An interview with John Keister, who returns to performing comedy with "Night of the (206)" at the Triple Door in Seattle.
One recent Monday, a semitruck overturned on the Alaskan Way Viaduct and backed up traffic for hours. There was nothing for drivers to do but get out of their cars. People chatted, someone broke out a basketball.
Then a man took a long look at a guy in a baseball cap.
“Hey, are you who I think you are?”
John Keister gets this all the time. A long look while they place the face. A smile of recognition, and then: “Is there ever going to be another ‘Almost Live’?”
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The locally produced sketch comedy show followed “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) for 11 years, poking fun at everything Seattle. Scandinavian Americans who park badly and leave their seat belts hanging out of their doors. The “High Fivin’ White Guys.” Name your favorite.
It also marked the start of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and launched Joel McHale (“The Soup,” “Community” and an increasing number of films). Original head writer Jim Sharp is now a senior vice president of programming and development at Comedy Central; and cast member Bob Nelson’s screenplay, “Nebraska,” starts filming in October under “Sideways” director Alexander Payne.
But back to the question: Are Keister and his merry band back?
“Coming soon,” Keister, 56, told me the other day.
On Sept. 18, he will reunite with former castmate, voice-over king and Taco Time pitchman Pat Cashman and Cashman’s son, Chris, for “Night of the (206)” at Seattle’s Triple Door. It’s officially described as “stand-up comedy, sit-down comedy, hanging comedy and more.” There will be videos — Keister, the Cashmans and a camera crew have been spotted around Seattle for weeks — and … what?
“We, honestly, at this point, don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like,” Keister said. “The show’s gonna kill, I can tell you that.
“But it’s not ‘Almost Live!’ It’s a different show.”
Not that anyone is buying that. Every time Keister takes the stage — even alone — it’s billed as an “Almost Live!” revival, or “Almost Live!” night.
“Blah, blah, blah,” Keister said with a wry smile.
With the Cashmans on the bill, it’s as close to “blah, blah, blah” as they’ve ever gotten. So it’s no wonder that the Triple Door show sold out in less than a week.
“We are getting more publicity for this than ‘Almost Live!’ ever got,” Keister said. “No one ever wrote about ‘Almost Live.’ It was just there.”
It still follows SNL and is watched by people who remember when it was new; people who were kids and got to stay up and watch it; and newcomers who see it as a comedic primer on the ways of this place.
“There is this whole group of people who were 10 or 12 when we started and allowed to stay up to watch ‘Almost Live!’ ” Keister said. “They are lawyers and Web guys now, but they remember when it was a special treat. Their parents would laugh and they would laugh.”
Keister understands that dynamic. As a kid, he watched TV with his parents. Red Skelton. Lucille Ball. Carol Burnett and her cast of characters. “Murderer’s Row,” he called it.
He tried to re-create that with “Almost Live!” and hopes to do it again at the Triple Door — and, if things work out, on TV.
“The happiest time in my life was those Saturdays,” he said. The ideas that went into the monologue. The last-minute rehearsals. The audience coming in. The hit of laughter.
He hopes to hear it again, thanks to the wealth of new material that Seattle has provided — things Keister has been itching to skewer.
“There is so much out there now that hasn’t been adequately commented on,” he said.
The Sunset Bowl closed, displacing neighborhood regulars, but there’s nothing in its place. The Sonics are gone: “Why, because Howard Schultz couldn’t negotiate a better lease?” Keister asked. “Doesn’t he negotiate leases all over the planet?”
He remembers when the Space Needle was built, and how people then looked 50 years ahead and imagined us all flying around on jetpacks.
“Fifty years later, that optimistic vision of the future has been reduced to ‘Ride a bike and recycle.’ I had a bike 50 years ago!”
Since “Almost Live!” was canceled, Keister did “The John Report with Bob,” and has performed a steady stream of corporate gigs. For a while, he was head writer for a now-cancelled public-television show called “BizKid$.” He now teaches a script-writing class at The Art Institute of Seattle and loves it.
He lives in South Seattle with his wife and has four sons in their 20s who don’t think he’s that funny.
But other people do. They’re the ones who will be there when he gets back on stage.
“By having a break, I think I came to understand that ‘Almost Live!’ was unlike any other production in show business, where people had more fun and less ego,” he said. “It was amazing.”
The “Almost Live” sign is still on the studio door at KING5. Maybe Keister will find his way back.
Nicole & Co. appears Sundays in NW Arts & Life. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.