WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?

QT Magazine - - COVER STORY - DAR­REN HALLESY DAR­REN.HALLESY@QT.COM.AU

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

PHO­TOS: JAMES PENLIDIS PHOTOGRAPHY

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