John Kearns is still getting used to life as the next big thing. Until a couple of months ago, he still had a full-time day job. By day he would lead school parties and WI groups around the green benches and lobbies of Westminster as a tour guide at the Houses of Parliament. By night he would pack up a bag with among other things a tonsure wig, a toy horse, false teeth, a dress and a Bruce Springsteen CD and hit the circuit.
Kearns, 26, has been a darling of the alternative comedy scene for a few years. His breakthrough came in August when he took his first solo show to the Fringe and won the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer, joining Harry Hill, Tim Minchin and Sarah Millican on the list. Sight Gags for Perverts – the title comes from a review of Dr Strangelove – was a rough gem hidden away in the tiny back room of a bar at 5pm on the Free Fringe. Within days, queues were snaking down the stairs into the street. John Bishop and Steve Coogan jostled with former Comedy Award winners Tim Key, Russell Kane and Dr Brown to get in.
To see what? A young man in sticky-out teeth, some ratty wigs and, eventually, a pretty dress, bellowing out funk, pondering heartbreak, hotel bathrooms, and Woody Allen, and urging the audience to release their inner rock god. Part-gig, part-happening, part-breakdown, it looked like chaos but Kearns was just about in control. Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka is his touchstone but I and my fellow judges saw hints, too, of the anarchic spirit of Harry Hill, the properly funny bones of Tommy Cooper. "When I put on the dress I'm not commenting on identity," says Kearns. "It looks like a man who is trying to find his place in the world but it purely came out of thinking that putting a dress on and never referencing it would be amusing."
Born in London, Kearns got into comedy at the University at East Anglia where he co-founded the Laugh Out Loud club in Norwich and gigged regularly with his housemates, Pat Cahill, now a stand-up and Greg James, now a Radio 1 DJ. Upon graduating, Kearns spent nine months working as a guide in a full-size replica of Wallace and Gromit's house at the Science Museum. “It was,” he says, “a very odd time.” From there he moved to Parliament where injecting life into Lords debates for 10-year-olds helped to hone his comic persona. He quit in November when he was called up for a possible cameo in Vic and Bob's House of Fools and had to fit his visit to the set into his lunchbreak.
On Monday, he begins a three-week run of his winning show at Soho Theatre, London, followed by Melbourne Comedy Festival and a four-part series on Radio 4. Eventually, he would like to write a sitcom like Ever Decreasing Circles or Only Fools and Horses. "Something as warm and as funny as the shows I grew up with."
Before that, he will perform a new show at the same time, same place on the Free Fringe in August. "I've tried every style. You've got to chip away until find one." So what is his? "Robin Williams used the term 'legalised insanity' – if it was happening anywhere else but the stage, you'd think the person was nuts. Comedy is the only place where you will watch someone go mad, laugh, walk away and feel no guilt about that person's wellbeing. I like that idea."
Sight Gags for Perverts, Soho Theatre, London W1 (020 7478 0100) 13 to 31 January
Seinfeld has no time for slackers
Jerry Seinfeld did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit this week and aside from the many, many questions from sitcom fans about the "Soup Nazi", there were some interesting insights into his work ethic.
According to the comedian, who turns 60 in April, "Writer's block is a phony, made-up BS excuse for not doing your work." As for taking stand-up seriously, he said, "I am 90 per cent serious in my day. Comedy is no joke."
Wise words for budding comedians, there – although of course not everyone is blessed with being so gloriously funny the other 10 per cent of the time.
What I watched this week
What Would Beyoncé Do?
Luisa Omielan's high-energy show is an irresistible blast of feel-good fun with dancing and the best soundtrack in town thrown in.
House of Fools
Vic & Bob's new sitcom starts on BBC2 on Tuesday. It is odd, childish and quite unlike anything else on TV: I laughed as much as I groaned. Watch out for Matt Berry as their noisy neighbour.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Not officially a comedy but Leonardo DiCaprio trying to drive a Ferrari while dosed up on super-strength Quaaludes is one of the funniest set-pieces you will see at the cinema this year.
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- Actors And Actresses
- Harry Hill
- Lance Reddick
- Male Actors
- Steve Coogan
- Styles And Clothes
- Tommy Cooper