Casper de Vries becomes a team player with ‘Mass Hysteria’

Casper de Vries becomes a team player with ‘Mass Hysteria’


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PETER TROMP spoke to comedian CASPER DE VRIES, who will appear in the comedy showcase ‘Mass Hysteria’ at the Grand Arena next Saturday July 28 at 8pm along with the likes of Nik Rabinowitz, Marc Lottering, Mark Banks and John Vlismas.

You’re a comedian famed for going it alone, for doing your own thing. How were you convinced to be a part of ‘Mass Hysteria’?
I have been in contact with John Vlismas and we worked together on the first Comic’s Choice Awards. So when he asked me to be part of ‘Mass Hysteria’, I accepted without hesitation, because I know his productions are extremely professional and the comedians he assembled are all people I admire and I find them very funny. It could therefore be nothing but a successful run. I also thought it to be a great challenge and a lot of fun to perform solely in English, which is a first.

Tell us more about your title in the show of “Minister Van Twitter”. What does it imply exactly?
I asked John the very same question, because just like actual government, you don’t choose your own portfolio, one is assigned to you. John’s answer was that I am very savvy with all social media. I have a lot of followers on both Twitter and Facebook. I do talk about it in the show as well, so it’s not only a title, but I use it as a platform to talk about this phenomenon called Twitter.

Who are your chief comedic inspirations and influences?
Because of the fact that my mother is Dutch, I have been exposed to a lot of Dutch cabaret, which is a lot like one-man-shows or stand-up as we define it here. The Dutch are leaders in this field and that has really influenced me. I have also performed in Holland, although I’ve never performed solely in Dutch, which is something I really want to do one day because I can speak Dutch quite fluently. Other influences are people like Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais, Billy Crystal, Tim Minchin, Robin Williams and many more who not only inspire me, but also confirm that what I do is not that bad and that I am on the right path. It is easy to see that I am inspired by theatre. I studied in the theatre environment so I truly love the theatrics of performing, hence you will always find that there are a couple of wow-moments in a show like the screens where some of my characters talk to each other or the way that certain props or décor functions. I’m talking about my own one man shows now. It is therefore not just a chair and a microphone, but a full-blown theatre production that costs a lot of money, especially on tour, but it gives me lots of satisfaction. I can’t see myself as just a stand-up comedian. That would be just too boring. That’s why I use all those theatrics, even if most people don’t care for it; I love it.

When did you realise for the first time that people found you funny, and when did it dawn upon you that you could make it your career?
For some strange reason it is still unknown to me. Teachers and the like wanted to tame or scold me when I made people laugh at primary school. I could never understand that. Maybe it was too observational, maybe it was too close to home. I don’t know what I said, but I remember that a couple of them weren’t impressed. Some of them however laughed and found me to be funny and actually sent me around from class to class to perform either a sketch or read from a book. I found that it generated either a negative or positive response when I did something, but I like humour and I like to laugh and laugh at myself and other people. My main influence and love is actually theatre and not comedy, even though comedy seems to be the only thing I’m asked to do. I would love to do a serious drama as well. Maybe it will work if I do it overseas where no-one knows me. I remember Jim Carey once doing a serious film before being known as the master comedic actor that he is. He was so amazingly good as a serious actor. Therefore there is always some seriousness behind all the funny business.

Q5: You don’t really have an easily classifiable brand or style of humour. How would you describe your comedy, and what inspires it?
I have always tried from the very beginning to do shows that can be watched again in 10 or 20 year’s time. I think I have mainly achieved that, because my very first DVD, which was released in 1997, is still selling. I started doing shows in 1986, but my first one-man show where I was without a proper band was ‘Walgwors’ in 1997. Universal topics and history fascinate me. That is what I always talk about in my shows. The human race and how we live and perceive life. You can’t really repeat jokes from the shows to your friends, because there aren’t any. You have to come see and understand it. I think that makes it unique.

I understand you are a huge movie buff. What are your all time favourite comedic movies?
If you look at some of my television work, you will see the influence of send-up movies in that. From early on in my life I liked things like ‘Flying High’ and ‘Naked Gun’ and all those types of movies. I still find today’s equivalent funny, but unfortunately the standard isn’t the same. It fluctuates. All-time favourite movies of mine is more in the writing and acting part of movies. Movies such as ‘What’s up doc?’ After all these years it’s still very funny. Any Woody Allen comedy is extremely clever and funny to me. ‘Beverly Hills Cop’, ‘Midnight Run’. Those movies with a little bit of an edge still remain classics in my book.

Mass Hysteria is aimed particularly at the fraught political landscape in South Africa. Why is it that politicians make for such easy targets for comedians?
You’ll find that ‘Mass Hysteria’ isn’t actually a political show as such. The topics that are discussed in the show by the various comedians are not really political. I think it was just a great umbrella for John Vlismas to join us all together under. Sometimes a politician f***s up and it is a worldwide phenomenon and thus they make easy targets, because of their public standing. In that way it is very easy to make a joke. Take ‘The Daily Show’ or ‘Colbert Report’ for instance on American television to see exactly how funny politics can be. You can devote a whole hour to just politics. People can then laugh for 60 minutes and it’s a global thing that politicians are subject-matter for comedians.

Do you have any particular public figures in your comedic crosshairs?
No, not really. I believe when it comes to comedy one should not be biased and as far as politics are concerned I don’t belong to a political party or philosophy and that way it becomes very fair (I think) to joke about anyone or anything when the situation calls for it. So I won’t do a joke about Malema just because his name is mentioned a lot. That’s too easy. So I actually steer clear of current politics in a way. Before 1994 , especially the 1980s, when I was a student and started ‘mybcareer’ (1986), one couldn’t help but be involved in political matters because our country was headed in the wrong direction, but now things have changed and comedy has also found a new path to take.

You’re not someone that shies away from controversy. What inspires this fearlessness on your part?
It’s very simple. It is the truth that makes you fearless. If you know the truth it will set you free. You have an instinctive urge to share the truth with people. You want them to laugh at it and share the intricacies of life and implications of what we have done in the past. All of those things are things that should be shared. If people don’t want to hear that or are too stupid to understand it or too naïve to process it, they are welcome to just stay away, but I won’t shut my mouth. The one principal that I strongly believe in is “do to others what they do unto you”. So if some idiot says something to or about me then I will respond to show him exactly how much of an idiot he or she is. Sometimes the best answer to a stupid remark is to ignore it, because the sad truth is that a lot of lonely people out there crave for some attention.

Do you have anything lined up for Cape Town after ‘Mass Hysteria’?
Oh yes! Cape Town can look forward to the return season of ‘Vark In Hel’ at the Arscape Opera House from November 15 to 24. It is one of the shows I enjoy doing the most, because my children, Halfrida and Kent (a German Sheperd and Township-Special) participate in the show. It’s like bring-your-children-to-work-day for me. They are really fantastic and sometimes actually steal the show. It is something one shouldn’t be surprised by in SA, when someone steals something, even if it is a show.

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