In Conversation with John Kearns
Double Edinburgh Comedy Award winner, John Kearns, took some time to chat with us ahead of his upcoming show in Brighton on the 13th March 2020. He’s bringing his newest show, Double Take and Fade Away, to the city as part of his biggest tour yet!
We discussed how he developed a love for both comedy and Brighton, who has inspired him in his career, how it feels to have won the awards he has, and some of the most exciting things in his career – past, present, and future! Get ready to learn more about the man behind this kooky character when he pops out the fake teeth and loses the wig for our candid conversation.
What’s a day in the life of John Kearns like?
Well, it varies dramatically with employment. Last week I spent 8 hours in a car driving to and from Leeds, and then the next day I spent about 5 hours on a train going to Birmingham, so there’s a lot of travel! I usually get woken up by, well, I live above a shop, so, he’s got a doorbell to go into his shop for some reason, so I usually get woken up by that. Or, my landlord likes to have builders and plumbers come round without telling me, so usually there’s somebody in my hallway that I, well, I have no idea who they are, so that’s always a good start to the day! Then probably some cornflakes, and then I try, well I think about going to the gym – you know it’s a very boring existence to be perfectly honest. The great thing about this game, though, is that you might get a call that completely changes your life, so I spend a lot of time waiting for those as well.
Is comedy your day job?
It is, yeah! When I graduated from university I got a job, did a certain amount of jobs for about 6 or 7 years, and then I went full time as a comedian in 2013. I have been a full time comedian for about 7 years now which is the longest job I’ve ever had.
Why did you decide to get into comedy and what was your big break?
Well I always wanted to do it ever since I was a kid really. Just, you know, like 14/15 years old and you’re discovering sitcoms, I didn’t know what stand-up comedy was, so I was discovering what that is. It’s not that you think you want to give this a go, it’s just something you really really love. Foolishly, no one got in my way – my parents are very supportive. I gave it a go at university and I was lucky enough to grow up in London so whilst I had my day jobs I could live at home and gig in the evenings. My breakthrough was, I suppose, when I won an award in Edinburgh in 2013 – it was the Best Newcomer Award. Basically you win a cheque, so I thought well, let’s just give this a go for a year, and I’ve been saying that ever since! You can’t plan too much in this line of work.
How does it feel to be the only person to have won Edinburgh’s Best Newcomer Award, directly followed by their award for Best Show the year after?
I was chuffed! It was a long time ago now, so I’m very proud of it and all that but awards are like full stops. You get awarded for what you’ve done, and you know, as ever, you have to think about what’s ahead of you, what you want to do, and what you’re going to do next. The thing is, my style of comedy or my act is quite, Socratic I suppose, in that it’s not like I won these awards and anyone knew what to do with me, and everyone went ‘Ah, well, we should just put this on television now!’. I am very proud of them, but it was never an aim, you don’t aim to get these things, but I was chuffed that it happened! But, you know, you can’t pay your rent talking about awards you won 5 years ago.
Is this your biggest tour yet?
Yeah, it’s about 30 dates – I did my first tour a couple of years ago and I think that was about 20 dates. I’ve gone to new places – I’m in Newcastle on Saturday and I’ve never been to Newcastle, Cardiff too, never been there. Brighton I’ve been many, many times! I was in Brighton two weeks ago so I know what to expect from the crowd.
So, what’s your favourite thing about Brighton?
Well, my gran always wanted to move to Brighton, so in my head as a kid growing up Brighton was this, like, idyllic place. Whenever we did go my dad would take me to this fish and chip shop which is on the front near the i360 [he tried for a while to think of the name of the chippy but couldn’t remember]. I have fond memories of fish and chips on the seafront. I know it’s a cliché but clichés are there for a reason. I like the lanes as well, I bought some glasses in the lanes once – I went mad and spent £300! Those days are long gone…
See John in action in the video above
What do you get nervous about when you go on tour?
Hmm.. that’s a good question. To be honest, I’m less nervous because no matter how many people are there, you know they’re there to see you. Whereas when you’re going to a gig and it’s like, you know, there’s four acts at a comedy night, you think ‘Well, will they like me?’ and you get a bit nervous about that because you think ‘Am I suited to the club?’. You don’t know who your audience are – there could be a massive stag do in, there could be an office party that, you know, all of them don’t want to be there, but the thing with the tour is that it’s all concentrated in that you kind of know what the audience are going to be like a little bit more.
