John Kearn’s life has changed a lot in the past twelve months. Winning the Best Newcomer award for his 2013 show has surely brought him a new set of challenges. A larger audience, perhaps, one that has certain expectations of an award-winning act. It must be strange for a performer who delights in dividing the room, staring out windows and making people uncomfortable, to suddenly have an audience trying to work him out and anticipate his weirdness. There were plenty of punters at the performance I saw who clearly weren’t getting it at all, but there were also people giggling uncontrollably, your correspondent included. Kearns manages to manufacture an atmosphere of tension in the room that when the laughs come, they’re explosive.
It’s tempting to think far too deeply about an act like this, to try and see the join between the false-toothed, monk-wigged character and the real man behind it all. It’s important to mention, before I go down a rabbit-hole of semiotical analysis, that Kearns is very funny. His gags are baffling and poetic, and delivered beautifully after laboured setups. There were a lot of long silences, but crucially the audience were quiet as a mouse, such is the level of control he has gained. All of his usual idiosyncrasies were evident in this years show (it’s not called Shtick for nothing), but much of the material felt oddly personal and honest, in his own absurd way.
He says he is a man grappling with a joke that’s gone on too long. it may be a struggle for him, but it’s compelling for us. Whether it’s as good as last years show is up for debate, but Kearns in full flight is still a must-see for all comedy fans.