By BRUCE DENNILL
The Good Racist / Starring John Vlismas / Studio, Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg
Disclaimer: on the night attended for review, a malfunctioning projector cable meant that John Vlismas was unable to include the audio-visual slides that usually make up a large part of the show, requiring the comedian to improvise a different structure around many of the same observations.
Vlismas wrote The Good Racist – a gently imflammatory title by his standards – as much to educate as to entertain, having correctly ascertained that prejudice is most often based on ignorance. His material here seeks to remove that obliviousness as an excuse by revealing the folly of much of what many South Africans have traditionally been taught and my encouraging intelligent thought and the questioning of perceived truths (including historical narratives about everything from the Voortrekkers to the discovery of DNA via Mahatma Gandhi).
Vlismas’ skills and experience as a comedian mean that the subject matter, researched in some depth, is delivered with style, intent and humour, with a decision to keep this version clear of too much swearing making it more accessible and allowing for easy processing of the information rather than being distracted by unnecessary edginess.
In the absence of the visuals that would draw the audience in (questions and answers and so on), Vlismas took a stand-and-deliver stance – not unlike the style employed by his friend and colleague Henry Rollins (another hyper-smart, angry, tattooed man) and put his audience through its intellectual paces. Some members of the crowd were, er, faster starters than others, but everyone seemed game for the tone an enthusiastic, happy Vlismas set on stage.
For comedy fans sick to death of the clichéd stand-up scenario – a sticky, smelly club crammed with aggressively tipsy punters wanting to take on a comic who has five or ten minutes to deliver his reflections on no more than five standard themes (air travel, car guards, marijuana, possibly sport …) – this show is comedy manna, food for the brain and the conscience rather than the simple stoking of cynicism. Does that make it particularly revolutionary or brave? Not particularly, though Vlismas’ willingess to admit to his own previously brainwashed status and to encourage such bizarrely unfashionable practices as reading books must be commended.
See The Good Racist in its full, technically operational status if or when you can, but know that the basis for the show’s effectiveness is not in extra production tricks but in the platform of fascinating knowledge compiled by its creator, and in Vlismas’ capacity to present his material – and its message – in a creative, compelling way.