Chris rocks up

Between having tea with Madiba, doing a bit of humanitarian work with Unicef and giving sold-out performances across the country touring American comedian Chris Rock found time to drop in on unsuspecting comedy fans at a Johannesburg restaurant on Sunday night.

John Vlismas, the host and organiser of the weekly comedy nights which have been running for seven years at Cool Runnings in Melville, was called by Rock’s local tour managers a few hours before the start of Sunday’s gig. They asked if they could bring the comedian over for an impromptu performance, on the condition that Vlismas not announce the visit to anyone.

“Everybody was flabbergasted,” recalls an excited Kiarin Pons, a patron who witnessed the surprise star visit.
“We paid R30 to see Chris Rock perform for about an hour-and-a-half.”

Pressed for details Pons admits to being too overwhelmed by the hysteria of it all to take in Rock’s set. “I remember he did a gag on how black wives treat their husbands differently from white wives, but nobody can remember anything about it because they were busy SMSing their friends to come and taking pictures on their cellphones. But once Chris Rock came in, they weren’t letting anybody else in.”

Vlismas reckons it was probably closer to 45 minutes, though “urban legend” bumped up the amount of time Rock spent there. The venue, he says, has developed a reputation among visiting comics, who often use it as a sounding board for new material. “For us it’s all about new material,” declares Vlismas, who has a one-man show coming up later this month. “We try to weed out the hacks.” Rock clearly passed the test.

United States comic Pauly Shore did a Cool Runnings impromptu for about 30 minutes when he was in the country last year and his compatriot, Mark Curry, arrived to play “two minutes” and wound up doing 40.

Cool Runnings is a Jamaican-themed restaurant and bar with a tacky faux-Caribbean feel. The area where the shows take place is basically a dingy basement with rows of wooden chairs. On a normal comedy night there are usually about 100 people in the pub. 

“The cool thing about it is that we didn’t bring Chris Rock to the club, he came to us - and that’s what the underground is about,” says Vlismas.

“The audience goes bananas because they think that we can pull off miracles.”

Rock is one of the most highly regarded comics of his generation and clearly the most popular, if his world record for the largest audience (in London) is anything to go by.

His penultimate show is tonight at Carnival City’s Big Top Arena in Johannesburg before he closes off at Sun City on Saturday.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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