john kearns review

John Kearns: The Varnishing Days review | A master at work

John Kearns is in complete control, a master of his craft, whose act - a decade after it made its debut the Edinburgh Fringe - seems to just keep getting better and better.


Starring on Taskmaster can change a man.

Just ask John Kearns, who appeared on the hit show last year and did so without his trademark wig and fake teeth. It can also bring fame, or at least a little bit of it, for Kearns who despite critical and award-show success has resided happily on the fringe of mainstream British comedy. His ability to poke fun at himself versus those who crack television and bring in the big bucks – Romesh, Romesh, Romesh – is clear, as his comfort in holding court with a rapturous crowd for an hour.

It’s ten years since John Kearns made his debut at the Edinburgh Fringe. He won Best Newcomer that year, and followed it up 12 months later with the overall Best Comedy award, the only comedian to ever achieve that. In that time, he’s never bought a new wig, he’s happy to reveal, but don’t think that means he’s got any sentimental attachment to it. It’s just a wig. He hasn’t bought another one because he hasn’t needed one.

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Under that wig and through those big fake teeth, Kearns is able to dabble in something approaching philosophy. He is an everyman’s flâneur, strolling through life as a mid-30s bloke and finding the aspects of British society he can ridicule, laud or simply highlight. The simpleton persona that the costume give him provide the perfect disguise for something incredibly clever.

Questioning Jermaine Jenas out of the gates is a good place to start. Somebody stopping to question how the ex-footballer lands so many television gigs is long overdue, and Kearns’ selection of a Jenas comment about a tortoise seeing a lot of stuff is the height of The One Show’s, and it’s presenter’s, banality.

Bin bags, Marco Pierre White, his first floor flat and wiping his baby’s arse are all also on the table, as Kearns seems to be talking about exactly what he wants, trusting enough people will agree with his musings. The line between relatable and high-brow is walked expertly, in a way that it seems nobody else quite can.

John Kearns is on at Monkey Barrell at 16:15 until 13 August.

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