Also, you can perform a show. My show’s about an hour to 70 minutes, and for the style of what I do it’s a much better version of me than, say, 10 or 20 [minutes] is. So, in many ways it’s less nerve-wracking. I mean obviously you hope people are there, otherwise you turn up at the venue thinking ‘Ummm… I’ve paid a lot of money to be here…’ which is not a career! There’s obvious things but the truthful answer is that is it less nerve-wracking than gigging.
Who have been your biggest inspirations that led you to this career path?
I loved Robin Williams growing up. It sounds so silly but when you’re young and you watch Steve Martin and Robin Williams, I didn’t realise that they were comedians – I thought they were film stars. So then when you see Robin Williams’ DVD out it’s like ‘What? He does stand-up?’. Steve Martin wrote a book called Born Standing Up which is a phenomenal account of him becoming a comedian. Also some British acts, of course, people like Vic and Bob, and Eddie Izzard.
Sitcoms were very important growing up like Only Fools and Horses. John Sullivan, the writer of that, is one of my biggest inspirations and heroes. So, you know, it’s a whole menagerie of people. It’s the people that you learn about when you’re 12 years old and you’re just kind of working out what you like and who you are, and you’re trying to make a bit of an identity about yourself – mine was comedy. I just loved reading scripts and all that, so my 12 year old self would be surprised but I think chuffed about what he’s doing now.
You’ve got a following on social media, so do you have to deal with a lot of online trolls? How do you handle them?
No is the short answer. I mean, I don’t have a huge social media following. If I’ve done something like Cats Does Countdown, you know, you’re obviously going to get people going ‘That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen!’, but I just don’t look at it. I know that sounds silly but when I know the episode is going out I Tweet about it and then I just don’t look at my mentions for three days and never scroll down and that’s it. I never see it. I don’t understand when people engage in it, but I’m not very social – you know I’ve got Twitter but that’s it. I don’t really talk to people on it – if someone says ‘Nice gig’ I’ll say ‘Thank you very much’.
Usually after a gig I’ll check it because I think ‘Well, you know, if 80 people have come out to see me and someone says a nice thing then I need to obviously say thank you’. Whenever I’ve done anything on television I just go ‘Right, well, I’m just not going to look at that’ so I’ve got no idea, I’m not the best person to ask [about dealing with trolls]! I’m coming from a position that is very niche – maybe once a year 10 people might say something. I’m aware that people go through a lot worse and it’s a much bigger problem. I don’t know if I’m the best person to give advice on how to deal with it. It’s like ‘Of course you can ignore it John, you get about 3 mentions per year where someone goes ‘oh that was crap!’’ and if anything it’s probably true. [I said no of course not] – no three times a year I am crap – I’m only human!!
What’s your most exciting career moment/project you’ve worked on?
Well you know, when I won those awards! In a month’s time I’m going to the Melbourne Comedy Festival and doing some shows in Sydney, so, you know, you get to travel to parts of the world that would I have gone to if I had carried on doing my day job? – I don’t know. I’ve gigged all around the world. There are so many examples and incidents where you think ‘what the hell am I doing here?’, or, ‘how have I ended up here?’. Like, I’ve had to walk out in front of, I don’t know, 1000 people in Rotterdam, and you feel like… ‘why…? This shouldn’t be happening?’.
You’ve reminded me to be more excited about my career because most of the time I’m either panicking about how I’ve ended up in a certain situation or that it won’t last and I’m always worrying about tomorrow. You’ve actually reminded me to be more in the moment and to get excited, so thank you!
What can you tell us about your new show that you’re bringing to Brighton next month?
The show is called Double Take and Fade Away, and… what is it about? It’s basically about… well it starts with me singing a song and it ends with me flying away. I hate magical realism in books, can’t stand it as a genre, and yet my style seems to be, as I’ve just kind of shown, a bit like that. You know, by the end I’m flying, I’m flying everywhere (obviously I’m not flying but I’m just telling everyone I’m flying). I get thrown off course by a Nigella Lawson recipe that sends me spiralling. It’s about feelings and flying and… I don’t know. I mean, basically, if you keep a show moving, an audience doesn’t stop to think about what it’s about. As long as you keep momentum, that’s all it is – comedy is just rhythm and momentum. It doesn’t really matter what the content is.
Anything else you’d like to add?
My great support act, Sam Fletcher, will be with me. He’s fantastic. He’s a comedy magician and he’s brilliant. I just love gigging in Brighton, it’s always one marked in the diary like a… well not a homecoming because I’ve never lived there, but it’s certainly one I look forward to!
John Kearns is bringing his latest show Double Take and Fade Away to Brighton Komedia on Friday 13th March. For tickets please visit https://www.ents24.com/uk/tour-dates/john-kearns
Featured image: © John Kearns