Like accidentally wandering into a church (in a good way)
I’m miffed. MIFFED I SAY. John Kearns is going to waste. He should have been snapped up by now by the televisual kingmakers, given a slot. He’s got the chops, he’s a unique and compelling performer, the sort of fella your gran and your little cousin could watch and love in equal measure.
Delighted though I am with his fourth show, called Double Take and Fade Away, it does also serve to highlight his lack of wider breakthrough. He’s started talking about his “two Perriers” as if they’ve lost their sparkle, windows that have shut. He walks around his house, waiting for the phone to ring, he’s literally all dressed up with nowhere to go. Worst of all, his dream TV slot is being taken up by Dad’s bloody Army. This leads to one of the many moments of instinctive comic inspiration in the show: his despair that an actual Victorian (the actor playing private Godfrey was born in 1896) is still getting a primetime billing in 2019. It’s funny despair, real and visceral. And correct.
But this isn’t “woe is me” comedy, in the mould of Johnny Vegas or Nick Helm, Kearns isn’t the mopey type. Instead, Double Take and Fade Away is a typically pensive and philosophical show from Kearns, and it appears to be about his place in the world – the universe even. He positions himself and the house he lives in in relation to the stratosphere and the very earth beneath his feet. In an extended routine about the significance of wearing a tuxedo as a marker of success, Kearns imagines conversations with not just his younger self, but his older self too, checking in with how life is going. He slips in a reference to him and his girlfriend losing a pregnancy, and laments that the word “wren” has been removed from the dictionary, yet he sees them around all the time. Life and death are everywhere in this show, and in the midst of it is him, trying to make sense of it all. It’s like Kearns has made a comedy show out of an out-of-body experience.
The only flaw is a structural one. For all the delights of Kearns’s existential musings, the central thread of him, alone and listless at home, then encountering his neighbour towards the end, isn’t quite right somehow. The show feels like it needs a more solid base to return to which anchors the whole thing – a consistent situation, in a certain place at a certain time, something we can visualise in an instant. It’s sort of there, but not quite.
Aside from this quibble, this is another devastatingly good show from Kearns. His audience work is still some of the best you’ll see. On this occasion he chats to a few people about fridge magnets, and … it’s hilarious, it just comes so easy to him in his restrained manner, like a sort of Test Match Michael Barrymore. The other best moments are the ones that sound uncontrived/unwritten (and a few lines do sound a bit too “written”), like when he tells the story of making a silly joke that gets over-analysed – “let it be funny,” he cries, “just LET IT BE FUNNY”. That might not look like a killer line written down, but Christ alive, it’s completely and utterly wonderful in Kearns’s hands, as if he’s not so much a comedian pleading for leniency, as a human pleading for a simpler way of being.