CORK comic Chris Kent has earned a name for his laid-back delivery and, while that same description can extend to his demeanour in person, it hides the sort of discipline that’s needed to make comedy work as a career. Currently in the middle of an extensive Irish tour, Kent is enjoying the rewards and challenges of mounting a solo stand-up tour.
“It all comes down to me,” he declares. “You’re kind of responsible for everything on your tour, from the posters to making sure the tickets are on sale, to everything, but at the same time it’s a chance to see yourself, because you can play in front of hundreds of people every week in comedy clubs, but you don’t necessarily know if they’re there to see you. It could be that it’s the comedy club they’re going to and you happen to be there, but when you put your own name on the ticket, then you’re taking a risk. Everything is on you, but at the same time then you get to know who is seeing me in Limerick, who is coming to see me in Cork. How am I’m looking in Dublin?”
How are you looking in Dublin, I ask?
“Good,” he nods. “Getting busier. So I’m very happy the way things are going so far on this tour. The big room in Whelan’s was sold out this year. That was the first time I sold that out, so I can feel a bit of a difference now on this tour.”
Kent fell into comedy somewhat by accident. You could say he was inspired by Des Bishop’s comedy experiment ‘Joy in the Hood’, which saw the American conduct comedy workshops in working-class areas in Ireland’s cities. It wasn’t that Kent was watching it on TV. He actually knew some of the people involved, so he decided to check them out in action.
“That led me to go: ‘Oh wow, this is comedy,’” he says. “I didn’t know comedy was on that level, because I did see Tommy Tiernan, I saw Des Bishop once or twice, I didn’t know there’s this whole, like a normal Joe Soap could just get up and try it, because if you had to look at Tommy Tiernan or someone like that, it would never occur to me, but when I see a normal… or someone I know trying it and giving it a go and making a laugh, and even not making people laugh, is probably more inspiring.”
There’s a low bar here?
“Yeah, exactly. In some ways and I think that’s the way loads of people get up and then you need a little bit of delusion to think that you’re not that low on the bar while you’re doing it in the beginning.”
Kent was an electrician at the time and, while he did some comedy spots here and there, making his debut in what was known at the time as the Tikki Lounge, upstairs in Cashman’s bar, his big goal was to head to Australia for a while with his girlfriend. Kent worked his trade over there and had a great time, but when he returned home it was to a rapidly changing environment.
“When I came back to Cork, I couldn’t get any electrical work. I got a month, I think. I couldn’t get any more and then I remember looking for jobs then everywhere and I couldn’t get anything,” he recalls.
This was at the end of 2008 as the economy was in collapse.
“At the same time, I was just starting to getting bits of comedy, paid, so I said maybe I should focus on this. I did it for two years in Cork and I was in and out of the clubs. Then I said: ‘I think Dublin is where I need to move. There’s more gigs.’ And I then I moved to Dublin and I got an agent and I started doing more gigs, and then I spent four years there and I said London is the next step and I went to London then.”
The last few years have seen Kent’s stature rise in Cork. Firstly, selling out the Green Room in the Opera House as part of a comedy festival, then selling out the Crane Lane, and last year playing to a pretty full room at the Everyman. It is a source of satisfaction to him that what he has achieved has been through gigging alone.
“Because I talk to people afterward and they’re like, ‘we saw you years ago at City Limits’, or ‘we saw you years ago at the Cat Laughs’, or ‘we saw you supporting David O’Doherty’, or ‘we saw you supporting Neil Delamere’. I think supports is actually a lot of where it comes from. A lot of people have seen me open for Bill Burr in Vicar Street, years ago, and the amount of people who still come to see me, because they saw me that one night opening for Bill Burr. It’s all live work, which is good in a way, because I think that shows commitment. I think, that they’re seeking me out. I’m very happy with the amount of people I’m getting that it’s just from live work.”
Chris Kent appears at Bantry on March 7, and the Everyman Theatre, Cork, on March 9.