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Home » Sports

It’s no laughing matter

Submitted by on Friday, 27 March 2009No Comment
It’s no laughing matter

Leon Schuster recalls his long wait on the bench, facing off (literally) with unshaven opponents in the scrum, and upsetting Naas.

You’re best known for your movies – but you were once a sportsman. In 1974 you played one game of rugby for Free State. Tell me about that.

Remember the 1974 Lions? Well, prior to that tour there were trials held and four junior Springboks teams were selected. These then went around playing against the various provinces. Because Andries Bestbier, at that time the Free State and Springbok hooker, was playing those trials; I played for Free State against the junior Springbok team and I hooked against Piston van Wyk. The props were Rampie Stander and Hannes Marais.

How did you go against Piston?

I got four heels against the head. I later met him at a function, and he said to me, ‘You forgot about the two I hooked against you…’ I said, ‘Of course I did!’

That was when hookers still hooked?

That’s right – they use to put the ball straight into the scrum and you had to hook it. I was known as, ‘the fastest foot in the west!’ In those days a tight-head meant a lot to your team. If you were close to the oppo’s line and you got the ball; they were on the wrong foot and you would often score from it.

How did you feel when someone took one against the head from you?

I felt kak. They didn’t get many. Although I always had problems with bulky, short hookers because I’m tall – I’m over 6 foot. So they would pull me down, until I had my knees against my chin and couldn’t hook. So the short okes gave me grief. But I suppose I made up for it by being very fast outside the scrums.

How fast?

I was vinnig. Much faster than the forwards these days who stand permanently in the backline. I mean Schalk Brits is a wonderful hooker, but he is having a picnic in the backline the whole time. I was by far the fastest forward in all my teams. It also helped that I was bang-gat. I would run like a bat out of hell so they couldn’t tackle me.

How tough was that game for Free State?

I was very nervous. I was up against the best in South Africa. But I didn’t doubt myself and I also wanted to make a point. Like everybody else who ever sat on the bench, I felt I should have played more games. I was on the bench for a bloody year and a half! Anyway, the first scrum we went into – Piston and Hannes had heavy stubble. I was cleanly shaven as I was a teacher and we were tidy okes. They pushed their chins into my cheeks and they mauled me with the stubble. Apart from the fact it was bloody painful, I couldn’t focus on the ball.

So what did you do?

Well my captain, Daan De Wet said, ‘Just ignore it. If they see it doesn’t bother you they’ll stop it after awhile’. Fortunately that worked, so they abandoned it – even though at that stage I’d almost lost half my face. Unfortunately Piston scored the only try of the match, which didn’t help my prospects.

How dirty was rugby then?

It was a hundred times dirtier than these days. We had many, many fights. Big Schalk Burger, George Raubenheimer from Eastern Province – there were lots of really dirty okes. But it was often hellova entertaining to be watching a rugby game and a boxing match at the same time… they really used to moer each other. We won a couple of games by knockout.

You were on the bench when Free Sate played the 1974 Lions.

Yes, I was a reserve. That was the day I sat on the bench in my rooi sweetpakkie, praying, ‘God, please let Bestbier get a little injury so I can go on against the mighty Lions. Just for five minutes – for my girlfriend, my mom, my dad and my ouboet…’ but sadly it didn’t happen. So I played in Andries’s shadow until I retired from rugby.

Apparently there was an incident at the Lions’ hotel afterwards?

After the ‘onthaal’ – the after party, the Lions went back to their hotel where they carried on jolling. Things got a bit out of hand and a bed ended up in the swimming pool – a few things were broken. Eventually the manager of the President Hotel in Bloem, where they were staying, demanded to see the Lions’ manager, Syd Millar and the captain, Willie John McBride. After he had made this long complaint about all the stuff the players had wrecked, Willie John said to him, ‘And was anyone killed during these proceedings?’ The hotel manager said, ‘No. No-one was killed’. Willie John said, ‘So what’s your problem?’

You were a teacher at the time – what did you teach?

I taught English. Must sound odd as you hear me sukkel a bit, looking for words?

No. Where did you teach?

At Jim Fouche in Bloemfontein, the same school I went to; with the same headmaster who had often klapped me with bloody ‘Cobra’, his green cane. He never treated me like an adult – I was always a pupil.

The Free State was probably a lot more conservative than the rest of the country. How did you feel about the world you grew up in?

