South Africa, Life, etc

‘Mass Hysteria’ as SA comics cut out the middle man

By Mandy De Waal 19 June 2012

After being shafted by a local promoter, eight of South Africa’s funniest stand-up comics are taking a direct route to the laughs, in a pioneering move that sees them marketing and promoting their own show using the power of social media. Called Mass Hysteria, the tour includes Casper De Vries, Nik Rabinowitz, Marc Lottering, Eugene Khoza, Ndumiso Lindi, Tumi Morake, Mark Banks and John Vlismas. By MANDY DE WAAL

Have you heard the one about the comedy promoter who forgot to pay some of the country’s top stand-ups? 

No, they didn’t think it was funny either. Punch line? They got fed up and decided to go direct. In what John Vlismas calls a first for South Africa, a group of this country’s top comics are putting together a show for themselves and by themselves, using only the power of social media to promote it. “We were doing this big show – Bafunny Bafunny – with a promoter called Hunta Live. There was a problem last year and we ended up only getting paid after five months. This after I had gotten all the comics together and talked to all the sponsors to make sure we got paid. The same promoter wanted us to do the same show this year, and we put in a payment deadline which was missed,” says Vlismas, who is arguably one of the country’s most foul-mouthed, but funniest and smartest, stand-ups – in fact, the guy Pieter Dirk Uys dubbed “a blazing meteor”. (Ed’s note: John Vlismas produces a regular satirical podcast for iMaverick and Daily Maverick.)

The eight big names lined up for this year’s Bafunny Bafunny pulled out, but everyone was keen to still do a gig – they just wanted to get paid for making people laugh, and on time. “As someone who can’t eat excrement on a regular basis, I decided to look into putting a tour together without the promoter, and see how we could rearrange it so that the artists had a say in the production, and (could) benefit from great sales,” says Vlismas.

“We have done our maths and we are about to be the first company to run a tour with transparent books, and also an incentive to artists. This is a big step for local comedy,” he says. Vlismas, through his company Whacked Management, has booked The Teatro at Monte Casino from 11 to 14 July for Mass Hysteria, a heavyweight comedy jam that includes Casper De Vries, Nik Rabinowitz, Marc Lottering, Eugene Khoza, Ndumiso Lindi, Tumi Morake, Mark Banks and Vlismas – who refers to himself as “the thinking man’s scumbag”. 

 “Often the promoters have held all the power in South Africa. It is arse-about-face because artists don’t have the wherewithal to put money at risk and to do all the admin and that sort of thing,” Vlismas adds. But through Whacked Management, Vlismas has been acting as an agent, managing artists and putting on smaller one-man type shows, so this has very much been a logical step or, as Vlismas says, “the next big leap”.

Getting Casper de Vries on board was something of a coup, he says. But there’s been a great response from the comics, who are excited about the fact that this endeavour cuts out the middle-man and enables them to earn a bonus if they assist in the promotion of the show. 

“Casper doesn’t normally do line-up shows, but he’s doing this one with us because he loves the way we’re going about it,” says Vlismas, who adds that tour is a bit like Kony2012, except that there’s no Joseph Kony with his visitations by a multi-national host of 13 spirits. Oh, and there’s also a shortage of American do-gooders wanting to make the leader disappear with a sparkling, Glee-inspired campaign. But still.

“I guess you could call it Comedy2012, because it is going to change the way promoters work locally. This will set a precedent promoters won’t like, and their quite large margins will start to shrink, albeit to a more realistic level. We don’t mind promoters, but they shouldn’t be buying crayfish on our budget,” says Vlismas.

This is good news for the local comedy market, which has grown significantly over the past few years – thanks to the internet and mobile surfing, which has enabled a much wider audience to gain access to the funny stuff and to become more comedy literate. “There is an enormous amount of people going online and becoming more discerning. There is a band of young South Africans who have discovered their own identity and that they love to love, so we find that there is an enormous appetite for comedy,” Vlismas adds.

Although Mass Hysteria will have some political overtones, there’s nothing politically correct about it, including the fact that there’s a woman in the eight-person act. “In the past we’ve tried to push female comedy, but for all the wrong reasons. We were just pushing female comics to the front because they were women. But now Tumi (Morake) – well, when you watch her, you will see that her gender becomes completely irrelevant.”

The choice to use Morake was based on her talent alone, Vlismas is adamant. Morake brought the house down at last year’s SA Comic’s Choice Awards when the buxom stand-up walked across the stage saying: “I used to be a small girl. I used to be a size 34, but then I woke up one day and decided ‘Fuck it I’m hungry’. It just pisses me off when black women are in denial, and they say: ‘This is an African body’. If you had an African body you’d be a size zero because Africa is starving… bitch.”

“Tumi’s incredibly ballsy. In this country we need strong women more and more, and these strong female figures are becoming an increasingly familiar sight in South Africa. What makes Tumi funny is that she is quite hardcore and in your face, but again, she has the ability to be completely filthy but with decisive intellect – and that’s my favourite kind of filth,” Vlismas says.

Ndumiso Lindi, who comes from Zwelitsha, a small township next to King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape, is another comic to look out for during the show. “What interests me about Ndumiso is that he is an incredibly traditional guy who straddles that fine line between being very true to his traditional roots and being completely contemporary,” Vlismas observes.

In what could be seen as an attempt to pander to the local set, Vlismas says this country sports a high-quality audience. Apparently we’re well read, brave, not too squeamish and happy to laugh at ourselves and each other, as long as our penises are neatly tucked away. 

And God knows, after an intense political period that has included Bheki Cele crying and Tony Yengeni asking Blade Nzimande, “Who the fuck do you think you are?” South Africans need to laugh. That’s because we always believed that Nzimande knew exactly who the fuck he was, but with Zuma’s second coming ,everything seems to have gone awry.

Vlismas says the show is called Mass Hysteria because everyone in the show gets a portfolio – similar to what happens in that big hysterical screaming match otherwise known as parliament. 

“In South Africa we don’t seem to have another mode. Whether it is the president’s penis or another letter from Steve Hofmeyr, we go straight to hysteria – let’s march, let’s riot. It’s the toll roads, it’s the penis. But I’m wondering if it is really the toll roads and the penis, or if we just love to scream and march,” laughs Vlismas. 

Expect the unexpected, in other words. But there’s one thing we can confirm through exhaustive investigative work: Mass Hysteria does not, and will never, include Steve Hofmeyr in its line-up. Promise. DM

Read more:

  • Everything you need to know about Mass Hysteria
  • Watch Tumi Morake at the Comics Choice Awards
  • Comedian Mark Banks explains: Where does funny live?

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