It’s rare to see a stand-up show with this many barriers to entry. It’s tempting to call A Kealy’s Heel too smart for its own good, but since I enjoyed it so much something tells that would be flattering myself as much as I am Alex Kealy. This is clever comedy, sure, but it’s not so much the depth as it is the scope. There’re probably a dozen jokes that require a complicated cross-section of reference points to fully appreciate. A Kealy’s Heel is marketing itself as a mix of political and personal comedy and it certainly is that. However, it also demands a broad knowledge-base of popular culture, history, literature and more for it to really click. This audibly left many audience members quite lost. Again, this is not on account of how so far above everyone’s level it is, but rather that people with a working knowledge of a wide variety of subjects is its real target audience.
Let’s take an example: one joke in this show requires that you know some fairly arcane tidbit of Harry Potter lore and be broadly familiar with Clement Attlee. Now, plenty of people will know one of those things, but how many are going to know both? Maybe I’m totally wrong here but it seems to me most people are going to be familiar with one or the other. You can’t really say it’s for political nerds, because they’re not going to get the pop culture references; and vice versa, folk picking up on the pop stuff don’t necessarily keep up with the news. Those who enjoy the cute historical jokes won’t necessarily appreciate either. For many this will be a bug, but I’m more than happy to put it down as a feature. Most shows have their dour punters; the ones who’re just not on the same comic wavelength as the act, but mostly it’s those same people that’ll have a stony face on throughout. It’s a very strange experience to see 20 different jokes split a room 20 different ways, to see a comic so flagrantly and wilfully refuse to cater to one demographic.
None of this is a bad thing – from my perspective at any rate. As someone whose one real talent is retaining huge amounts of disjointed – mostly useless – information, it was refreshing to see a show that could put all the disconnected minutiae bumbling around my brain to use. I suspect this is a show that will do far better with those who grew up with the internet. Older generations just didn’t have the same informational osmosis that’s so ubiquitous in 2018 and that comes in so handy here. This a stand-up for the Jack of All Trades.
If I’ve any complaints, it’s that Kealy sometimes lacks the confidence to stick by his weird esoteric style. At times he seemed flustered by gags that didn’t land with everyone and it’s always frustrating to see a comic who you’re absolutely loving get put off like that. This was one of those shows where you come out feeling like you’ve done yourself some internal damage from laughing so much. I suspect Alex Kealy is a comic to watch and I’d absolutely love to see more of this material delivered by an Alex Kealy who has more faith in it. I’ve no doubt that’s something we will see given time and experience.