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Vlismas Lacking Power

Putting the ‘miss’ in Vlismas

by 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

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  1. bubba hotep says:

    Hear hear. I suffered through one of his shows and felt underwhelmed pretty soon. Vlismas runs a giant corporate comedy website pimping pretty much everyone who’s anyone in SA comedy. The site promises ‘clean’ comedy packaged to suit the corporate occasion. In other words, to pick up on your Bill Hicks reference, Vlismas is the gateway to ‘devil cock sucking’ as the ‘dark poet’ himself would say. Populist, neutered and dumbed down for cash. This at a time when we need our comedy to be nimble, swift and deadly…

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  2. THe JZA says:

    Too true. I don’t like John Vlismas at all. He MC’d the 2007 Loerie Awards and in the few minutes he had available, he chose to do his lame ‘Fucking Anorexic Chicks’ sketch. It wasn’t funny and it made me hate him. Unbelievably he was back as the Loeries MC the next year. And he did the SAME SKETCH! Now I just feel sorry for him.

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  3. GA says:

    A few years back I used to watch Vlismas MC comedy nights on Sundays in Melville.
    I always thought he was so brilliant. So sharp, so smart and so very very quick.
    More recently when I’ve seen him perform, I have felt exactly what you describe in your article.
    I’m a girl. I don’t like jokes about poo. And like it or not, I am part of the audience.

    The frustrating thing about John Vlismas, is not that he resorts to such poor, empty toilet humour – many comedians do this and we don’t give a shit, we also don’t remember them.
    The real frustration is that we are painfully aware that Vlismas could easily be brilliant.
    As you’ve demonstrated – with his audience interaction, his combination of comedy and intelligence is unmatched. So we, or I, leave his show feeling seriously hard done by. It’s just irritating really.

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  4. SL says:

    Vlismas is still brilliantly sharp and funny. you guys need to lighten up and stop being so full of POO!!

    It’s just comedy guys, laugh or don’t go and see it!

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  5. Pete says:

    I’ve always been a fan of JV. And I think he’s humour’s smart, witty and edgy above all. This is going to bewilder you.. But vlismas is a force to be reckoned with, he’s done more for the S. A comedy scene than your bewildered fear of acknowledging you’ve heard the word Poo, or jokes related to sex and stool. I am pissie that the only comments here are posted by pseudo-benevolent halfwits wanting to make a difference…which is sadly, but typical of the average white folk around here. What are you going to do now, start a facebook group-and really get the world revved up? Look you don’t like him. get it.

    His show sold out, and bottom line is-next show he does will also be sold out. And idiots like you will once again moan, and say how you don’t like he’s humour, but he’s fan base will still keep growing. And he’ll still be as funny as ever. Did you ever stop and think maybe U just don’t have a sense of humour compatible with modern times…and maybe you should just stick to watching herbie and other child-like humour from the 70/80’s that you do get!

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  6. Now that's funny says:

    F**K all you anti-vlismas fans. Stick to scooby doo and other kak that people of your intellect watch!! Then die!! I hope you die in a car crash in front of your just-learnt-to-walk son! Hope your partner dies of a broken heart in the realisation that their amish type partner withheld the good things in life from them…Proper F***in Comedy!

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  7. Comedy Fan says:

    People – get over it! John Vlismas rocks!! He’s probably the only comedian who can make funny out of anything and improvise properly!! If you read the press release properly, he was CHALLENGED to do a show with no swearing, not his normal trait, but he accomplished this nonetheless – see how many other entertainers can do that!! He is smart, witty and edgy and if you don’t like it – don’t go. Or are your lives so sad, that you do things, just so you can complain about them??
    John will always be SA’s top comedian, regardless!

    Let’s not forget – it’s comedy – it may not be for everyone, but don’t be mean about it!! Jeeezz, you guys are awful!!

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  8. Andy says:

    Well look at all the Vlismas fans… Took you guys a while to twig onto this considering it was published almost a month ago… but welcome to Mahala all the same.

    I too am actually a Vlismas fan.. He got a kak review. Deal with it.

    And Now that’s funny, you are very far from funny. In fact you’re obviously stupid. This is glaringly apparent from your statement “anti-Vlismas fans”. Because they’re not fans. They think he sucks. A fan is: an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer of a sport, pastime, celebrity, etc.: a baseball fan; a great fan of Charlie Chaplin.

    Frankly you’re just a mouth spewing reactionary, distasteful vitriol. And as a Vlismas fan, you certainly don’t help his cause with this half-baked attempt at a riposte (look it up, shitbag). Go back to school kiddo. It’s never too late. And stop, think, think again, next time you try weigh into a debate by questioning everyone else’s intellect. Next time just hold it in, your desire for approval on an anonymous message board will pass.

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  9. Mike says:

    John Vlismas is one of the few comics in this country who is actually deserving of his fame. He is harder working than most and in a culture that worships Leon Schuster his ability to make alternative comedy work is a godsend. He broke the mould and while he may no longer be the best alternative comic out there, I have endless respect for him because he was there first, saying things and doing things no one else would do. We wouldn’t have comics like Paul Snodgrass, Bevan Cullinan, Warren Robertson and Shaun Wewege if it weren’t for him and that would make for an infinitly poorer South African comedy circuit.

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  10. Shaun Wewege says:

    Thanks Mike! Most South Africans tend to think of comedians as being guys who stand up and tell “An Englishman, an Irishman and Scotsman walk into a bar…” kind of jokes. Alternative South African comics tend to battle in their own countries as a result of this mindset. Love or hate John, his track record speaks for itself – he has placed highly in international competitions and has helped pave the way for guys who are tired of doing hack material.

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