John Kearns, the early years, by Harry Deansway

The first London is Funny got wind of John Kearns – the new Fosters Award winner – was back in 2010, following a tip-off by Harry Deansway, Kearns’s then-manager and the comedy circuit’s very own Delboy. Here, Deansway recalls [his version of] those hazy, crazy days when success was just a glint in the bespectacled eye

John Kearns comedianI’ll never forget that first email I got from on the 6th of January 2009 (don’t write to him, he doesn’t use that address anymore). It was in the style of most emails I received at the time: “I love your magazine (the Fix) can I have a gig.” He said he’d bring an audience. He didn’t.

My booking policy at the time involved looking online at a picture of the act, if I thought they looked funny I’d give them a chance. With his quiff and oversized glasses, John Kearns looked funny! Turns out he wasn’t. He was awful. I put him on the bill at the Wilmington Arms on the 6 April 2009 with Stephen Merchant, Nick Helm, James Acaster and George Ryegold, and he died on his arse, like majorly died. Everyone else killed it, but John let the side down. It was a great gig apart from the the stain that John Kearns left with some introspective piece about Neil Young.

I was surprised – up until that point, my “do they look funny in their picture” booking policy had been working pretty well. Pappy’s, Tim Key, Nick Helm, Cardinal Burns, Dave Hill to name a few. The next day I emailed him and told him not to worry and to drop me a line in a few months and I’d book him in again. I really thought he was going to be funny.

On 25 January 2010 I got that email, I booked him into the new operation at the Camden Head. That night John killed it. Not only was he hilarious, his act was unique and whilst being totally bonkers, at the heart of it was a warmth and accessibility that made me think this guy is going to be huge. I wasn’t in the management game, but the next week I set up shop just so I could sign John Kearns. First thing I said to him was he needed to change his name to John Curtains as it was funnier, he said it sounded like a good idea. It was only when I emailed him to let him know I was purchasing the web domain that he realised I was deadly serious. The following email exchange happened:

John:Stop with this Curtains thing, I’m getting worried.”

Harry:What?! You are not changing your name to John Curtains? I wasn’t joking. But if you don’t want to, fine.”

John: “I don’t know if you’re winding me up now. Why would I ch… I’m not going to even entertain this.”

Harry:Because it’s a funny name. Think Johnny Vegas, Harry Hill etc … I was being 100% serious, it’s your name though.

John Kearns with Pat Cahill at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I managed John for two years but no one was interested in an act who pretended to be a whale and sang songs about sticking maltesers up his girlfriend’s vagina (might have been different if he changed his name to John Curtains). In 2011 we did a show at the Free Fringe with Pat Cahill (see above, which was a high-concept piece set at a dinner party; it was busy every day, but nothing came from it (apart from Pat getting signed by PBJ).

A few weeks later, John met me in Foyles and told me he thought he didn’t need a manager, he wanted  to go it alone. Obviously I was upset as I’d wanted to be part of John’s success. I’d put a lot of time and energy into trying to make that happen, but I loved John’s act so much deep down I didn’t mind. I was a fan, possibly his first.

I continued to book him at my nights, but another year passed and still he hadn’t broken through. Then in summer 2013 it all went nuts – he got nominated for the Fosters Best Newcomer award, won and the rest is history. I remember when he won the award and someone came up to me and said, “Well done, congratulations”. His success is nothing to do with me, I’m just a friend who supported him when no one else was interested.

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