I will freely admit that I decided to see Ruven Govender’s show based on the clever promotional material. He’s a darker skinned man, as his parents are from India, he’s billed as being from South Africa, his poster depicts him bathing and the show is called Ethnic Cleansing. Come on, it’s funny.
Although, as it turns out, Govender’s family moved to New Zealand when he was 12 and he now lives in Sydney, making the ‘South Africa’ billing a little on the nose. However, his experiences as an Indian man in post-Apartheid South Africa (maybe even during Apartheid, he didn’t mention his age), then in New Zealand which he described as ‘trying so hard to be not racist that it’s almost racist again’ make for some great material.
One of the clearest things about Govender is his comfort on the stage. Even when his audience interactions fell a little flat, he invited the audience to join him in enjoying the unpredictability of it and kept his show moving along nicely. The approach to audience interaction in this show was certainly high energy, but there was a comfort about it that gives Ethnic Cleansing a strangely casual feeling to it. While clearly still a ‘show’, Govender cultivates a feeling of being out with friends that is quite charming. The performance space, a curtained off corner of the Coopers Inn, certainly helps that feeling.
What also helped was the point in the show where free samosas appeared, on cue, for the audience to share around. I can now say that the number of comedy shows I’ve seen where food was provided as part of a joke stands at 1. All in all, Ruven Govender’s Ethnic Cleansing is friendly, funny and high energy, which is really what you want from a show with that title, but be sure to study up beforehand as there will be a test.
Ethnic Cleansing is on at 7:40pm at Coopers Inn until 22 April as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets, show details and accessibility information are available via the MICF website.