WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?
I FIRST met Jimeoin way back in 1990, and it was one night of my life that haunts me to this very day. Every Wednesday night for many years amateur comics from all over Sydney would head to the Comedy Store, the number one venue for stand up in the nation. Along with my new friends Peter Berner, Adam Hills and Akmal, I would often go along and try out new jokes in the hope of becoming a stand-up comic, and I loved to make people laugh.
One night a young Irishman turned up, unannounced. He said his name was Jim and could he have a spot? He seemed like a nice bloke, and who doesn’t love the Irish, so I let him go before me.
It turned out to be the biggest mistake of my short but fun stand-up career.
Going on stage after Irish Jim was soul destroying. I could have been Robin Williams and it wouldn’t have mattered. The lad from the Emerald Isle of Ireland was amazing. I didn’t pick up a microphone for the next 20 years. It’s not that I stunk, it was simply the realisation that I couldn’t compete with the likes of James, who went on to become known as Jimeoin.
“I’m really sorry that happened, that’s terrible,” Jimeoin said when I reminded him of those early days. “Mind you, it’s a good story though!”
James Eoin Stephen Paul McKeown grew up in Portstewart in Northern Ireland and moved to London, where he worked in the building industry. At night, Jimeoin (as he became known… not hard to see how he got the name) would go out with his friends and love to tell stories, jokes and yarns. It was the basis of what was to become a long career in comedy as the 52-year-old said.
“The thing that got me started was that I was out with friends. I’m in a movie soon called That’s Not My Dog which is all about telling jokes, and I was always good at that.
“When I moved to Australia I went along one night to the Harold Park Hotel (a famous venue for up-and-coming comics in Sydney) and I just got up there and told some jokes. I think Akmal was the first act I ever saw, and Ross Daniels was the headline.
“That was my first time ever seeing stand-up, I thought this is a great night out, its halfway between a band and a play. I thought ‘I could do this’, so I put my name down for a spot. I had an office job when I did quotes and had my own thoughts and in my downtime, I’d sit and write little routines, that’s how it all started.”
Jimeoin worked behind the scenes in comedy, but he never seemed to have a revelation moment, where he decided that this was what he wanted to do.
“My career evolved over time, I never really had that
I thought this is a great night out - it’s halfway between a band and a play!
light bulb moment. I had a job writing for The Comedy Company and I was already getting more pay each month than I was at my office job. I thought I could do it as a side, as I’d put that money away for a holiday…but over time it became the better of the two jobs. It was also a time when the building industry was going through a downtown and I got made redundant, which forced my hand to go into comedy full-time.”
When the father of four started in comedy, you were spoilt for choice for Australian light entertainment shows to get exposure on, such as The Midday Show, Hey Hey It’s Saturday and Rove. Today, it’s a different story.
“You do still have to promote yourself, that’s why I’m talking to you now” he said. “I think it was H.G. or Roy, one of them, who told me every five years there’s a whole new group of people who get into comedy, so you have to evolve. I was doing Live at the Apollo in the UK, and it was only then that my career there started. That was five years ago and it was due to reaching that new audience.
“I think people are the same the world over to an extent, it all depends on their exposure to live comedy, for example the Brits have so much choice. The first few years I toured there it was in really small houses, and I was often playing to 10 people or less. Once you get a crowd that starts laughing at you it builds from there.”
Jimeoin is like most comics in that if he finds something funny, he’ll share it, and it all comes back to what he and his friends find funny.
“Most of my stuff is based on what we would find funny as a group. When I’m at at festivals, like Edinburgh, I don’t like to watch other comics as I get jealous. I get annoyed with them. I’ll think ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’
“Playing regional areas around Australia the audiences are really enthusiastic which is fantastic, you always want to see a crowd like that. I always like to see the person who doesn’t want to be there, someone who is dragged along by his girlfriend or something. I tend to go for them.
“I get the ‘look of death’ and they say ‘I don’t want to be here, my wife made me come.’
“You can’t please everyone, that’s the way it is.” Most comedy experts will tell you the trick is to write 20 minutes of material and then get it down to a strong, tight five-minute piece with the best gags coming thick and fast. So how does Jimeoin turn his live shows into one hour? He just does the reverse.
“I would have said it’s the total opposite…you’ve got to make 20 minutes last an hour. That’s how it works for me. If I have the idea for a joke I’ll mention it on stage, and if I get a laugh I think ‘there’s more to this’.
“That’s the hardest part, finding the subject matter. Jokes are often the same, but if you can a subject that nobody else is touching then that becomes yours and you try to get 10 minutes out of it. You listen to music, for example, and it can be repetitive. Here we go again, I love you baby, yeah, yeah. I once said something about eyebrows and it turned into 20 minutes.”
I ask Jimeoin if he can make it up to me by getting me some Jaffa Cakes when he’s next in the UK. “Ummmm...no.”
Jimeoin is touring this month, including Ipswich