Yes – it was ultra conservative. Instinctively, I felt things were wrong. I had this little black mate, our domestic’s son. He and I were huge Chinas. We caused a lot of kak – like we threw klei-lats at speed cops. So it was strange for me that there was a separation at certain levels of society; and not at others. I also rebelled against the conservatism during my broadcasting career. Amongst other things, I was often caught out swearing when I didn’t realise I was on air. Once, I was looking at a cover of some comedian’s album while Beethoven was playing on the radio and said, ‘This oke’s stuff is sommer kak’. But as I said it, I inadvertently pushed the button to make us go live. The oke whose programme it was, Johann Stemmet, thought I was talking about his show.

You wrote and sang, ‘Hier kom die Bokke’, which was repeatedly played at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final. What did that feel like?

That must be the highlight of my career. I was in a box with about three hundred people, and eventually I was standing on the bar and they were passing me beers and we sang, ‘Hier kom die Bokke’. I sang that song millions of times. That was a great moment – it meant more to me than anything that ever happened with my movies. I’ll never forget there were some guys in the crowd with a banner that said, ‘Schuster for president’. Wow man! It was just bloody wonderful! I also remember Sean Fitzpatrick; I didn’t like his sly manipulating way, and how he chirped the ref; although he was a good captain. After the world cup he did an interview with Huisgenoot, where he said he was unhappy about one thing. He said the Boks had an unfair psychological advantage, because the song, ‘Hier kom die Bokke,’ that was constantly played on that day, gave the Boks huge motivation. I liked him more after I read that.

What happened with Naas Botha?

Let’s go back a bit. I was the very first person to interview Naas on radio. He was obviously new at it and I helped him with his responses. So I always thought he might be a little grateful (laughs). But my taking him off upset him. He later wrote in an article in The Sunday Times that I was unfair to him, because he doesn’t talk like that. But he does. Then I made, ‘You must be joking – two’; which is the biggest flop I have had. Nonetheless, there was a whole scene in it about Naas. Suddenly there was an interdict – Naas was suing us. Finally we settled out of court for R10,000 and certain edits. Now today that wouldn’t happen. But then, if your name was Botha and you were a famous rugby player, you could do quite a lot.

But you did make a lot of jokes about him?

Yah, but they were jokes. Like where he says, ‘At the end of the day the best player must be Dave.’ Because he always hears them say, ‘Dave just scored a try, Dave done it again, Dave just won da match…’ There’s also that wonderful story where a supporter ran on the field at Newlands and klapped him. I said it was a case of, ‘The fan hitting the shit…’ That’s the stuff Naas didn’t like and I can’t blame him. But I always thought he was just asking to be sent up.

You also recently sent up Luke Watson.

I always try and address controversial issues in a comic fashion. I’m passionate about the Springbok badge, so I had a go at him – Luke, Puke Watson. Mind you, he seems to fit in well with the Province supporters; they all cheered him when the Bulls supporters were booing him. On the other hand – I sound like Naas now – by making those remarks, he was inviting to be parodied.

Referring to the Joost van der Westhuizen situation, where someone seems to be trying to bring him down. With your somewhat outrageous antics and liberalism; has anyone had a crack at you?

No. I was once threatened on a golf course by a larny English guy I did a gag on; which he never appreciated. I had put some black guys as squatters in a bunker and these guys playing golf came up and told us to bugger off. When we revealed ourselves and that it was a gag, the Engelsman still kept shouting and threatening me. But I have never been threatened by South Africans, nor had any of that underhand, blackmail stuff. An oke did bliksem me when we made, ‘Oh Shucks I’m Gatvol.’ I saw the punch coming, but he knocked me clean out for about fifteen seconds. When I came to; my director Willie Esterhuizen was shouting, ‘This is the best thing we have ever shot!’ And of course I did get moered by Jimmy Abbott and Kallie Knoetze.

Did they apologise?

Jimmy was upset on the day, but when it sank in he was great. Kallie is just Kallie. The other guy couldn’t have been more apologetic and embarrassed, because he was a lot younger than me.

How do you keep in shape?

I go to gym every morning. Even during filming I have a bicycle on set and some weights.

You spend your life making others laugh; what makes you laugh?

I obviously love candid-camera-type stuff. You always see gags within my movies that could have been shot candidly. I also love slapstick and spontaneous comedy. Oh, and I enjoy movies like Jackass. But as a kid I grew up with the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Jerry Lewis and Laurel and Hardy. I used to imitate Jerry Lewis as he appeared in the Nutty Professor; with the two buck teeth and little black hairpiece. I think some of my Naas impersonation came from that. My best laugh of them all though, is Peter Sellers and the funniest movie of all time is The Party. I’d love to do a remake with a few South African changes.

You’ve spent so much time impersonating blacks – do you think it would have been easier if you had been born black?

Looking at all the great positions blacks have in the New South Africa, it might not have been a bad thing…

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