When I saw Alex Kealy back in May I commented that he “Generated big laughs…I plan to see him do a full length show as soon as I can” and while I’ve yet to do so, everything I’ve heard about his new Edinburgh show suggests that it’s essential viewing and hilarious from start to finish. Described as a “Marvellous stand-up” by The Skinny and as having “A reservoir of memorable gags” by The List, he was a “So You Think You’re Funny” finalist in his first year of stand-up and since then has performed on BBC Radio Four Extra as part of the BBC New Comedian Award, as well as reaching the final of the Hobgoblin Comedy Award amongst other new act competitions, and Alex also made the Evening Standard’s Top Jokes of Edinburgh 2017 list and I’d be amazed if he didn’t make this year’s list too. Here he tells us about his new Edinburgh show, how Donald Trump has broken American satire, the difficulties of creating topical comedy, and the time he travelled for a total of 10 hours to perform for 90 seconds.
Comedy To Watch: How would you describe your comedy to someone who wasn’t previously aware of your good self?
Alex: Smart and silly. I do political stuff from a left / centre-left perspective, but without being too preachy and hoping to focus on more interesting stuff than merely the topical tos-and-fros of that day’s political news. All mixed with more silly, low-status personal material and crucially some absolute fire emoji jokes.
CTW: And what can you tell us about your new show, Rationale?
Alex: It’s a show about how the importance of rationality in politics and debate is overstated. Most of our big decisions come from emotions and the gut, and our intellectual arguments are just rationales – justifications when we’ve already long ago decided. It’s also about how we deal with a modern world where a lot of the contextual cues and respect for expertise have disappeared, making all sources of truth appear equally valid; conspiracy theory podcasts sound as good as Radio 4, InfoWars’ website looks as legit as The Guardian’s.
CTW: You do a lot of political comedy in your routines, is it difficult to continually create topical material?
Alex: Yes. Sometimes it’s easy and an interesting, funny angle can just flow out of a new situation and then doing that on stage in the heat of a political moment is great, and audiences can respect it. But frankly it’s pretty demoralising to have to cut a routine because it’s no longer relevant when you know that it’s clever or funny, just past it’s time. Increasingly, I’m trying to mix topical stuff with political and personal material that is more general and less vulnerable to changes in the topical landscape. I suppose Boris Johnson being an arsehole is fairly timeless though?
CTW: Some say it’s impossible to joke about Trump, that he’s beyond parody, do you think that’s true? And if not, in what ways do you joke about him?
Alex: Definitely – he is hard to joke about. I’ve done stuff about him in the past and I think it’s worked, but you have to make sure to add something dumb or interesting on top, and not just regurgitate his stupidity back at the audience. And that’s what makes it hard – he’s not that interesting, and he’s so dumb that it’s hard to exaggerate that. The only joke I’ve done about him that I like is about how he is pro-capitalism but anti-free-trade but it’s very much a ‘You Had To Be There’ situation.
Separately, I think Trump has broken American satire because it’s created takes of “oh if we just got rid of him it’d all be fine”, which is not the case. This article is very good on the subject. https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/how-liberal-late-night-talk-shows-became-a-comedy-sinkhole
CTW: Have you ever met someone you’ve joked about? And if so, what happened?
Alex: Michael Gove. I hate him and always said I’d tell him if I met him but in the end I didn’t because I am an absolute coward.
CTW: You’ve written for Mock The Week, can you tell us a little about that and how the show is put together?
Alex: I am going to let your readers enjoy the sausage by not explaining how it’s made.
CTW: What would you love to do career-wise?
Alex: I think any level of comedy where you have people specifically wanting to enjoy and consume your stuff is exciting, rather than just being ‘The Comedian They Happen To Be Watching At The Show Tonight’. An act selling out a 10-date tour to 50-seater arts centres is fundamentally doing the same thing as Jerry Seinfeld; beyond that, it’s just a question of money and lifestyle.
CTW: When it comes to stand up, how do you feel you’ve evolved since your first ever gig?
Alex: I’m hopefully less reliant on short jokes, and able to tell longer routines that have an underlying thrust but peppered with jokes as we go. More confidence in myself as a funny person worth the audience’s time.
CTW: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you since you started performing?
Alex: I think nothing beats the 10 hour round trip to Stockon on Tees in 2014 for a comedy competition where I was gonged off after 90 seconds. At that travel:performing time ratio, I’d have to go to southern Chile and back to perform an entire Edinburgh hour.
CTW: If money were no object, what would you like to create?
Alex: Uh-oh! Kealy’s gonna pull the oldest trick in the ‘answering an essay question’ book and deny the terms of the question! At core, the reason why stand-up is such a great art form is that essentially money *should* be no obstacle to creation. You go up on stage at night and could create something brilliant from something you only thought of that day – no choreographer, no costume designer, no lighting designer.
CTW: And finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you most like to ask? And what would the answer be?
Alex: “What’s new, pussycat?” This great Edinburgh show I’ve made called ‘Rationale’, is what’s new!
Alex is at the Edinburgh Festival this year from August 1st – 25th (Not 12th) and tickets can be bought here.
Alex’s Official Site (which includes info on all of his Edinburgh previews).
Alex On Twitter.
A Clip Of Alex Performing At The Comedy Store Is Here.