#BehindtheSelfie with... John Vlismas

This week we find out what's really going on behind the selfie with 'lord of the chance' and Loerie Awards MC of note John Vlismas, formally of Whacked Management and OGO Productions.
John Vlismas spends his time between worlds – his own and the one he shares with everyone else.

1. Where do you live, work and play?


I live in Johannesburg, in a central and undisclosed suburb. I work pretty much from wherever my laptop is.
I no longer have a bricks-and-mortar office – the teams I work with work collaboratively, but remotely. I don’t even own a car anymore.
I think owning the means of mobility is a bit dated – like a wristwatch that just tells you the time.

2. What’s your claim to fame?


Fame is a by-product of being part-narcissist, part-re-inventive and part-curious. I don’t think the entertainment market in SA is really big enough for fame to mean too much.

But I suppose what most people know about me is my stand-up comedy. It was my “day job” for 25 years. I say “was,” because the ratio is shifting as I drift towards a deadline I have given myself.

After a certain age, I don’t believe I’ll be relevant in mainstream comedy. I’ll always talk to people who want to listen to my material, but I don’t think imposing myself on increasingly younger crowds is very progressive.

3. Describe your career so far.


Very lucky, privileged and varied. I started off dressing pantomime actors backstage, then I dressed up as a tree to teach small kids about pollution in dusty KZN quadrangles under a boiling sun, and I’ve played the Royal Albert Hall.

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I’ve made and lost businesses, contributed to the structure of the comedy industry and lectured at business schools – so a grand and curious rollercoaster, with lots of turns.

4. Tell us a few of your favourite things.


The people I care about – at home and at work. Then “people” – as a subject. A cat called Custard. Art – much more important to human beings than most realise. Learning.

5. What do you love about your industry?


I don’t know what my industry is… I have a foot in comedy, one in strategic events, one in raising finance for… hang on, that’s three feet…

I like waking up with several screens running, I love watching effort become rewarding. I love watching new talent re-invent the business, I love understanding my place in the cycle.

I love designing a deal, and a piece of work that elegantly solves more than one problem at once.

6. Describe your average workday, if such a thing exists.


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  • Around 4:30am to 6:30am – study.
  • 7:30am – start work day: Skype/meet/travel/be on-site for production/host day-time events, etc.
  • From 5:30pm to 7pm, run or swim.
  • 7pm onwards – open club spots/corporate gigs/family time/TV/paint/rock self while crying as cat watches, bemused.

7. What are the tools of your trade?


Curiosity, empathy, ego, assorted psychopathology: insecurity, need for approval and ADD.

8. Who is getting it right in your industry?


Loyiso Gola, Anele Mdoda. Two of my favourite examples of talent, effort and focus.

9. List a few pain points the industry can improve on.


I’ve always struggled with the tension between entitlement and apathy in the comedy world. There are many armchair critics. But this is changing.

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I’ve seen great new artists who are avoiding the herd politics and carving out impressive careers for themselves.

10. What are you working on right now?


I’m getting my show, The Good Racist, ready for the Perth and Sydney Comedy Festivals. That is getting more topical by the day!

11. Tell us some of the buzzwords floating around in your industry at the moment, and some of the catchphrases you utter yourself.


I’m against buzzwords – they give amateurs confidence. In terms of mantras – on our fridge at home are two quotes: “Never, ever, ever give up” and “People don’t remember what you did, they remember how you made them feel” – where else would you get Winston Churchill and Maya Angelou in conversation?

12. Where and when do you have your best ideas?


It’s clichéd, but the shower seems to be an innovation hub of note.

13. What’s your secret talent/party trick?


Leaving quietly.

14. Are you a technophobe or a technophile?


Technophile, for sure. Technology isn’t really a separate thing, it’s a collective human expression of our intent to move forward, so shrinking away from it is like denying that you have a limb.

This is, of course, if you’re privileged to have access to technology. That’s a discussion for another time.

15. What would we find if we scrolled through your phone?


A very confusing mix of Google searches. Today so far – the Pound/Euro exchange; great white shark attacks; Webster dictionary’s definition of “nascent"; and the Henley Blackboard Learning portal.

Some WhatsApps to arrange a meeting with a former political leader and a law professor; a recent call to a Durban business partner about a festival we co-own; and a tweet I posted: “Gigive It Up, You’re Malosing This One, Minister.”

16. What advice would you give to newbies hoping to crack into the industry?


Stop talking about funny and be funny.
Whining is the sound an engine makes when it’s straining and not going anywhere. Also, and perhaps paradoxically, try not to take too much advice from other comics.
Listen to the crowd, they’ll teach a willing student everything they need to know.

Simple as that. Follow Vlismas on the following social media channels for more: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

*Interviewed by Leigh Andrews.

About Leigh Andrews

Leigh Andrews (@leigh_andrews) is Editor-in-Chief: Marketing & Media at Bizcommunity.com and one of our Lifestyle contributors. She is passionate about issues of inclusion, equality and diversity, the only SA finalist shortlisted for the Women in Marketing #WIMawards2017, and can be reached at ...
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