Edinburgh Review: John Kearns

Voodoo Rooms


My friend says that John Kearns is a genius on a par with Samuel Beckett. He really is very good, but I don’t think he is quite that good. But don't listen to me, go and see his latest show and make up your own minds.

After winning the Foster’s Best Newcomer Award last year with a terrific statement of intent Kearns has returned to the same sweaty room on the Free Fringe with a show that refines his process. He still has the Dick Emery dodgy vicar teeth, monastic wig and speccy glasses (oh, actually those are his normal glasses) but there is less in the way of excessively silly costumes. There is also less in the way of audience participation here, which can feel like padding. Instead there is more thought and philosophising on the nature of comedy. As if success has made Kearns think more about what he does. The daft-as-a-brush appearance cloaks some serious head-scratching.

Following an opening quote about a joke existing in space and time (I think it's Seinfeld, but don't quote me) Kearns proceeds to explore and pick at this theme, occasionally pulling back a curtain and looking out of the window. When it comes to a joke a second too early, a second too late and you’ve missed your moment. The show is called “Shtick” and I guess that’s what it is about – the shtick that makes or breaks a stand-up. What is the personality that one adopts onstage all about? Why does one put dodgy gnashers in one's mouth and a monk's rug on one's head? It is also about the simple pleasures disappearing from modern life, such as using a pencil up until it is a tiny stub.

Kearns also muses on his own position in comedy. It’s a real job now, with forms to fill out and put in the post, but he behaves as if he can’t quite believe it. He hasn’t produced any flyers, the picture above this review promoting the show bears no relation to the show. “You are watching a man make himself a living” he says with an air of clownish disbelief. Why do we watch people make fools of themselves? Is it to see our own absurdity reflected back at us?

To go into too much detail would debunk the fun and sheer gay abandon on display here. But as well as being immaculately structured and performed, there are also some proper jokes. Not that the four young women in the front row got many of them the day I saw the show. I do think you have to be a bit comedy-literate to really appreciate Kearns or at least have a basic working knowledge of popular culture. But even if you aren’t you will like his anecdote about Russell Brand.  

My friend says that John Kearns is a genius on a par with Samuel Beckett. He really is very good, but I don’t think he is that good. Then again…

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