Fest 360°: A peek into the Life of Rob Van Vuuren

Rob van Vuuren performs in Life, a ‘demotivational talk’ as he calls it, at the National Arts Festival 2016, Grahamstown, July 1. CuePix/Greg Roxburgh.

Rob Van Vuuren grabs the mic, singing moments before the show starts. The energy he is about to bring to Life is settling in, whisking through his body. He’s gained focus and control over his space, something he’s done for over a decade, internalising the character he is about to perform (even if it is just himself). He looks at his audio visual team, “Good luck. And don’t fuck up!” he says before going back stage. It is all too familiar to him, and awfully funny to the rest of us. By Nadim Nyker.

Van Vuuren’s Life is unlike any stand-up comedy you’ve seen. In fact, it shouldn’t even be called stand up. His energy and focus throughout the show can be carried onto the stage of Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Prima Donna and while he’s at it, let him play Vince from Sam Shephard’s Buried Child. Life has been re-scripted and re-worked a thousand times, or so it seems, to get the perfect temperament.

Life sees Van Vuuren thrusting his crotch and prancing across the stage, his legs moving as fast as his words. Then he is leaning in and touching an overjoyed women’s neck – pleading with her on the questions of life. Indeed, it is an exhilarating and delightful piece of theatre.

Van Vuuren has a unique talent for painting pictures with words (it’s a cliché, but deserved). Ten minutes in and you’re already imagining him running around his house chasing his cock (male chicken), looking after the numerous pets his five-year-old daughter chose and falling in love with her as he explains the frustration of rolling up the pancakes (her socks) in the morning as he tries to get her to school on time.

Van Vuuren has a warning for his audience: life is out to get you. It is not inspirational quote, a selfie or a ‘keep calm’ quote. He goes on to talk about a time he felt like ending it all while watching a motivational speaker who ran The Great Wall of China. “I have done f*&k all with my life. What a kak idea. You don’t need to run everywhere. Get an Uber!” he says.

Van Vuuren presents the cycle of life in its most detailed everyday interactions, miming and mocking his way through every second. His ability to use physical theatre to tell stories separates him from other comedians. His considered delivery of the peaks and troughs makes comedy gold out of day to day adventures such as going to the Wynberg Home Affairs.

His rich and detailed storytelling is coupled with one-liners that add for an entertaining dynamic. The slowest things in the world according to him? Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address and “a hipster crying through his beard into his microbrewery until craft beer is exactly the right taste combination of pretentiousness and desperation”.

The audience plays a key role in the workings of the show. Characters start to develop that Van Vuuren goes back to. This time, we meet Harvey – a hearty old lady in the front row with meticulously styled curly hair and knitted blanket on her lap – who is asked for her advice throughout the show. Van Vuuren even pulled me in (I’m the scruffy guy you’d blame a fart on in an elevator).

As the show comes to an end, one has to appreciate the sentiments of Van Vuuren’s ordinarily beautiful life as he goes over and hugs Harvey.

“I don’t give a f*&k whether you get these jokes or not. I’m doing this for myself,” he says. Given his performance in Life, I’d say that he deserves to live it the way he likes.

Check out our 360° clip from the performance below: