Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Kevin J Comedian - Exclusive interview
With just over a year of comedy experience, Kevin J has everyone talking about the new white comedian on the circuit after his recent feature as Hot Spot (new talent) on MTV Base’s “Kojo’s Comedy Funhouse”. The 21 year-old comedian credits his multi-cultural surroundings of Tottenham for the foundations of his jokes. The class clown who simply loved making people laugh has gone from being called an “attention-seeker now called a comedian.”
Marvin Sparks caught up with Kevin J to discuss his begninngs and sharp rise to fame in comedy, being a white comedian on a black circuit, the Kojo effect (click for interview with Kojo after you've read this interview) and more.
What is the difference between being the class clown and a comedian?
Comedian is a craft. You don’t just go on the stage and do anything because you’ll get found out. I’m sure a lot of people have seen comedians who go on stage and you can see they haven’t planned it. They just think they are a funny guy just [tell] jokes you would tell while you’re drunk at the back of the bus and it doesn’t work. Whereas a comedian you need your jokes, you need your set; you need to know what your saying, when your saying it and how your saying it, facial expressions.
What made you take the step from being the class clown to doing comedy?
I never thought about doing comedy - never even crossed my mind. I never liked comedy when I was younger. I thought it was boring, but then I went to Kojo’s Comedy Club at Corks Wine Bar and when I saw it I was like “Wow! I want to go up and do it.” I spoke to Kojo afterwards, asked him how I could get into comedy, I gave him a few pointers and said to me “Come back when you have 5 minutes worth of material.” I went back about 3 months later and performed there for the first time.
Do you remember much of that performance?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Clear as day. I used to call Kojo every 2 days and be like “Ahh, this that, this that,” but he would say to me “Bruv, just get your jokes and come and do it.” I remember he introduced me and as I was walking down I was thinking “I don’t remember my material,” and I’d been practicing it. But then I did the show, it went really well, people were laughing and gave me a good round of applause. When I came off stage I remember Kojo had this smile, he looked proud of me. He just put his arm around me and was like “Bruv, I told you you could do it,” and that kind of sticks with me. Kojo’s face and him saying “I knew you could do it.”
When you were talking to him on the phone saying “This that, this that“, was that you testing jokes?
I’ll be honest with you, I wanted Kojo’s approval. I tried telling him my jokes but he said “I don’t want to hear your jokes. If I find them funny it doesn’t mean everyone else will find them funny, but what matters is if you find them funny.” But then I would phone him 2 days later [tell him] “Alright I’m ready,” then he’ll [say] “Alright, I’m putting you on this show,” then I’ll be like “Nah, nah, nah, actually I’m not,” and then I’d call him back. That happened for like a week-and-a-half and then he said “If you don’t do this show, I’m not going to take you seriously,” so then I had to.
What made you decide to perform in front of urban/predominantly audiences?
I didn’t decide I wanted to make black people laugh, it was [as a result of] the comedy club I went to. The black comedy scene in the UK is growing, so it was easier for me to get onboard. In a white comedy club you can’t speak to the comedians, you don’t know who runs it. Whereas Kojo’s Comedy Club, the guy that runs it, hosts it, is at the after party - he’s doing everything so it was more accessible to start on the black circuit.
Have you done many mainstream audiences?
I’ve done a few mainstream shows, but when I do mainstream shows I change my material slightly. Simply because the references are different, the language is different, but I still talk about the same subject mater. A young white guy growing up in London, but the way I refer to things is different.
How has growing up in a multicultural area affected your material and helped you succeed. For example, you put on a very convincing west African accent.
I’ve got insight into a lot of cultures. Everyone knows me for my Nigerian accent particularly. People are always like “Wow, I could have thought you were Nigerian.” I work on a lot of accents; Turkish, Chinese, Jamaican... I work on a lot of accents because, I think when you can almost change yourself into someone else on stage it brings colour to the stage. You can’t do it all in one tone or one dialect. It’s alright, but when you can switch it up like one minute you’re a Jamaican man the next you are a Chinese man it’s weird because I am a white guy but on the stage there is a Jamaican man arguing with a Chinese man but people are thinking “What?! But your white.”
I work hard on trying to get my impressions down but growing up around them, I know little things that they say and I’m around a lot of people. When I’m at church or when I’m in the Chinese or Kebab shop, I don’t just order my food, I watch them; I watch how they interact with one another. The way I impersonate them is not how an English person thinks of them but what they actually do because I’ve watched them interact.
Some people would say you don’t speak like a “white boy.” How do you respond to that?
It’s where I grew up at the end of the day. If I grew up in Essex then I’d be speaking cockney like “Alright mate?” and be wearing a Hackett jumper with Reebok classics. What it is, is I grew up in north London. Although it is multi-cultural it is predominantly a black area, so it’s not like I want to be black because I haven’t got a skin fade, I haven’t got gold teeth, I haven’t got the stereotypical things that black people do, it’s just the way I talk. Take me or leave me that’s what I say.
