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Comedy: John Kearns

After making history by being the only comedian to win both Best Newcomer and Best Show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, John Kearns is about to embark on his first ever national tour with his latest show, Don’t Worry, They’re Here. We caught up with him to discuss the show, his career and his false teeth.

This will be your first festival show to tour nationally. What made you decide now was the time to begin touring?

I’ve only ever gone round the country scratching out previews, so I thought it was high time I actually performed the finished article. I haven’t got a clue how it’s going to go, which is why I’ve left it till now, I suppose. This is my third show, so I feel I’m better equipped to tour.

You’re the only comedian to win both Best Newcomer and Best Show at The Edinburgh Fringe. What effects, good or bad, has this had on your career?

The awards are certainly the reason why I could quit my job and go full time. My career has been defined by them and it gives me a confidence that I know what I’m doing. Sometimes you just need to be told, “You’re right. Keep going.”

Receiving such a meteoric rise in profile must have enticed a much more general audience. In what way do you try to cultivate a specific audience that you think will enjoy your material?

I don’t know how to cultivate an audience. You have to just follow your instinct and create something that you hope people like. I, of course, hope people turn up as it’s my job, but my relationship with an audience is tricky, I think. I don’t trust them. I try to be the best I can be, but for me. I’m not wasting my time up there. It took me a long time to realise that they’re just watching you do something. I know that sounds simplistic, but that’s all an audience do. They’re just watching you do something.

What is Don’t Worry, They’re Here about? What are you trying to achieve with the show?

The show is about luck, nostalgia and how in life you never know what’s round the corner. When I start writing a show, I basically hope it’s funny enough and runs to time. Only then can you experiment with flights of pretension and set pieces which crash and burn. The show is then created as you rifle through the embers to see what you can salvage.

I only know the word ‘tonsure’ because of you. How did your costume – a monk’s wig and false teeth – come about and why did it become a standard part of your act?

I also only know the word ‘tonsure’ because of me. The short answer is that I felt funny wearing the get up. I looked stupid, I felt stupid, it freed me up and bizarrely meant I could be taken seriously when I wanted to be, as the funny was taken care of. Early on, a couple of people would say I looked like someone they couldn’t stand and it’s only when they hear me that they like the act.

Over the years it’s thrown up a lot of questions – the idea of the mask, a comic’s persona, truth. I like playing with the ambiguity, which can be treated by some critics with suspicion. But for an audience to be suspicious, curious… That’s no bad thing.

What are your future plans beyond this tour?

Design furniture.

Background image by Katie Ponder.

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