In the 80s and 90s, long before Seattle’s population boom made it the fastest-growing major city in the nation, local sketch comedy show “Almost Live!” ruled the airwaves. It was a favorite for people who grew up in the area — those who understood inside jokes about different neighborhoods. But it was also a favorite for any comedy-lover, with popular sketches that gave birth to successful shows (including ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’) and comedians, including Pat Cashman and Joel McHale.
Former “Almost Live!” host, comedian John Keister, joined KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson to talk about the former Seattle staple and his upcoming stand-up special.
Keister, whose last comedy show is Sept. 9, says the influx of a tech population has changed the culture in Seattle — and with that, has changed a part of Seattle’s comedy history.
“You work in clubs, and people, they kind of want… that club comedy, and it just sort of veers away. And they could be anywhere,” Keister said. “And it occurred to me that the people in the town could be anywhere. I mean, the city has changed so much, and it has become one of these cities in which an idea has become a destination. And we saw that my whole life, with San Francisco in the 60s, Venice Beach in the 70s.”
“What (I mean by that) is that people move to a place because they don’t have an allegiance to the city, they have an allegiance to a way of life or a profession. Here, it’s just overrun by these tech workers. It was hard enough for us to book a venue because they were like, ‘You’re who? What?’ And I’m like well, no we had this show.”
Keister says he doesn’t begrudge it and understands the shift. But times have certainly changed for the stars of the former program.
“Almost Live!” earned a number of local Emmy awards through its 389-episode run. The program got special permission to work as a lead-in to Saturday Night Live, bumping the national show to midnight.
“NBC started noticing that in Seattle, SNL started doing better than in any other major city in America. So they were like ‘just whatever you’re doing, keep it like this,’” Keister said.
“We were good for each other.”
Filming also often took place on the streets of the city.
“There was a way that things were done in Seattle back in those days that it was a much more sort of friendly town. We’d go around do stuff and people would be like ‘I can’t believe…’ you know, the cops would step into our bits, the people would do all sorts of stuff. And I thought you know, there are still those people in town that haven’t been driven out by these transplants who have made this the largest growing tech town in the world, and I thought you know, I ought to do just one last concert.”
The centerpiece of Keister’s final show, “Living & Dying in Seattle,” is the evolution of the city.
“I can’t complain that there were changes,” Keister said of the city and its comedy scene. The show is made for “natives, newcomers and anyone else trying to make sense” of Seattle.
“I just want everybody to come together and just sort of have a party about it.”
Keister’s final show is Sept. 9 at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall.