Sean Keane Tribute
By Frank Kermit
The first time I got to know Sean Keane was back in January 1995. I had seen him perform on stage a couple of years earlier, but it was only in 1995 that I got to know him more personally. I was a student in Communication Studies at Concordia University in the Television Production Level 2 course, and was part of a small team of students producing a documentary on the topic of comedy as our major class project. We were a young, eager group, hungry for the chance to showcase what we could do, and build up our portfolio to get jobs in the industry.
The documentary entitled Laugh-Trax featured stand-up comics Alastair McAlastair, Sean Keane, the musical sketch comedy team of Radio Free Vestibule, and a group of wannabes comics from a workshop on stand-up comedy led by more established comics Barry Julien and David John McCarthy. At the time, that documentary represented one of the most important works any of us Concordia students had ever ventured doing towards carving a name for ourselves in the industry.
We were grateful for any participation we got from the talent we filmed. I remember that Sean Keane was actually incredibly supportive in ways that we could not have begun to imagine. Sean gave our documentary more time in being filmed and interviewed than we could have reasonably expected.
One night, Sean had invited us to videotape him doing a full set at a comedy club. The team filmed him, but the crowd was just not as high on his style of comedy as we would have liked. Sean’s humor was unique and sometimes, it took audiences a little while to really get the character he played on stage. Nonetheless, we were grateful just for getting the chance to record the man in action. As the crew packed up, Sean made a phone call. He had reached out to someone at another comedy club that same night asking if he could crash the show, and perform on stage so that the students he was helping out could get another shot at recording him live on stage. The club administration agreed.
In walked Sean Keane, with a group of students who feverishly but quietly set up their equipment at the back of the bar, getting an audio feed from the club’s sound board while the other comedians performed and Sean worked out the details with the M.C. for the night, about how to introduce him. The MC made it a point to say that Sean Keane was in the house, crashed the party and was going to be a special unannounced attraction. Sean headed towards the stage, with his trademark theme song playing (the man had his own theme song!!), and the crowd went nuts. THIS crowd knew who Sean Keane was. His act was over the top (as usual), but there was something a little different. He knew we were filming him and he put on an awesome performance that included and extra dance with M.C. of the night Alastair McAlastair. At the end of the set, the crowd roared, and we got the footage we were desperately looking for. Thank you Sean Keane!
In time, I would learn that Sean actually had some anxiety about performing live and on camera. Despite that, he performed for us twice in one night when he did not have too. What a guy. Sean Keane the human being, was incredibly far removed from the character he played on stage whose comedic remarks included a rudeness, grunts, and the narcissists comments of a self-centered glory hound.
Years later, I would run into Sean Keane while I volunteered at the West Mount Legal Clinic in the YMCA. Sean told me that he wasn’t performing as much, but that making people laugh was still in his heart, and that he had lots of ideas that he wanted to explore in the future related to comedy. Found out he was a real health nut, and had the biggest soft spot when it came to animals. Once again, Sean Keane the human being was so far removed from the character he played on stage. We would see each other regularly on the streets of NDG for years, with a friendly hello and small conversations.
Every time I ran into him, all I could think of to myself is: There was an entertainer with the elusive IT factor. He knew how to press the right buttons and given long enough to warm over the crowd, could evoke a reaction from almost anyone. I always believed that he just needed the right break, and that he would be an overnight success. I never questioned it.
In late 2012, I was on Facebook, and George Bowser (Bowser and Blue) wrote in that Sean Keane had died at age 52. Shocked was an understatement. How could someone so in love with healthy habits and so full of life be gone? And so young? It just did not make sense.
Sometimes, I think about Sean Keane while I go about my day-to-day routine, and I am always bothered by one thing. The fact that someone like Sean, with the raw charisma and IT factor power that Sean had, never made it to the Tonight Show. If I ever get to the Tonight Show myself, I think I will bring a picture of Sean Keane with me, and help introduce the world to him. From what I understand, it was one of his dreams, and if I can help him like that, in the same way he helped out a bunch of students achieve their dream so many years ago, I would like to think it is the type of karma that Sean would have enjoyed.
“Sean was the most unique comic I’ve ever met. He had his own style, own look even his own theme song! Sean was just a kind individual. Always great to speak to or hang out with him, he will be greatly missed,” says Joey Elias of the CJAD comedy show.
“I loved Sean. His comedy was special and he will be missed,” says Alastair McAlastair of the CBC.
Many of Sean Keane’s friends and family are organizeda night of comedy and memories in October 2013 at the Comedyworks. On the card were Terence Bowman, Winston Spear, Mike Paterson, Peter Radomski, EJ Brule, and Kevin MacDonald.
Finally I would like to present a never before released interview that I helped record of Sean Keane.
After Sean’s funeral I went searching for a copy of the Laugh-Trax documentary we did. I reached out to various people that I thought might have a good quality copy but to no avail. The only copy I managed to track down was an old copy of a copy on a VHS videocassette. The audio was echoed in some sections of the tape, and there were significant glitches throughout the video that compromise it’s production value. Looking back on what we thought was a masterpiece when it was originally produced, the framing of the camera shots, the ever changing audio levels, and the lack of proper lighting from shooting scenes in a dark comedy club, it really does only look like a student video project.
