John Kearns: Shtick | Review by Steve Bennett
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John Kearns: Shtick

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s proof that the Edinburgh Fringe retains its ability to change lives. After winning the best newcomer gong last year, John Kearns was able to quit his job as a tour guide at the Houses of Parliament and fulfil an ambition he’s spent years trying to achieve. To be called a professional comedian. While last year’s show was born from misery, this is born from that happiness.

But his achievement is tempered with new insecurities. He enjoyed his old job and was good at it, and misses the camaraderie with colleagues now he works alone. The uncertainty of the new troubles him… and he wonders what corner he’s painted into himself into with the brillo-pad tonsure wig and comedy gnashers, which he feels compelled to don again as that’s now his ‘thing’.

The leap into the unknown is worrying for a man who likes his securities; the comfort of visiting his grandmother’s house, the warm nostalgia for youth and the simple pleasures of Paddington Bear. He paints a poignant picture of a odd couple of ‘characters’ in their local pub with a melancholy as world moves on around them, and ultimately without them.

Yet leaping is what comedy is all about; the show is bookended by a recording of Jerry Seinfeld (I think) talking about a joke being a leap onto a moving train, the timing being crucial.

All the above is what Shtick is about; Kearns may adopt the trappings of character but there’s a personal truth to the curious activities on stage from which the laughs spring, loud and often. He’s usually billed as an absurdist, which suggests he’s marginalised. And although he plays up to that, loving the way he divides a room, his appeal is wider than such pigeonholing would suggest.

Incongruously he has attracted a stag party this afternoon, sitting in the front row. Not a super-rowdy one – they at least had the patience to wait in the long queues Kearns can now attract in a room too small for his popularity – but still keen to be the centre of attention.

Yet they loved him – take note club owners: everyday punters can enjoy deviations from the norm – while he both indulged them slightly and kept them in check. After all, for all his self-doubt and peculiar persona, the on-stage Kearns is always in charge on stage. Anyone who barks ‘mango chutney’ into your face has to be. And when listing some of his personal likes he shows a brilliant defiance to the opinion of others with a ‘so sue me!’ line that’s sidesplittingly funny, and all down to the desperate yet commanding delivery.

Although set pieces are the foundations of the show; there’s just so much delight in the writing. There are brilliantly witty descriptions, such as the frog soap-holder in his nan’s house, which is topped with a superb payoff. He can evoke like a poet, with eloquent yet hilarious images crammed into a single sentence, with a line describing his actions at a fireworks display proving a perfect, beautiful tragicomic metaphor for his whole life.

There are a couple of short sections that don’t quite shine with the brilliance of the majority, such as a Frankenstein bit alluding to the monster he’s created. But the only real complaint is that, running at just about 40 minutes today, this wonderful show is over far too quickly.

Review date: 11 Aug 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Voodoo Rooms

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