John Vlismas is often regarded as the “bad boy” of South African comedy due in part to his numerous tattoos and his dalliances with drugs in his younger years. For the past decade, however, he has been steadily building a different reputation as a thinking comic with an eye toward the philosophical. Recent shows on the brain and racism have both proven popular, but the latest show, simply titled, The End, is likely to be his most intimate show yet.
The show deals with Vlismas’ father’s passing and the way this has rippled through his life, impacting on relationships and even his opinion of what he does for a living. Arising as it does, from a deeply personal loss, there are many who might suspect the comedy part of his life has ended and a spoken-word artist has arisen, but Vlismas insists this isn’t so.
“I have made a life out of reacting very differently to how others might. My dad and I shared a strong bond – he was capable of deep irreverence. He taught me that it is tied very closely to resilience. So, this is my most fitting way to say goodbye to him,” said Vlismas, who insisted humour was still the focus.
In many ways, the death of his father was the perfect place to start a show for Vlismas, who explained that his comedy-writing process was somewhat different to that of most comedians who started with a joke.
“I find the hardest topic I can. The one I think needs to be explored using comedy, and then I do the research. I read and take notes. Then I start to make mind maps, so I can find connections in the material. Then, I start to write the comedy,” he said, adding, “The hardest part is the merciless editing of it. I usually end up cutting about 60% to find the really good material.”
But that meticulously logical approach in this instance masks the fact that for Vlismas, as with many other comics, time on stage can be cathartic.
“It’s great to process issues in front of a crowd because your awareness is heightened – so I think it is like therapy on steroids,” he said, admitting that he was at a personal crossroads in his life.
Marketing material for the show has suggested this may very well be the last we see of Vlismas in a comedy guise, but he said it wasn’t necessarily as clear cut as that.
“I don’t like most comedy as I see it as repetitive reinforcement of unhelpful stereotypes that play to the low standards of social progress that the herd finds comfortable,” he said. “I used to toe the line and do what the crowd wanted – I’m not proud of my earlier work, so I’m working hard to keep evolving. Now, I’m more interested in comedy that rattles the cages we’re in.”
There is little doubt that whatever comes after Vlismas will continue to change and evolve with The End being not only an end of its own but also a beginning.
The show runs from April 24 until June 2 at Montecasino with tickets available at Computicket.