Comic who knows what’s what
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Rob van Vuuren – WHATWHAT
DIRECTOR: Tara Notcutt
CAST: Rob van Vuuren
VENUE: St Andrew’s Hall
Rob van Vuuren has a whatwhat.
But so do you. And Australia. And France. Not a je ne sais quoi. A whatwhat. I know what you’re thinking: everyone has a what? According to the multi-award-winning comedian and actor, every culture and creed has a whatwhat – that thing that you can’t really put into words even though you know it’s there. The thing that makes you, you.
It’s “the indefinable”, Van Vuuren cheekily tells the packed Hall. But he says this only after he has thrilled a mostly young audience by explaining that he only began researching the etymology of whatwhat once he’d decided to name his show that. Oh – every time he says the word “research” this self-diagnosed “whatwhat expert” launches into an aggressive synchronised dance-like jig and you almost expect him to end with spirit fingers (when a person brings his or her hands close to the face with the fingers outstretched, and wiggles them)!
So the show starts with some sexual innuendo, a lot of “hard” segueways and moves into telling the story of everything that has happened in his life since he last did a one-man show. It’s obvious some of these stories are tall tales, but they are rooted in his real life, which is refreshing. This comic talks about his dog, Bella, a pet, he discovers, that is “an escape artist.”
Then he tells us about his travels abroad – where he found the whatwhat of other countries – and even lets us in on his personal anguish. Like the stupid questions people ask him and his wife once they learn the couple adopted a child. These stories are not only very funny, they are also very smart. Not intelligent to the point of alienation, though. If you don’t know who dance icon Martha Graham is, he will tell you. And even show you.
That’s right! Not only is there traditional comedy in Whatwhat, there is also a segment for interpretive dance. One minute he’s teasing someone in the audience and the next, the light has changed to a blue tinge and he’s up in the air, leaping from one spot to another, face as serious as ever, and the audience is in stitches. Whatwhat has some of the most evocative use of lighting. It’s particularly effective when Van Vuuren begins to talk about his grandmother.
With nothing but a spotlight burning, a very serious moment is raised in an otherwise silly set-up. But it’s tender instead of sombre, has moments where it’s okay to chuckle instead of cackle and brilliantly adds a “why?” to the whatwhat. This is obviously a risk for a comedian, but one that pays off. It’s shortly after this segment that the one-hour show should end.
But, Van Vuuren surprisingly starts frantically saying he “f***ed up the vibe” and begins looking for an ending that won’t have audience members “pissed off” because there’s no punchline. Then he recaps the show. Cool. But he doesn’t stop there.
A whole new sketch that personifies social media drags on and on and on. Although he manages to tie it all up together again, as the seasoned professional he is, it comes off as cheap and indulgent and doesn’t complement the sheer whatwhat of the hour he performed before he brought the social media aspect in.