Putting the ‘miss’ in Vlismasby Roger Young / 19.06.2009
John Vlismas has mastered comic timing. He has it so waxed that he doesn’t even need real jokes to make an audience laugh. Which is good, because he doesn’t really have any. He has plenty of shocking things to say and is very good at upping the “shock” value to a point where the audience has to come along. Thing is, the fact that some people don’t like to think about poo is not a revelation to me.
In POW! Vlismas makes all the easy references, Zuma, the SABC and, being in Durban, Mike Sutcliff and road name changes (yawn), without ever turning them into actual comedy beyond their mere mention. He makes jokes and then explains them. The only point in his act that is mildly mind-expanding is his riff on FIFA and what it actually means to the country. There he takes a concept and through a series of well-paced observations makes a real point about something, makes his audience think and makes it funny, until it degenerates into sodomy references. Not that I have anything against sodomy, faeces and masturbation, I just think that they’re easy jokes. For me they are the mark of someone who doesn’t know how to wrap up a point cleverly.
Comedy always works best when the comedian has an overarching philosophy or point he or she is asking you to think about, as evidenced by the likes of Pieter Dirk-Uys, Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce. With Vlismas there is no such concern; this can be felt in the way many of his bits just trail off into lines like “so that’s interesting, anyway”. To watch POW! is like sitting at a sports bar next to an “edgy” university student telling you what he thinks about current events, without really knowing where he stands. It’s not to say that there are no laughs. The man is genuinely amusing for the first half of the show, but by the second half the meandering quality couldn’t hold my attention any longer.
Maybe the fault is with the types of audiences comedians have to cater for to earn money. Vlismas is not far off when he observes that some people in the audience don’t acknowledge the fact that they too, “poo”. When Vlismas asks a guy in the audience what he does for a living and is told “Granite Distribution”, we see a sharper side of him. “You mean, Granite RE-distribution! You strip mine, right? It comes out of a quarry. Our children will have to walk on a flat planet because some woman thinks a granite counter top will help her cook better!” It’s an honest moment and the audience cannot help but laugh to relieve the tension.
Vlismas could be a much deeper, more subversive comedian. It does seem, however, that he is touching on real issues but not going too deep for fear of offending people, whilst deeply offending on realities that aren’t really issues. Should comedy be more than just a random collection of jokes and observations with no real point? Maybe not, but in order to devote their attention for seventy-five minutes the audience needs to feel that they are on a journey, not a meander.
*POW! is showing at the Heritage Theatre, Hillcrest, KZN: 16 – 21 June