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Sister James

Paradise Lost and the Sister of Mercy

by Johann M Smith / 24.06.2011

Long Street, 3 in the morning. A mad rush of hustlers, junkies, underage drinkers, traffic jams, beat-up taxis and prostitutes that ends at the golden arches, McDonalds, capitalism’s golden cunt. Who seemed to have caught a glimpse of Senator Park’s bottom line and wanted in, and a monumental insult to the vegetarian hipsters who graze in Kloof Street.

This street is a sitcom and no matter how low you go, here, there will always be someone worse off. Everybody’s got something to sell. Whadyouwant?! Mushroom?! Charlie?! Hydroponic?! Every night a grim story from hell. “Bossy, I’m pregnant, two rand for a bread please?” Ignorance is best. Bad is good.

Loitering outside Cape to Cuba, with cherry lipstick and wearing a nun’s outfit is Saint Mary James. Comedian and Long Street native. His hands are on a girl’s double-D breasts. Exercising the natural rights of the gay man. The girl is laughing. He accosts another stranger, me, and flirts outrageously. This is James’ marketing. The only way you can get an invite to his show, is through a personal interview either here, or by filling out a form on the internet. This how he’s kept the crown of longest running stand-up comedian. Fifty six sold out shows since 2006. A pretty amazing statistic.

Sister Mary James

On the night I come see him in action, there are several random strangers, those who were fine with being accosted, having their breasts fondled and asses grabbed. God knows what he’s going to do. I found this all very weird. A horrible show where I’ll wonder what to say.

An unkempt blond surfer, Bugsy, takes stage as the opening act. The songs are sweet. Even beautiful. God knows how James got him. This man is a poet and James a mad, raving homosexual prone to explosions. Finally what we’re here for: “Give a hand everybody! Sister! Mary! Jaaames!”

He walks on stage. Does Elvis’ gyro hips and lip-syncs to a song. Oh god. James claims that his show is completely improv. His techniques aren’t unique. He sits down and picks someone from the audience. Asks a question, creates a caricature and flies with it. Everyone’s collective conscious screams: “Please don’t pick me”. When he does, don’t get stroppy, he’ll slice you with his satirical sword and an arsenal of witty comebacks.

And so he continues. Giving himself the same treatment. And so we get to meet more people. To my surprise he’s good. New York City comedy club good.
“Mohammad has been selling boerie roles since 1999, has no one ever wondered why Cape Town has no stray cats?” Is a typical one-liner. He then goes on to talk about Cape Town’s underlying obsession with sex: “Buitengracht, Waterkant and of course, the Labia Theatre – situated in a crease.” And it’s nonchalant citizens: “20 people book a table in a restaurant, 4 pitch up.”

Sister Mary James

His jokes are at times obvious, but then he rolls out a sentence from god knows where, spittle flying into the stage lights and brings the house down. At the end he auctions himself to the highest bidder for a good cause. Tonight he’s brought in two hundred. Small change, but this is winter and Blooze is packed out. Impressive enough.

A few nights later I run into him again.
“Didn’t we have a lovely time Jo-Jo?” A nickname I considered removing from this article.
“Yeah, we did. You are better than I thought.”
“You never researched me did you?” I didn’t think I had to.

Since 1991, Sister Mary aka James Costello has co-hosted a Madonna concert in New York City for cable channel HBO, been a television production assistant on SABC 2, worked on the film Paljas, organised events and worked as a motivational trainer for Ster-Kinekor. And the list goes on.

So why isn’t he more famous? Good question. According to Sister Mary, Cape Town is the only place where his show works as it’s “geared towards the tourists”. And in Cape Town everyone is a tourist, he declares. And Long Street is an untamed zoo perfectly suited to his antics, a place where the chaos of Europe and Africa mate and run wild like savages in a modern metropolis. Where pale white Germans indulge their dark continent fantasies and get their kicks. A buffet of whatever. Paradise lost. For which humour is still the only cure. And an absurd man in nun’s outfit, hands on tits, is the only one selling.

Book online here.

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