Father of the House: Fringe acts take inspiration from their politician fathers

This article is from 2018

Father of the House

Daliso Chaponda

Kids naturally get embarrassed about their parents. But how would you feel if your dad happened to be a high-flying politician?

Finishing third in Britain's Got Talent transformed Daliso Chaponda from a journeyman circuit comic to a touring act overnight. But that wasn't his craziest 2017 experience. 'That was the death threats in Malawi,' he recalls. Even while preparing for BGT, his father, George T Chaponda, tipped to become Malawi's president, was sacked as agriculture minister of the impoverished nation amid a corruption scandal relating to maize imports from Zambia.

His exoneration finally came in June, while his son is now 'writing like a maniac, because it was totally surreal and I can finally talk about it. There was an explosion at my dad's office. We had a year of abuse but at least I got some good jokes out of it. African politics makes British politics look positively boring.'

Russian politics, meanwhile, make waves everywhere. Olga Koch's Fringe debut, Fight, has all the elements of a Cold War thriller. It hinges on a trip her father, Alfred (Russia's former deputy prime minister and an outspoken critic of Putin) tried to take to Moscow in 2014. His daughter, who began comedy in New York, introduces the FSB (Russia's latter-day KGB) and explains exactly why her family went into exile.

There's a yarn at the heart of Benet Brandreth's A Hero for Our Times too, a loosely autobiographical account of finding love in middle-age. As the son of former Tory whip, fellow Fringe performer Gyles Brandreth, Benet attended St Paul's public school and Cambridge University, and soldiered in the Black Watch: 'a posh-boy living cliché,' he volunteers. 'My entire life has been spent in places with quadrangles and tea at four.'

On losing his seat, Benet believes his father found refuge in performing. Gyles was cautious about his son, a barrister and rhetoric coach for the Royal Shakespeare Company, following him on stage but set 'a great example of never being afraid to fail'. Indeed, his support extended to recently casting Benet and his actor wife, Kosha Engler, in an experimental Hamlet with Benet as the prince and Kosha and Gyles playing all the other parts.

Father of the House

Benet Brandreth
'I wouldn't have been human if having my father and wife do a romantic scene together didn't make me feel slightly queasy,' the younger Brandreth admits. Still, seeing the former honourable member for Chester in such a situation, 'probably gave the audience a head start on appreciating what we were trying to bring out, as they must have been aware of the awkwardness.'

George Chaponda had similar misgivings about his academic son becoming a comedian. Those disagreements only intensified when Daliso risked upsetting Malawi's censorship board. 'I had to tell him that I couldn't stop ripping apart the government just because he was in it. Gradually, he accepted who I was.' And when the English tabloids gleefully revealed that George had once proposed a public ban on farting, his son was thrilled 'as it meant I could bring back the jokes I'd written three years before'.

Returning to Malawi in November, Chaponda got a VIP's welcome. Everyone on the flight shook his hand, a hundred people wore Daliso t-shirts and a score of bodyguards were borrowed from his father's trial. 'That was partially excitement but partially his paranoia,' the comic says. 'He gets real threats: people threatening a comedian aren't the same.'

Such high office would delight Benet Brandreth. 'But I suspect it's probably a good thing that a power-hungry man like myself is kept away from it. There's something unfortunate about the way politics is structured in this country. The professionalism of the political classes can be very limiting in terms of who it selects and who it allows to advance. I don't have much interest in playing that particular game.'

Chaponda concurs. After witnessing horrific deaths in refugee camps while accompanying his father, stand-up redeemed him. 'I was a very angry kid, very depressed, all over the place. Finding comedy as a vent saved me. There are things I want to talk about on stage that will take more skill, because it's not just emotional engagement, it's your ability to deal with it. I'm not quite ready, but every year the scope of what I can talk about is growing. On Britain's Got Talent I was just one version of me.'

Daliso Chaponda: What the African Said, Gilded Balloon at the Museum, 19–26 Aug, 7.30pm, £15–£16 (£13–£14).

Olga Koch: Fight, Pleasance Courtyard, 4–26 Aug (not 14), 7.15pm, £7–£9 (£6.50–£8). Previews 1–3 Aug, £6.

Benet Brandreth: A Hero for Our Times, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 4–22 Aug, 11.15am, 23–27 Aug, 4.15pm, £9.50–£10.50 (£8.50–£9.50). Previews 1–3 Aug, £6.

Gyles Brandreth: Break a Leg!, Pleasance Courtyard, 4–26 Aug (not 13), 4.30pm, £16–£19 (£14.50–£17.50). Previews 1–3 Aug, £10.

Gyles Brandreth: Break a Leg

Actor, author, One Show reporter, former MP and government whip tours his new one man show about all things theatrical.

Olga Koch: Fight

The Amused Moose National New Comic Award finalist discusses the most surreal year in her family's life, which began when her father was stopped by authorities on the Russian border.

Benet Brandreth: A Hero for Our Times

Benet Brandreth Join award-winning comedian Benet Brandreth for a comic tale of love, loss, redemption and ramekins. Slightly surreal, hugely funny, it's a story about how to cope with the absurdity of today's world, find love at 43, put on a one-man show in New York and come to terms with all your spare ramekins. 'Heroic…

Daliso Chaponda: Blah Blah Blacklist

  • 3 stars

Stand-up from the Britain's Got Talent star, who explores blacklisted celebrities and historical figures we're ashamed we once admired.