However, Sean’s interview clips did have enough stable audio attached to them to transcribe most of what he said. This documentary was presented at the end of semester student viewing night at Concordia around April 1995 in front of less than 100 different people, and has only been witnessed by whoever had a copy of the video and their friends. This was way before youtube and social media. For all intent purposes, this interview with Sean Keane was never properly released.
I thought it would be a respectful gesture to share with you all, what Sean was so willing to share with us and our audience
Clips of audio of Sean Keane’s comedy:
Please keep in mind that these jokes were performed in the context of Keane's persona character who was for all intense purposes could come across as an arrogant vulgar jerk. Comedian Sean Keane was able to make the distastefully vulgar and rude character likable and laughably funny, the same way that actor Carroll O’ Connor was able to make the gruff, bigoted ignorant character Archie Bunker into a beloved figured and TV icon.
THAT was part of the genius of Sean Keane.
Clip: “There are no lesbians, just chicks that have yet to meet me.”
Clip: “I think my grandmother stuffs her bra. At least it feels that way (Ahem!)”
Clip: “Have you seen this ad? A little old lady comes on the TV screen and says, f*ck-f*ck-f*ck, suck my t*ts, suck my t*ts? no? maybe it’s just my imagination then.”
Clip: “I just got off the phone with my manager. He says I should use more profanity in my act. So, any of you people here from out of town, f*ck?”
Clip: “I met my wife in a single’s bar. (Grunt!) She was sitting across the room at the bar and I started to come on to her. Didn’t know I could squirt that far.”
Clip: “She asked me if I would still respect her in the morning. I said, no, but I will f*ck you again.”
The Lost Sean Keane Interview of 1995
Host: How would you describe your style of humor?
Sean: Like everybody else would describe my style: Bizarre. In a way, it’s like something else has entered by body. It’s a way for me to act out like another man.
Host: How do you deal with hecklers?
Sean: I kill them (said as his on stage persona character)
Host: Does the crowd reaction enhance your act?
Sean: Oh for sure. It gives me more (to work with). When they are really with it, I get the nerve to REALLY swagger and act even more like an ass and get more physical (to dance like I did with Alastair that night.)
Host: This is asked of all the comedians we have interviewed because it happens to everyone at some point or another that does stand up comedy. How did you react to the first time you bombed on stage?
Sean: Terrible. I gave it up for a little while. Didn’t pick myself up and dust myself off right away. I was so disturbed about it.
Host: Does vulgarity offer comedy an edge? Is it funnier to include vulgarity?
Sean: I don’t like vulgarity for the sake of having vulgarity. I like vulgarity if it’s obscene to the point of ridiculous. THAT is funny to me. Because then you are laughing at how ridiculous it is, and not the vulgarity itself.
Host: I asked everyone this question. What do you do if someone finds a joke you told offensive and comes to tell you so after your show? Do you explain it to them?
Sean: I don’t like to offend people. That is not my intention. But if someone is offended because someone took it the wrong way, then I do not care. I don’t explain it to them. One woman came up to me complaining about the joke I tell about the 5-year-old daughter
Clip: “I got my five year old daughter on the phone saying daddy-daddy, please come visit me, daddy-daddy I love you I miss you I want you to be here…oh f*ck off. I got my own life to live and my plans don’t include you baby. Besides I hate hospitals”
Sean: So, this woman comes up to me after one of my shows and tells me that she has a young daughter, and her husband just left her, and that I should drop that joke. But I told her, that she made the mistake of marrying the wrong guy and that’s not my fault. This is a joke I wrote on my kitchen table at three o’clock in the morning; it has nothing to do with her life.
Host: How do you feel when you hear a joke that resembles yours, to the point you think someone stole your joke?
Sean: I get very mad. I do not like being ripped off. I have never done it to anybody else. It might sound self-righteous but I don’t like being ripped off and I don’t steal from anybody.
Host: Have you ever told a joke that someone wrote for you?
Sean: No. However I did find out that there was one joke that I was telling, and it was my mother who pointed out the joke was something someone else had told. After doing this joke for 4 to 5 years, my mother told me she saw it on TV. The joke was “I went to an all you can eat buffet, and when I got up for seconds, the manager said sorry sir, that is all you can eat”. My mother had just seen a re-run of Dennis the Menace TV show from the 1950s, where Dennis had an all you can drink lemonade stand, and he poured Margaret a little glass of lemonade, and she wanted more, and he said, sorry Margaret that is all you can drink. It’s the same joke, so I stopped saying it.
Host: Would you still have stopped it even if it was a great joke to begin with and you innocently, without knowing, told essentially the same joke?
Sean: Yes, I would still stop it. Even though I probably shouldn’t stop really because I did not steal it, but there is a bit of a code (of ethics) I got.
Host: Do you have any superstitions about doing comedy?
Sean: I was walking at the airport, and I spotted a penny from far away on the floor, and I thought to myself that if that penny is the year that I was born, then that would be my lucky penny. I picked it up and it was the year I was born. It was my lucky penny ever since.
Host: What would you like to say to end this interview?
Sean: Ladies and Gentleman, comedy is my job and I quit! Thank you and good-night! Thank you!