A lot of your jokes are based on stereotypes. Have you ever come into any confrontation with hecklers shouting at you or people wanting to fight because of it?
Not really fight me, but I think a lot of the time people need to realise it’s comedy. I am not out here to insult anybody. There are many things I could insult other cultures about but I don’t. I talk about the funny things and most of the time it is [from the perspective of] a white guy being around black people. I’ve got so many jokes waiting to be written from scenarios I’ve been in. So yeah, a lot of people have been offended by what I’ve said but that was at the beginning of my career in the very early days when people were thinking “There’s a white person up here talking about black people,” but once they realise I’m not being racist or prejudice, I’m actually having a laugh doing comedy, they know me as a person.
How does Kevin J the comedian differ to Kevin J the person and do people take you seriously?
They don’t you know, they really don‘t. It’s really weird because people are always like “You aren’t that funny off-stage.” Since I started doing comedy, as a profession, off-stage I’ve become less funny because I hate seeing comedians that try and be funny off-stage. It’s like if you saw a fireman who’s always trying to put out fires everywhere he went. Leave it at the office. I look at comedy as a job; I love it but it’s not about being that guy in McDonalds. Everyone knows I’m a comedian, everyone’s been to a show, they’ve already laughed then came up to me and said “You’re hilarious.” I leave [being funny in public] to the jokers, which I feel I have graduated from being a class clown to a comedian.
Apart from being white, what separates you from other comedians?
I’m funny. Nah I’m playing, I respect every comedian. Until you go up on stage and try and tell jokes, you have to respect them because it isn’t easy and it‘s very scary. What makes me different from other comedians is I am me. You will never find another me and I am not anyone else and you won’t hear “He‘s like this person“ or “He‘s like that person.” There’s been a lot of talk of “Other people writing Kevin’s jokes,“ because they don’t hear me saying the same 5 jokes everywhere I go. I’m switching my material up quite a bit. I’m trying to anyway. It isn’t easy, but I’m trying to.
This talk about other people writing my material, they’re not. I write everything myself. I have people who help me, but no one writes my material.Back to the point, what makes me different is, like I said, I’m me. I do what I believe in. I don’t do it because I think other people will find it funny, I do it because I find it funny. I’m very new to comedy. I’m still trying to find my voice like when someone plays football they are trying to find their position. I do me and I represent what I believe in.
Comedians get a lot of criticism for repeating jokes. Is there too much pressure on you to churn out new jokes?
Yeah there is. There is a lot of pressure to keep doing fresh material. My argument is, when you go to a Jay-Z concert and he is performing his new stuff everyone [likes it], but then he says, “Right, now I’m going to take you back and see who the true fans are. Who remembers this one?” I can’t go on the stage, ask who remembers this one and drop a joke from when I first started doing comedy, because I‘ll get booed off. It is hard and what people don’t realise is it is so hard to go home and write a joke. I try and keep it as fresh as I can and switch up my material as often as I can, but there’s only so much a comedian can do.
You aren’t the only white comedian on the circuit. Is there any rivalry between you and Jamie Howard?
Me and Jamie get on fine. He started comedy before me, he’s doing his thing, I’m doing mine. The only similarity is that we are white. Our comedy is completely different and I think people have realised that over time. Every comedian that picks up a mic and tries to tell a joke is my competition. Chris Rock is my competition, Kojo is my competition, Jamie’s my competition. Richard Pryor is my competition because he is still selling DVD’s. Every comedian is my competition and with regards to Jamie, me and him are cool.
You said they are your competition and you didn‘t like comedy, but who are your comical influences or who you look up to?
I’m really only educated about comedy in the last two years. Kojo; I know I speak a lot about Kojo but he inspires me. The guy works so hard, he inspires me and I like his style of comedy, it’s very honest and real. Everyday things you’ll see and things that happen, he’ll make a joke about it and it’ll be funny. Eddie Kadi; the way he freestyles, his improvisation on stage - I don’t know anyone that can do it like him - and the energy that he brings. Moving on to mainstream comedians, Lee Evans; he’s just crazy. If I could be anything like him I’d be happy. There’s a guy who’s quite new to the circuit, Michael McIntyre, he makes crazy observations and I love that.
How pivotal has Kojo been to your career?
Kojo’s done a lot for me, and I know a lot of people know that but I think he respects that I am a true student of comedy. I’m doing everything by the book and I’m learning the ropes of comedy. Kojo’s given me very big breaks. He put me on his A Night With Kojo; an opening spot in a sold-out Hackney Empire and I’d only been doing comedy for like 7 months. He gave me the opportunity to start comedy and now he gave me the spot on MTV Base, the Comedy Funhouse. I’ve got a lot of respect for Kojo because he looks out for people. He’s not just about himself.
This may be a tricky question but out of the 3 events, would you rank each one above the other?
