Going, Going Gone | Living North

Going, Going Gone

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Sean Kelly
Sean Kelly, star of TV’s Storage Hunters, will be performing two standup comedy gigs in Yorkshire ahead of his production at the Edinburgh Fringe. We spoke to him about comedy, auctions, and life for military veterans

A lot of people will know you from Storage Hunters but not your standup. How did that happen?
I started off going to open mic nights in 1998 and I had always wanted to do comedy. As a kid growing up I loved Robin Williams. Many years later I ended up having the same manager as Robin Williams. I thought he was hilarious, I always wanted to try standup, and my wife who I’ve been married to for 25 years used to be Joan Rivers’ personal assistant. She said ‘If you want to try standup, you’ve got to go to open mic nights at comedy clubs.’ So I did in 1998, and haven’t stopped since.

It must’ve been nervewracking the first few times.
Not the first few times – the first several hundred times. I loved it and it was something I wanted to do, but I realised what a massive challenge it is. It’s a struggle: you’re trying to find your voice and your timing and delivery, and you’re going through this learning curve that is brutal. At the end of the day, I stuck with it and ended up opening up my own comedy club in San Diego just so I could give myself more stage time and get better at it. I did seven shows a week every week for eight consecutive years.

How did you then progress from that to TV?
As a comedian, one of the things you want to do is figure out how to get on TV and in the movies. Like any comedian I wanted to be cast on a sitcom. But one day, I was doing my day job doing a storage auction and two guys get into a fight. I thought: this is it, this is going to be my show. I can clown around, do anything I want. So I filmed it, and it took me years, but it became a TV show that’s in 138 countries. 

Why do you think the show is so popular?
It’s one of these things where regardless of where you are in the world, people can understand it. We all like to gamble a little bit and like the mystery of what’s in the next box. We all like a little drama. It has all those things; all these crazy characters. They usually come from a background where they’re not built to work in an office. You put all these people together and sparks fly.

Is there an overlap between being an auctioneer and a standup?
I think what it takes to be a really good auctioneer is the same exact thing it takes to be a really good comedian. I think you can be an even better auctioneer if you are a comedian, because comedians really have to master building a rapport with the audience, timing, delivery, catering stuff to the audience in front of you. What that takes is loads and loads of stage time. We’re talking thousands of shows. Most auctioneers don’t get on stage that much. When I was doing seven shows a week – one on Thursday, three every Friday night and three every Saturday night – I did that every single week for eight years. That amount of stage time has made me a way better auctioneer than most others. Most others don’t have that timing or delivery. If you’re funny as an auctioneer, it’s a bonus.

You’re combining the two in your show.
Indeed: I’m doing a good, solid hour of comedy and doing my act, then after the break coming back and doing a charity auction for Help for Heroes. If the audience has an old cheeky item at home, they should bring it. I’ll invite them up on stage, we’ll talk about the item, auction it off then give all the money to Help for Heroes. I did some auctions a couple of years ago where I gave around £8,000 to Help for Heroes and thought, this is the way to go. I was in Iraq, in Desert Storm, and it’s easy to forget how many veterans of our armed forces have come home and are struggling to reintegrate into society. Some have disabilities, are struggling with mental problems from being involved in such a traumatic event. I think it’s a nice thing that my fans and I can share together. We raise money, then give it to a great cause.

You probably know people who have come back from Desert Storm and struggle to reintegrate back into society.
Unfortunately I know way more than I wish I did. I know way too many friends that are now on 100 percent disability. Guys we thought were completely fine, we’re finding out they suffer from oil well smoke, from possible exposure to some kind of chemical weapons. Maybe they didn’t get hit by a bullet or a roadside bomb, but they inhaled a bunch of stuff and were exposed to a bunch of things and now 25 years later it’s rearing its ugly head.

Sean will be performing at The Alhambra Theatre in Bradford on 13 June and The Great Yorkshire Fringe on 22 July. Tickets are available from www.bradford-theatres.co.uk and www.greatyorkshirefringe.com.

Published in: May 2017

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