We chatted to two icons of the comedy world to find out what really makes them tick – it’s a funny business

Currently the face of Nedbank’s Savvy packages, Eugene is becoming a familiar sight. He says his launch into comedy was pure fluke; in fact he insists he’s never been really good at one thing in particular. In 2005, he stood up for an open mic night at Horror Café and instead of the usual five minutes, Eugene managed to remain on stage for 15 minutes.
He doesn’t view himself as a funny guy; in fact he says his wife doesn’t find him funny at all. But, his comedy is all about reading people – Eugene says most people are open to anything, so if he picks a subject like the budget speech to talk about, they’ll listen and most often, laugh. He says the trick is to pleasantly surprise people. He’s always been observant, and says that being a middle child probably helped.
As a teenager, Eugene wanted to be on radio. He also considered becoming a doctor because his mom was a nurse, but a lack of passion and resources put an end to the ambition before it began. After working at a number of casual jobs, from a CD store to a parking lot, Eugene’s been on TV and radio, as well as the comedy circuit.

His ability to really look inside people and at life has brought about an interesting life philosophy. Eugene says that you are going to bump into yourself at some stage in your life – and you need to be ready when that happens. He believes most people don’t invest enough time getting to know who they really are; instead they waste time trying to be what they think they should be. He says there’s nothing new under the sun and you can try to avoid yourself all you want, but it’s simply not going to happen. Instead of the statement ‘I am what I am, take it or leave it’, Eugene is a touch more philosophical – he feels it’s important to accept yourself and your state of mind for what it is right now.
Eugene’s mom was an inspiration and motivation – he says she always stuck to her true self even when it was hard. She never judged and never doubted him and now she’s interested in what he does, but not necessarily how he does it. He says he’s easily influenced, but in a good way. Spending time speaking to people one-on-one is inspiring; as is every new day. With his current career, he has many opportunities to have new experiences, something he’s grateful for. But his belief in life remains relatively laissez-faire and he’s enjoying the journey he’s currently on.

Eugene’s particular brand of humour has certainly tickled the fancy of South Africans. His ability to read people – he says everyone wears an invisible label, you just need to know how to see it – means that he doesn’t write much of his material down. He basically offers up his opinion on a subject, based on where he is in his life at any given time. He does spend around four months allowing his observations and opinions to marinate before presenting new material to the public at large, but says too much preparation is bad for his mindset, because comedy is an interaction.

When on tour, his preparation generally involves having fun – especially when he’s touring with fellow comedians. So, instead of nervously pacing around the room before a show, you’re more likely to catch Eugene on a playstation or some similar ‘mindless’ activity. He says he never gets nervous – he finds nerves, regret, doubt and fear to be a total waste of time.
Even though Eugene says there’s nothing he hasn’t done yet that he’d still like to do in life, there’s no doubt he’ll be on the scene for many years to come.

Zimbabwean born John Vlismas recently spoke to young entrepreneurs through Nedbank about how he’s made a business out of his career. John, dubbed by some as ‘the most offensive man in SA’, is certainly an acquired taste – you either love him or hate him. And that’s the way he likes it. John says that the word offensive is designed by bigots – people who are afraid of the truth. Fluffy humour doesn’t do it for him.
John sees himself as an observer and someone with empathy. Although many comedians are known to suffer from depression, as recently highlighted with the death of Robin Williams, John says he’s gone through his fair share of issues, but doesn’t see himself as a sufferer. On the subject of EQ, something all good observers have, he says that everyone has EQ, but most people turn it off. John’s very liberal and is always willing to give someone a chance; he also thinks everyone is capable of creativity; they just need to turn on their EQ to tap in to the creative space.

On stand up comedy, John admits it’s tough and you never truly feel that you’ve arrived. Audiences differ from night to night and being able to read the crowd is essential. John got his first break while he was at Technikon in Durban – through bar owner Hannelie Coetzee who was one of his first fans. He spent his first two years as a comedian dealing with rejection and although he still gets nervous before a show, he’s learned to channel the nerves and use them to calm himself down. Being on stage helps him to focus and let go of everything else that’s going on in his life.

In terms of preparation for his shows, John says he’s become more organised over the years, but most of his material remains in his head – he creates a mind map of ideas, with a few notes to remind him of the tangents. But, when it comes to stand up, it’s about 60% preparation and 40% chaos theory – reading the audience and being alive to where you are in the moment.
John admits he loves hecklers, but within limits. A good heckler will always help you up your game, but if there’s a drunk or high person who isn’t really funny and just won’t stop, it ruins the show for everyone. It’s important, however, not to get flustered or angry, which can be hard at times. Above all, though, John is grateful for his audience – their support and reactions are what fuel him.

Aside from doing his own comedy shows, John runs a production company with his life partner, supporting other comedians as well as doing corporate events, comedy central and theatre. He wanted to get back into production and more specifically, fix things he doesn’t like in the production arena.
One of his passions is unique talent – and when a unique talent dies, that’s something that really breaks him – he admits he’s not a great person to be around following the death of someone he feels is truly unique human being; artists Braam Kruger and Robert Hodgins are two examples. John’s mission is to document SA comedy properly and create top end productions that are new and fresh. Keeping it in the family, John’s now 13-year old daughter sometimes accompanies him to his gigs and works as a runner. He tries to spend as much time as possible with his family and is grateful for the support and understanding he receives, especially in light of the late nights his job demands.

The Nedbank Savvy bundle offering is aimed at providing a one-stop banking solution for the middle market segment. The offering comes with several value added services such as the Greenbacks Rewards Programme and first-to-market innovations including MyFinancialLife™, the Nedbank App Suite™, which makes it safe and easy for clients to transact anytime, anywhere – and Approve-it™ ensuring a secure online banking client experience. It provides great-value banking and a choice of distinct client experiences. The Nedbank ‘Make your Savvy life Happen’ campaign promotes lifestyle enablement and continues to elicit conversations amongst consumers through a distinct and humorous slant that resonates with savvists whose lifestyles are always about making informed decisions in a fast ever changing world.
It’s an award-winning concept, too. The Make your Savvy Life Happen’ campaign continues to dominate conversations amongst consumers and marketing experts – distinct and humorous slant aimed at not only growing our middle market client base but also enabling savvists to truly connect with the Nedbank brand like never before. Nedbank’s ‘Make your Savvy Life Happen’ marketing campaign has spawned a listing in the Top 10 Millward Brown’s Best Liked Ads in 2013, (Eugene ‘want it’ and Approve It), an Apex Bronze Award for creative excellence and a Bronze Loerie Award in the Outdoor Media category for the Nedbank ‘Savvy’ Water Billboard.