By BRUCE DENNILL
The Grilling of a Lifetime: Casper de Vries / Grillmaster – John Vlismas / Parker’s Comedy & Jive, Montecasino, Johannesburg
A roast (or grill, if the name must be changed to satisfy some puerile pettiness) is defined as: “an event in which a specific individual, a guest of honour, is subjected to good-natured jokes at their expense intended to amuse the event’s wider audience.” That’s the theory, but as endless, painful examples have proved, most participants don’t understand the concept, and push their material beyond any notion of “good-natured”, making most such events banal, mud-slinging affairs marked by as much foul language as it takes to fill the gaps in the imagination of those delivering the alleged jokes.
The Savanna Comics’ Choice Award Grilling of a Lifetime, part of celebrating Casper De Vries’ Lifetime Achievement award, was packed to the rafters with the cursing most expected, but it was also, somehow warm, actually funny and even, at times, even reverent.
Much of this was to do with proper groundwork. As one of the grillers, Melt Sieberhagen commented before proceedings began that when comics fail to prepare for their slots, the results can be, if not utterly terrible, at least incredibly awkward – not the sort of experience an audience would willingly pay to see.
Happily, there were no such issues here, with grillmaster John Vlismas and a panel including Sieberhagen, Mark Banks, Schalk Bezuidenhout, Hannes Brummer and Monique Nortje had scripts trimmed of any fat and designed to include dozens of superficially nasty things that had most onlookers alternately gasping and guffawing before issuing clearly heartfelt declarations of respect and admiration for the work De Vries is famous for and the example he has provided.
Achieving this balance made the evening an important example of what South African can be – complex, culturally representative (though in this case, not entirely – as a number of observers pointed out, all the panellist were white and most of them were male), respectful (in a dark, twisted way) and, crucially, consistently hilarious.
While themes per grillee were limited – this guy was fat and Afrikaans; that guy was old and odd; that woman was from the East Rand (the cardinal sin, apparently) – they were considerably more creatively explored than the dross of crude, insincere race gags, general slagging off of all things South African and vague artlessness on offer at many less well-organised shows.
The goal of the evening was to pay tribute to an individual who has contributed a great deal to local comedy, and that was achieved. The pleasing peripheral effect was to suggest that the comedy community, bonded as it is in different ways, is a powerful cultural force and something worth investing in as a fan, even – or perhaps especially – if you have been disappointed before.