The first one, when I performed at Corks, I felt the most elated. I felt like I was floating, I couldn’t believe I‘d just done this. It must have felt something like giving birth. Hackney Empire, for me it was surreal. I couldn’t believe I had done that and my parents were there. I had actually bought tickets to the show, 2 days before the show Kojo called me and said “I want you to open the show,” so I gave the two tickets I had bought to my parents. That was a very proud moment; performing at Hackney Empire and knowing my parents were in the house.
The MTV Base show was like a reward for the hard work I have done. I’ve worked hard in the last year. I’ve done a lot of shows, worked really hard, kept my head down and didn’t get caught up in all the hype and that was like a nice reward for the hard work I have done. Now I’m seeing myself on TV. If I didn’t get into comedy, who knows? I could have still been on TV but it would have been Crimewatch or BBC news.
How did your parents react when you first told them you wanted to be a comedian?
My mum was scared because she knows that comedians get heckled and shot down. My dad is just raw. He was like “Your not funny.” I said “But you ain’t heard my jokes yet,” [he replied] “But I know you ain’t funny.” My dad is one of them undercover supportive people, like when you take home a painting he’s like “That’s rubbish,” [I say] “But I’m 3 dad,” [he replies] “I don’t care, it’s rubbish.” They’ve both been very supportive.
And they enjoyed the show?
Yeah, they watched the whole show. They loved Kojo; thought he was funny. Yolanda Brown, Bashy and Giggs performed. Giggs scared them a bit, but [overall] they liked it. Obviously, it was a proud moment for them seeing their son on the stage making 1,200 or whatever people laugh.
Your Facebook friends grew by nearly a thousand in the days after the show. How have things changed since you were on Kojo’s Funhouse? Are you getting recognised on the streets, have you noticed long lost cousins have come back?
All the long lost cousins have come back, but I kinda lost them for a reason so I’m trying to lost them again [laughs]. Everyone is a long time friend and my friend from years ago. Now everyone wants to call me; my number won’t stop ringing because I was on TV and they know I’ve been doing comedy because my Facebook name is ‘Kevin J Comedian’ for time. I’m getting noticed in the streets. Some old Jamaican lady came up to me and was like “Are you Kevin J?” It’s crazy. I am getting recognised but I don’t want to let that be bigger than what I want to achieve. I’ve done that now, and that’s something that was beautiful but I’ve got to keep going.
As you’ve said, you’ve only been doing comedy for a year and a bit, but you’ve already achieved big things. Has it been easier than you expected? This time last year, did you believe you would have done all of this?
I didn’t think I would have done half of it. I didn’t even think I would get booked for shows. Now I’ve got more comedy promoters calling me than girls. It’s crazy but it’s hard work. What this 1 year and 2 months in comedy has proven to me is anything is possible if you work hard, and that’s what I have done so now I’m seeing the benefits of it.
Recently you were in Bashy’s ‘Ransom’ video, have you got anymore little cameos or acting jobs in line?
When I first started, I started with modelling, acting and comedy at the same time. Comedy was the most enjoyable for me, so that’s why I’ve worked really hard at comedy. I done the Bashy video, he asked us - me and Eddie Kadi. We’re going to be in another video of his called ‘Who Want’s to be a Millionaire’. Acting is something that I definitely want to pursue. I think that’s what every comedian does at the end of the day. That is something to definitely look out for.
I saw something about a mixtape you are planning to do. Can you tell us more about that?
It is a comedy mixtape. Audio, for the car. It’s going to be UK. There will be some songs on there, but it will be up-and-coming UK artists, and it’s me doing sketches. That should be coming out in summertime hopefully. The only person I’ll have to assist me is an engineer who will be handling the levelling - I can’t do that. But in terms of producing, how it’s laid out, everything is down to me. I’m writing and paying for it. Everything is down to me.
You’ve been nominated for Best Newcomer at Urban Comedy Awards. What do you reckon your chances of winning that are?
There’s some stiff competiton in there; there’s Fumbi, Babatunde, Prince Abdi and there’s JCX and Slick. I’ll be honest with you, if any of them get it before me, I’ll be angry. Nah I’m playing, if any of them gets it ahead of me, its a reflection of what they‘ve done. I always believe the right man wins - unless it’s fixed, which I don’t believe it will be. I reckon the right man will win.I’d love to win it; it will cap what I’ve done in comedy in such a short amount of time.
People just see [us comedians] at a rave, club or a show, but we do work hard. Late night writing, writing, writing. For a comedian it’s a lonely life. You write the jokes, perform the jokes, then you’re the one who get’s laughed or booed at. There’s no backing music to save you. Just you and your mic. I’m just happy to be nominated and recognised as one of the best newcomers. Hopefully, by God’s grace, I’ll win it.
Can fans vote for it?
You have to go to Flavour magazine (FlavourMag.co.uk), they are the sponsors. You go to the website to vote for who you think is the best newcomer.What else is coming up for you in the future?Catch me doing more stand-up, I’m trying to breakthrough onto mainstream. I’ve got my own show coming out soon; watch this space is all I can say because it’s in production. Just loads of stand-up.
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