Wilson, uses South Africa’s political scene as comedic cannon fodder aimed at Africa’s funny bone.
Nick Wilson gave a talk at Jo’burg’s rebooted animationXchange event where he shared more about the show, how it came to be, as well as the political soup from which it spawned…
Q: What was happening during the 90s that inspired you to start developing the show and do you think South Africa’s political climate has since shifted in your favour?
Well, it started in 1992 with the referendum where white people unanimously voted in favour of abolishing Apartheid… I have vivid memories of running in between the various polling marquees on the day of the vote as well as staying up until late at night when the official results were announced on TV. Our household was rapturous and the mood across the country was celebratory.
Shortly before, or after (my memory alludes me), all white Model C schools started admitting non-white kids. As providence would have it, the first black kid admitted to our school sat next to me in class on his first day. That kid happened to be Trevor Gumbi who is now one of the biggest names in South African and African comedy.
More and more children of colour were then admitted as we started gearing up as an integrated society. It was an incredibly exciting and equally scary time in our country’s history crowned by the inauguration of Nelson Mandela.
When we started developing the show, this period of time had an enormous impact on us; the show is set, after all, in the Nelson Mandela School for Gifted Mutants in a place called Azania.
Q: The ‘warning’ you have before each episode is appropriately alienating: “If you are a human, alive or have good taste; this show is not for you”— how do you avoid coming across partisan and is political correctness ever a concern?
Right in the beginning of development we quickly realized that we would need to be as representative as possible. We reasoned that if we were more integrated (culturally and racially) as a development and production team we could avoid stereotypes and prejudice.
That’s not to say, however, that we will not be pushing the boundaries of tactfulness.
Q: What did having the show premiere on Comedy Central Africa late last year mean to you and what was the biggest challenge the project faced getting to that high point?
We had been pitching the show to Comedy Central Africa since it had opened its doors. In actual fact, we had been knocking on Viacom’s doors for probably another two years prior to that. There’s a cool Facebook post from our fan page timeline which reads “My Child wants to be on Comedy Central Africa”. Almost 4 years to the day that we posted that on Facebook we premiered the pilot of My Child: Teenage Mutant Azanians live at the Comedy Central International Comedy Festival. The following week the pilot was broadcast on Comedy Central Africa on the tail end of the current season of South Park. To be on the same bill as some of the world’s biggest comedians and to ride the coattails of the biggest animated satirical show on the planet was extremely validating! The pilot of My Child: Teenage Mutant Azanians is the first ever half hour of adult animated comedy to be produced for and broadcast to an African audience.
We had self-financed the production of the pilot—fronting that amount of cash without knowing it will ever be broadcast and whether you will ever see a return on your investment is a particularly nerve-wracking experience. From a technical perspective, any content broadcast on Comedy Central Africa needs to go to London for quality control. So, when we were accepted, not only had we produced something that fitted Comedy Central Africa’s editorial line, it was also of international broadcast quality.
The most exciting aspect of participating in the Comedy Central International Comedy Festival, was being able to interface with the biggest stars in African and global comedy. To this end, we have added Carl Joshua Ncube (Zimbabwe), Salvado (Uganda), Daliso Chaponda (Malawi), Basketmouth (Nigeria) and Churchill (Kenya) to our cast. Including the original cast of Richelieu B Beaunoir (SA), Nina Hastie (SA), Mpho Popps (SA), Trevor Gumbi (SA) and Griffy 2Trillion (US), we have assembled the strongest ever cast of African comedians for a TV series let alone an adult animated comedy. We’re now going into production of the first ever Pan-African adult animated comedy series.
The biggest challenges the project faced were finance and buy-in from a broadcaster.
Q: What makes South Africa’s particular brand of comedy and comedians appealing to a wider audience?
There’s an old adage, something along the lines of; “one person’s tragedy is another’s comedy”. Africa has a particularly tragic past. We’ve overcome slavery, colonisation, civil wars and (in South Africa) Apartheid. Despite all that we’ve overcome, in the twenty-first century there’s still place for oppression, warlords and dictators in Africa. I think that the appeal of African comedy to a wider audience has a lot to do with our tragic history.
Q: How important is it to nurture one’s network when trying to get an idea off the ground and do you have any networking tips?
I used to dislike going to markets. I’ve since realized their value and it was one of the motivations for me to get involved in the Export Missions Committee of Animation South Africa. Almost everyone at a TV/film/content market is there because of a shared passion. Markets are the best place for you to pitch your projects and develop your IP based on the insights and feedback you receive. Investors, broadcasters and potential co-producers need to see you at successive markets before you close a deal(s)—as a rule of thumb, deals are generally closed after your third successive market.
My suggestion is to try and attend as many markets as possible via ASA delegations, NFVF Marketing Support or DTI SSAS Scheme. There are a plethora of global markets that cater for projects at various stages of development; MIFA, MIPCOM, KidScreen and The World Animation Summit are a just a few of them. Closer to home there is DISCOP.
Q: What advice would you give to someone in South Africa who has a great idea for an adult animation?
Come pitch us your idea, we would love to hear from and potentially work with you.
Q: Why did you choose to make the show in 2D and how long does each episode take to produce?
I personally prefer the 2D medium but, more importantly (especially for niche content like My Child: Teenage Mutant Azanians) it is cheaper to produce. A full series will take between 8-10 months to produce based on several variables whilst an episode will take approximately a month.
Q: What shows influenced your creative direction and were there any local shows that helped inspire you and your team?
There are several African satirical shows that we drew inspiration from, these include; Madam & Eve, ZA News and (Africa’s longest continuously running satirical show of Kenyan origin) The ZYZ Show. All three of these shows were inspired by or are exec-produced by editorial cartoonists who push the envelope with respect to freedom of speech, expression and the press. Apart from these African live action satirical shows, we were also influenced by Family Guy, Clone High, American Dad, Archer and (of course) South Park.
Puppets from ZANews (Both Worlds)
Nick is also the Director of Operations at Pop The Culture and Chair of the Export Missions Executive Committee here at Animation SA. If you would like to support the Nelson Mandela School for Gifted Mutants, you can follow Nick and his team’s on Facebook, Twitter, or just keep an eye on the show’s website.