Opinion: John Kearns – The Early Years

John Kearns

Jack De'Ath, of comedy promoters Laugh Out London, was one of the people who identified the oddball talents of Foster's Award winner John Kearns before he received much wider public acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival and beyond. In this piece, first published on the Laugh Out London website, De'Ath remembers the early anarchic, chaotic gigs. For more information about forthcoming Laugh Out London events click here.


In April 2011 we attended a gig called “The Giggling Gibbon” at The Compass pub in Angel (don’t look for it, it’s closed now). We were there to record a podcast. The gig was sparsely attended but enjoyable none the less. I’ve been to 100’s of gigs as a performer, promoter and an audience member since arriving in London but this one sticks in my mind as the first time I saw John Kearns.

He spent his set pretending he was the unsuspecting star of a “This is your life” style ruse climaxing in repeatedly shouting “filthy Karen” at a member of the audience. I’d only recently arrived in London and it was probably one on of the first comedy gigs I’d attended, so we were quite taken aback by John. There was slight sense of danger in the air and it was exciting.

We saw John pop up on various bills across London, but particularly at Adam Larter’s Weirdos nights in Kings Cross. In December 2012 Kearns took the lead in Weirdos production of the Disney film Hook as Peter Banning, the “shit dad” who didn’t know he was actually Peter Pan. Kearns’ performance was actually pretty subtle, well in comparison to the lunacy that every other character in the production. John’s ability to hold back and give others the laugh was quite something. (I still think it’s a thing of wonder, see below for the whole 2 hour production on YouTube)

Over the next year the monks wig and the false teeth emerged. “They slow down my delivery as I’m trying to stop them flying out when I talk”* he told me once. Appearing on Friday nights at the Leicester Square Theatre run of curated Weirdos gigs (later to become “C$R$E$A$M”) Kearns’ style developed into that which we are familiar with today. The spine of “Sight Gags for Perverts”, his 2013 best newcomer award winning show, started here. Stories about his trip to Berlin, his thoughts on sausage dogs and fixing an invisible shower all emerged over the months.

One of these Friday nights there was a young girl in the audience texting her friends during John’s set. He broke character, took his wig off and removed his teeth.
“I know that this isn’t the kind of comedy you enjoy, and that’s fine. It’s not for you, and that’s ok. But please don’t text your friends during it, please at least pretend to pay attention… take this seriously.” **
As soon as John finished the sentence he donned his wig and put his teeth back in and carried on as if it was the most natural thing in the world, leaving everybody in the room apart form the texting girl in hysterics.

In April 2013 Laugh Out London celebrated it’s 2nd birthday with a over the top gig in Angel. We had booked Stewart Lee and the “Canadian loon”  Tony Law was headlining. We booked John as soon as we got Stew, who at the time had just launched The Alternative Comedy Experience on Comedy Central. We were somewhat hoping to become kingmakers. Sadly when John went on first Stew hadn’t arrived yet. John spent a large part of his set slapping the microphone and screaming “STEW?! WHERE ARE YOU STEW?! I WANNA GET ON TELLY!”. It may be the finest set I’ve ever seen.


His Edinburgh debut “Sight Gags for Perverts” was a deserved success due to word of mouth and glowing reviews. I don’t know if John actually gave any flyers out, as everyday queues to get in overflowed down the street. John’s decision to stick to Free Fringe the following year rather than move from the Voodoo Rooms to a paid venue could be seen as a brave decision by some, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. In previews for “Shitck” the essential elements of Kearns’ character are retained but refined, if “SGFP” was in part about what a comic was, then “Shitck” is about coming to terms with being one.

Without getting too sentimental It’s been exciting to watch him develop from that first gig at the Giggling Gibbon. With his own Radio 4 show just been commissioned, filming to start on a BBC sitcom I’m looking forward to watching what happens next. One thing I’m sure of is that he will do it his way, as he always has. Hey, one day he might even headline Laugh Out London.

John Kearns' Shitck is at the Soho theatre from 24th September until 18th October
Click here for tickets.

*This isn’t word for word what he said I’m sure, but you get the general gist.
** Again, I can’t remember the exact phrasing, no recording of this moment exists and I had been drinking.


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