#24 CREATING FROM NOTHING - with Bennie Fourie

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

Hello everyone, welcome to another episode of Fresh Perspective. With me today: friend, and creative genius, Bennie Fourie. I’d like to kick off with a simple question, as I like my guests to be very comfortable in the beginning. So tell us, Bennie, what do you do?

I like to use one word to explain it, I think that’s what really defines it. In Afrikaans it’s called “skep”, but it’s “create”. I love woodworking, I love making films, I love writing, I love doing voice-over work. But it feels like it’s all creating from nothing. So that’s my thing, to create.

Create, I like that. And what’s the project you’re working on now? What are you creating?

I’m currently working on a film, a feature film that I’m writing, called “Lyk soos Ouma”. It’s a family, dark comedy type of thing. And then I’m also currently writing season 5 of a show we do for Kyknet. A mocumentary called “Hotel”. That’s the two things for work. And then I’m also doing a sketch show, a sketch comedy show on the side. Also just renovating my little flat with a lot of woodwork stuff that I like to do.

Awesome. For people who know you, you’re a very humoristic and funny guy. You like to see the funny side in life, and I think that's a great perspective to have on life. Could you maybe just tell us what you feel that gives you? What advantage do you feel that gives you in approaching the difficulties in life?

Starting out my career and starting out at university, we were like the improv group together. You know, that’s a part of you. You get laughs. And it’s so… aansteeklik, what’s the word -


It’s very contagious. And it just makes you feel unbelievably good. I felt like, I can’t do this for a living, it’s not taking it seriously, you know. And then I was like -

It’s not fair.

Yeah, it feels weird. Or it just feels like you’re fooling around. And, are you just attention-seeking, or what are you doing? But then, I really believe that I’ve got this set of talents for… it’s really my calling. I really believe that I’m put here to make people laugh and brighten people’s days up. So having started believing in that, made it shift the focus from me to the audience and what I can give them to enjoy. Which is fun. I don’t like creating stuff that I think only they will enjoy. I like to think of my audience as my friends. So, what are the things that I enjoy that they’ll enjoy? That’s the litmus test for if I want to do something, if I think it’s funny enough to do. But I’ve also got a little ad agency, and it’s given me such a nice angle on… on anything. Because there’s so much clutter out there. Everybody’s marketing, but everybody’s saying the same thing in a serious way. But when you add comedy to that, it just gives another angle. It rises from the clutter. One big thing that I realised is: it’s difficult. Without sounding pompous, you’ve created a body of work, and you’ve learned to do this, and it isn’t second nature to everybody. That is a benefit for me to use and to capitalise on.

Okay. So you mean, it’s difficult for many other people to use humour to either market something or to create something?

Yeah. But for myself as well. When I write, to get it right. To get the comedy really right. Because I think it’s easy to do something funny, but it needs to really work. There’s a structure to it. Realising that there’s actually a structure that sits behind comedy, to see the mechanics of it and go, okay. So if I do the work, if I really sit and do the structuring behind it, there’s a way to mine it.

I like that a lot. Okay, explain to us what’s the structure. What’s the mechanics behind comedy? How do you make people laugh? I also wanted to comment on you saying that you like to create stuff that you find funny. So that means you laugh at your own jokes all the time.

All the time. Yeah. I’m always the funniest guy in the room.

To yourself?

To myself. That’s actually quite funny because 90% of the time I don't feel like I’m the funniest guy in the room. Even at home, even between my friends, there’s always someone that’s like, geez, that guy is so funny. And it’s great because you kind of try and learn from everyone. Anybody that’s funny. Like, that’s great. How did he do that? What’s the little… the pause he had there? Or whatever.

The mechanics. I’m very curious to hear about that.

There’s a lot of that in the TV series that I write. So at first, I never thought about structure in the sense that... if it’s going to be a funny storyline, it’s going to be funny. But continuously doing that… now we’re like, 5 seasons in, it gets difficult to still create scenarios that are funny. But people don’t care about what the story is. They do care about that, but they just want the characters to react in a good way. And if you set that up right, that’s how it works. For instance, when we do Hotel, we have a set-up structure, which is, you create the trouble, the world before. You put them in deep water. You can test this with any show. Eight minutes into a sitcom, you know exactly what the story’s going to be about.

Literally on the eighth minute?

Pretty much.

Wow, that’s cool.

Just before the first ad break. Or you’ll see a blackout on Netflix or whatever. You know that that’s the part - this is what it’s going to be about. From there on, they make decisions to get more into trouble, or there are power shifts. So in Hotel, we’ve got a thing called the trouble, the muddle, the wobble, and then the triumph or the failure. Then you’ve got your kicker. And you just set it up. Because I think plenty of guys just start writing, and they just depend on dialogue, for instance, to be funny. But there’s a lot of work structure-wise that lies beneath it. It’s really fascinating to see. And then from improv, the stuff that I learned in what we did, way back in the day we had an improv-trio called Lagnes. Just the amazing life skills separate from the structured stuff. But getting out the whos, the what and the where’s, creating context, the first three sentences need to be, who are we, where are we, what are we doing. Then it’s finding the game of the scene and hitting it as hard as you can. To the naked eye, it just seems like, for some reason, this is working. But from the beginning of time, we know a story has got a beginning, a middle, and an end. And if we package these things as a small beginning, middle and end, that’s the base structure.

When it’s formulaic like that, don’t you feel like it interferes with your creativity?

People say that it does.

It sounds like it should, you know.

Like, don’t pressure me into getting on top of this thing. And you just realise when it’s not there. Because it just becomes, what is this about? So sometimes, yes, it doesn’t rely on a structure. Sometimes like a beeline, it’ll just be a quick joke here or there. But a story’s got a beginning, middle and end. Like, when you’ve got a fight with someone, it started somewhere. It started with someone saying something wrong, and you took it wrong. That’s the beginning, that’s your act break. It’s actually just life imitating art, you know, in a big sense. I feel like, even if you say, I don’t use structure, you know you use structure.

You say, life imitating art?

Yeah. And I think it goes both ways. But - that's why we relate to stories so much, because it's basically life. You recognize what you see. And as soon as you recognize what you see, you're in. If something’s too way over the top, we go, I don't believe it. Because you don't relate to it. You need to see that. And that's something that was a fascinating thing for me to learn whilst I was at Second City in Chicago, where we were always more focused on externalizing things. We said, we should never just be talking to each other, we should find the thing that's interesting around us and go to that.

Just explain that a bit more, Bennie, talking heads?

So talking heads would be two characters standing on stage, and then just talking to each other. It becomes boring because they're just having a conversation. So we actually went a bit too far, in a sense. We went to – not necessarily relational, but plots. So we'll say, where's the treasure? Where is the thing outside of us?