Pleasant Hill native and former Berkeley resident Sean Keane is currently one of San Francisco’s top standup comedians. He’s a staple at comedy festivals and clubs, appearing on bills with name-brand headliners such as Todd Barry, Kyle Kinane, Tig Notaro, and Twitter’s DadBoner, and a co-founder of The Business, the award-winning long-form weekly comedy show at The Dark Room in SF’s Mission District. He’s a three-time “Iron Comic” titleholder and a winner of Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction (for his competitively erotic re-imagining of Driving Miss Daisy).
Keane has a non-fake, genuinely likeable and engaging stage presence. His classic routines include a complete dismantling of that Kay Jewelers commercial (with the deaf girl and her fiancée who doesn’t know sign language) and a long bit about getting news of Osama Bin Laden’s death via ESPN’s bottom-of-the-screen news crawl that is a tour-de-force, War on Terror-meets-the Sports Industrial Complex piss-take delivered in dead-eye sports announcer style. It’s head-spinningly, face-meltingly hilarious.
The recent spate of high-profile departures to Los Angeles by certain San Francisco rock musicians led to public hand-wringing, wailing, and the gnashing of teeth. Conversely, when an SF standup comedian moves to LA, it’s considered neither a defection nor a betrayal of the scene, but just part of the natural order of show business. After spending years honing their chops and charming their way to the top of the local heap, LA (or NYC) is generally the next stop for those SF comedians with the grit to pursue a professional career in show business. Patton Oswalt, Marc Maron, and Dana Gould all did time in the SF comedy scene back in the day and, more recently, locals such as Brent Weinbach, Moshe Kasher, W. Kamau Bell, Chris Garcia, Chris Thayer, Emily Heller, Alex Koll, and Sheng Wang have taken their talents to major media capitals on either coast.
Last month, Sean announced that he is moving to Los Angeles in May. But before letting him board that “Greyhound of the Skies” flight to Bob Hope Airport, clutching his single, grubby free drink coupon and the Craigslist Los Angeles URL scribbled on the back of a crumpled set list, it seemed only fitting to subject him to that most ignominious of employment traditions: the exit interview.
[This interview was conducted at an open house for a $650K “garden condo” (with a heated bathroom floor) in the Lower Haight, April 2014.]
Sean, first things first: what restaurant will you miss the most?
I think my favorite restaurant is Burma Superstar, but I ate every Wednesday night at Taqueria Cancun.
Willie Brown and Wilkes Bashford famously ate at Le Central once a week for decades. Was Taqueria Cancun your Le Central? If so, who’s your Wilkes Bashford?
It was. And my Wilkes Bashford was Bucky Sinister (a local comedian from The Business who bears more than a passing resemblance to John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski.)
Please don’t take this the wrong way but you seem relatively well adjusted for a comedian. Do you think you have the requisite “darkness” inside to make it?
That’s a good point. I do have the self-loathing, but I don’t know if I’ve really had enough of the trauma or if I just have to exaggerate petty slights and make them into something that happens in a one-man show. Rob Delaney from LA has an amazing one-man show that’s about him getting into a horrible car accident, going to jail, going into recovery. Mine would just have to be moments of personal embarrassment that in my head probably rise to the level of waking up in jail. Like that time I passed a field sobriety test or the time I got a strong talking to at work but didn’t get fired.
In San Francisco, stage time is handed out to aspiring comedians like mimosas to Marina chicks at a bottomless brunch in the Castro. How often are you performing these days?
Lately it’s very difficult for me to turn down stage time. My social life has been very different in the last year, as I’m doing stand up pretty much seven nights a week. The last girl I was dating lived an 8-minute walk from my house and also close to a couple of standup venues.
Did you ever stop in to any of those venues on your way to her house to sneak in a “tight five”?
Yes, I dropped by Amnesia to do a 5-minute set and still made it to her house inside of 30 minutes. I could’ve told her about it but I didn’t.
Less than a month ago, you were the No. 1 Google search term result for “Sean Keane,” but since the news broke about your impending departure to LA, you’ve slipped to No. 4 in the rankings. Is this the opening that other Sean Keane usurpers have been waiting for?
Yes, especially for Irish tenor Sean Keane (who now holds the Top 3 spots on Google) and in-line skater Sean Keane, a well-known member of the American rollerblading community.
Any instances of Sean Keane brand confusion?
Once, of the blue, I got booked on a Canadian comedy festival by people who thought I was another Sean Keane, the 1980s Canadian one-liner comedian. He wore a suit and lurched around telling 10 second jokes along the lines of, “I took acid for the first time and didn’t think anything was going to happen, but then this dog started yelling at me.”
You’ve won almost every award and accolade possible here in SF including Iron Comic and the SF Bay Guardian‘s Goldie. Is there one that escaped your grasp — one you didn’t get that’s going to eat away at you for years to come?
The Punchline had an award called the “Dan Crawford Memorial Scholarship.” It meant that you could drink free there for the entire year of the award. I feel like I could’ve done some real damage with that award. It was within my grasp, but they haven’t given it out since 2011. I was worthy and would’ve enjoyed it. “How good is he at comedy? He won a free bar tab for a year from Live Nation!”
In light of your victory at Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction, will you be looking for work as a “script fluffer” in the San Fernando Valley?
There are a lot of porn parodies, but they tend to be of television shows. I feel I can use my competitive erotic fan fiction skills and my english degree to bring a more classic highbrow literature sensibility to the industry, like my treatment for Madame Ovaries.
You recently performed a 2-minute set at a San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Economic Development daytime open mic event. How’d that work out?
Scott Wiener did not seem to enjoy it. David Campos: all about it; Jane Kim seemed quietly amused.
Were you truly acting out of civic concern about tech boom issues or was this a quest for more stage time?
Well, it is a TV credit and those are like gold. Sure, it’s public access, closed circuit or whatever, but a TV gig is a TV gig!
What was most satisfying about your San Francisco comedy job?
Doing The Business was the best because of Chris Garcia, Alex Koll, Bucky Sinister, Caitlin Gill, Nato Green, Mike Drucker, Anna Seregina, and Chris Thayer. It was a show we started just to get stage time with the idea that no one would ever want to see it. And then eventually it got good enough that lots of people wanted to see it. I also really liked the bizarre, very personally driven movie-based shows I did like The Sean-shank Redemption, Sean In 60 Seconds, and Keane-Wolf.
What was least satisfying about your San Francisco comedy job?
The worst shows I’ve ever had were in Redwood City, Mountain View, any place with “Roadhouse” in the title.
Do you have any tips to help us find your replacement?
You want someone who likes sports, is quick on their feet, and sunburns easily.
Would you recommend San Francisco to your family and friends?
I would, especially to the 85 or so members of my family that already live here.
Say the philanthropic organization Ca$h for Comedians offers to give you the down payment for this $650K, 500 sq. ft. one-bedroom garden condo that we’re currently standing in. Would that be enough to change your mind about leaving?
It would! I’ve lived in SF long enough that the dream of television fame has been bested by the dream of home ownership. That’s more precious than any Oscar or Emmy could ever be.
Some selected upcoming Sean Keane shows:
April 15: Uptown Almanac’s Locally Sourced Pop-Up Comedy Night at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
April 16, 23, 30: The Business at the Dark Room Theater in San Francisco.
April 17: The Mission Position at Lost Weekend Video in San Francisco.