Star of Storage Hunters, Sean Kelly is making his Edinburgh Fringe debut this year with not one, but two shows.
In the afternoons, Sean will be hosting The Sean Kelly Chat Show, interviewing acts from around the Fringe and in the evening he’ll be delivering a straight stand-up show, Sold Your Way!
Best-known for presenting Storage Hunters and Storage Hunters UK rather than being a stand-up comedian, I recently caught up with Sean to discuss how he first got into comedy and what it means for him bringing his stand-up to a wider audience at the Fringe.
People in the UK think of you as “that guy from Storage Hunters” and not necessarily as a comedian. How did you first get into comedy?
I went to my first open mic nineteen years ago at The Comedy Store in La Jolla California. My wife used to be the personal assistant for Joan Rivers so she would be with Joan as she toured her comedy act all around America and when Joan had her own talk show and would do Vegas, my wife was with her 24/7.
So when I told my wife that I’d always loved comedy and wanted to do comedy she told me to start going to open mic and getting five minutes together. So I started in 1998 in San Diego and then after I’d done it for a few years, I realised that the only way comedians get better is by getting out and working the road.
But by that point I was already married and I had a job managing a newspaper in San Diego, I was the Sales Manager for the fifth largest newspaper in the United States so I had this pretty serious job which meant I couldn’t just take off and quit my job even though I love comedy.
So I got the idea of opening my own comedy club in San Diego, but instead of advertising the club, not telling anybody about the club, and what I would do is mail out free tickets to companies every week for every show and I put myself on seven shows a week; one on Thursday nights, three on Friday nights and three on Saturday nights. I did that every single week for eight years. And I never went on the road. I brought the road to me.
So that’s how I really got my chops as a comedian. Then whilst I was doing the comedy, that’s when I also discovered auctioning and as if I wasn’t already doing enough, I started doing auctions during the day on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
I did that for years until I got the idea for Storage Hunters and then that took off and I ended up making 80 US episodes and 56 UK episodes, so 136 altogether and it’s on in 38 countries so now that the show is pretty much on hiatus, we haven’t filmed for a year, I thought, you know what, I’m going to go back to what I love doing which is stand-up comedy.
What’s Sold Your Way! all about?
What I do is I tell stories from my life and it’s all about me. The comedians that I loved the most when I was growing up were the ones that when I walked out of their show I felt like I knew them. Versus the comedians where I’d walk in, laugh my ass off but leave there feeling like I just heard a bunch of jokes but I don’t really know the guy.
I’ve been working hard to take stuff that I think is funny that has happened to me and bring that to the stage. It’s just ongoing work. Each night i’m up there and a new fresh line would come out that I got to add in because it was great.
What can people expect when they come and watch the show?
Right now I’m doing these shows that are an hour-and-a-half so I do an hour of comedy, there’s a little break, then in the second half of the show I do a charity auction for Help The Heroes where I ask the audience to bring a cheeky item along and we auction that off and just in the last month I’ve raised thousands of pounds doing that.
But up at the Fringe what I’m going to do is 45 minutes of stand-up and 15 minutes of a charity auction at the end.
And what about The Sean Kelly Chat Show?
This actually wasn’t my idea. It was my promoter’s idea. To do a chat show every afternoon and interview other guests because back in America I had a TV show called Laugh Out Loud with Sean Kelly where I would interview other comedians. It was on a small network called Wealth TV and I was really good at it. It was one of their most top-rated TV shows. But they’re a little network that not many people have heard of, so very few saw it.
So in Edinburgh it’s going to be me interviewing other comedians at the Fringe about them and their act and then I’m also going to end each one of those shows with a charity auction and hopefully get that comedian involved. Maybe get them to take off an article of clothing or something.
Would you like to be known more for your comedy now in the UK rather than as a TV presenter?
I would like people to know that I do three things for a living. I present TV, I’m a stand-up comedian and I’m an auctioneer. Those are really the three things I do. Over the years I’ve made the most money as a TV presenter but I have probably spent the most time doing stand-up comedy.
Who would you like to come and see the show?
For me, what would be nice is if at some point I get people from the TV industry come and see me and go “Oh I get it. He’s way more than just that guy on Storage Hunters who’s shouting at people and giving them funny nicknames. This guy is way more than a guy that sells rubbish and acts like a moron on Dave every day."
If I can help them make that connection that would be great. Because what happens is, if you do something well or get known for something, people get it in their minds that that’s what you do, that’s who you are. But really, I’ve only been an auctioneer for about twelve years but I’ve been a stand-up for nineteen years. It’s the thing I’ve done the most, but it’s the thing that’s kind of hidden.
Why have you chosen to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe this year?
I’ll be completely honest. I never wanted to do the Fringe. I never wanted to go out and do any festivals.
I’ve got loads of friends who do stand-up who have done the festivals and I know it’s incredibly hard work, there’s a good chance that you can go and lose money doing it and most of my friends who have done the Fringe and other festival circuits are doing so in order to try and get discovered.
So for me, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to do that. But I love stand-up and I want people to know that I am a stand-up and really there’s no better way in the UK than to just get up there and do it at the Fringe.
I’m not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. Some people are going to come and go “Mate, you’re rubbish!” and some people are going to come and they’re going to love it. It depends on what your sense of humour is. And that’s all I really care about, finding my core audience.
So the more and more I thought about the Fringe, then I started to get excited and think that either way it’s going to be awesome and a great experience.
I did a couple of smaller festivals to test the water earlier this year so I did the Leicester Comedy Festival and had a great time. A great time!
What are you most looking forward to about the Fringe?
I’m a huge comedy fan and when I did Storage Hunters UK I had a lot of comedians come on the show and several of those guys have shows at the Fringe this year so I’m hoping to go and see their shows. I’m hoping that the people who come on my chat show that I’ll then get to go out and see their show.
I’m just looking forward to the whole experience. I think August is going to be an amazing month.
Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?
Right now the major focus is on stand-up comedy. I’m out doing shows and then I’ll do the Fringe. Then after the Fringe in October I’m going on tour with T-Money and Green Mile from storage Hunters who are two guys that I was doing stand-up with back in San Diego long before the TV show. I got them on the show.
So they’re going over and we’re doing 27 shows in the month of October. T-Money has been doing stand-up for nineteen years and Green Mile has been doing it for fifteen years.
I’ve been out pitching some TV show ideas because I had some ideas before Storage Hunters that I thought were even better. So now I’m hoping that people will listen to me. I couldn’t get those sold before i got Storage Hunters but now I’m out talking to networks in the hope that they’ll listen.