Comedian John Vlismas must be pleasantly surprised by how many people are coming to see his new show, The End.
The studio theatre at Montecasino is far from full, but it’s not absolutely empty, which is quite something when you’re staging a show where the central topic is death, how it took his father, and how it’s coming for you too. There’s no arguing about that, of course, but you might not want to sit through an entire show about it.1
Vlismas is a loud and proud atheist — fuelled by research, not just gut instinct — and he believes death is the end of everything. There is no heaven or hell, he says, so death is the moment before a vast and endless expanse of “f*ck all”. But he’s prepared to be wrong, and does a lovely sketch about his own death and having to apologise to God for badmouthing him so vehemently.
Vlismas created the show after watching his father weaken and die in 2018. As he teased his mother across the deathbed, it confirmed that for many of us, humour is what keeps up going. It may be angry, bitter or caustic at first, but it’s a vital fight-back against loss and agonising pain.
Vlismas is brave, honest, cripplingly funny, admirably intelligent and utterly relentless.
He’s wicked with his audience too, mocking them as he draws them into the show. “That’s a joke — I’ll point them out for you,” he tells one hapless victim. He’s an expert at taking the platitudes people inanely say, or the things they do, and pointing out their utter absurdities.
The first half of The End is the theory of life, death and nature, and he jokes about parents being too cautious with their children. If your kids are stupid enough to have accidents, let them, he says, it’ll clean up the gene pool. At times it’s an entertaining and often surprising lecture as well as stand-up comedy.
“I don’t expect you all to come back after the interval,” he admits, and for once he’s serious.
But do go back, because it gets even better. The second half focuses on the final days of his father. It’s a messy truth, but there is no loss of dignity in the way Vlismas imitates his father’s stroke-destroyed attempts at speech and facial expressions, because obvious love colours his acerbic observations.
Death isn’t nicely choreographed like it is in the movies, he says, and silence falls as he describes the actual physical process of a body shutting down. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition, watching him being angry and vulnerable, yet also hilarious as he talks about the loss of his favourite person in the world.
It all reminds me of my own losing-a-lover experience, and much of it rekindles my friend’s memories of losing his own father. Which makes The End a show everyone can relate to. It could be cathartic, and it certainly is for Vlismas. There are moments of sombre stillness, and a few lines that will almost make you cry. But 90% of the time I was laughing with sheer delight and in recognition of the honest truth.
It’s important to put death in the spotlight and discover it’s fine to laugh about it. Except most people will choose not to. Some won’t go because they don’t frequent the theatre. Others deliberately avoid Vlismas because they can’t tolerate his swearing. The man can easily pack two fucks into every sentence, but it’s such a natural part of his speech that he’s not doing it for the shock factor. It would be more shocking if Vlismas didn’t swear. Others will stay away because they fear it may be morbid.
Front of house manager Darryl Evans tells me The End is selling nicely on weekend nights, but not faring well on Sundays. Maybe people are torn between going to church or going to watch a foul-mouthed atheist comedian, I suggest.
“God’s winning,” Evans quips. Which would amuse Vlismas enormously.
God — or the endless oblivion that might await us — will win every single time. Go and have a good guffaw before it claims you too. DM
The End runs at Montecasino’s Studio Theatre until June 2.
This Article Appeared on the Daily Maverick