John Kearns: ‘I was carrying a dual identity around in a bag - like Superman”

John Kearns. Picture: Richard Davenport

John Kearns. Picture: Richard Davenport - Credit: Richard Davenport

As the only fringe comic to scoop best newcomer and best stand-up on consecutive years, John Kearns became his own tough act to follow

John Kearns winner of the Fosters Best Comedy Show at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Picture: Danny La

John Kearns winner of the Fosters Best Comedy Show at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Picture: Danny Lawson - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Namechecking the next door café owner in Don’t Worry They’re Here, John Kearns riffs on the sometimes lonely life of a peripatetic comedian.

“Being a stand up you don’t see people regularly, there’s not a lot of structure – the guy who lives next door is that person you wave to every morning. He doesn’t even know I do stand up. In the show I have embellished our chat, created a conversation with him.”

Until this year, the 30-year-old hadn’t been back to Edinburgh since he won the Fosters Award in 2014.

“It was fantastic - I owe my career to Edinburgh - but it threw me off balance slightly because it happened so quickly,” he says.

“Within a year I won both awards and left my job. It got a bit much and I needed to not be in that bubble or have that pressure.”

Kearns was working as a tour guide at the Houses of Parliament when he got his big break, but had already spent a decade honing his craft on the comedy circuit.

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“Going on stage in front of people feels the most natural, rewarding thing to do. The only thing you have any control over is making the audience laugh. You know immediately if something works or doesn’t and (at the fringe) have 25 shows to polish it into something you are proud of.”

During those years he kept his day and night jobs “totally separate”.

“Taking school-kids around the Houses of Parliament, telling them why it’s an important place, getting them to listen when they are not interested, released a valve where I could be serious – I took it very seriously, I was bone dry, no smiling, no laughs – very different from the surreal stuff I do. I was carrying a dual identity around in a bag - like Superman.”

So what brings a boy from Tooting to live in Archway Road?

He sighs: “You follow the rents. I can’t afford Tooting any more – it was voted tenth best place to live in the world recently but that’s not how it felt growing up. I’m glad it’s improved, as long as it’s not all chains and you still feel you are walking around somewhere with its own identity.”

However one inspiration was Balham-born Only Fools and Horses Writer John Sullivan, who famously set his 70s sit-com Citizen Smith in Tooting.

“Growing up in south London the Trotters felt like my family, it’s important for young people to have that connection and see that a guy who lived there and observed my area had a career like that.” His influences also encompassed the surreally silly Vic and Bob, and Woody Allen (less so Morecambe and Wise, it’s just he likes “the smoke and mirrors of throwing something in the air and catching nothing”).

“The more you do something the more you realise your limitations,” muses Kearns.

“I started out wanting to be satirical like Bill Hicks but you realise that’s not who you are. You can’t escape your influences – what you grew up laughing at. I went through some tough gigs before I discovered that in the end this is all I can do I can’t change for you.”

Don’t Worry They’re Here is at Soho Theatre until September 30 (