Of the comedians I regularly perform alongside, few have had the breakthrough year of Keith Carey.
An Orange County native, Carey is one of those people who was undeniably designed for comedy. You can tell by looking. Within your first few minutes in his presence, you may even be verbally appreciative that he found his place shouting into a microphone, because he’s just too enthusiastically dark and gleefully caustic to have ever functioned in a day job. He knows that too, after getting fired three years back by Anaheim dream-employer Disneyland. Look at Keith and his beautiful idiot nightmare face: that was never meant to comfort children.
I thought Keith was just another comic rising the comedy ladder parallel to me, until he performed on a show I produced in 2013.
The concept of Tell & Show involved a booked lineup of comedians splitting their stage time with a surprise guest of their own selection. I loved putting the show on because I loved the surprise of what lunatic performers chose to curate for our intimate audience in a beautiful candle-lit theater. When performers went safe, they split time or did duo work with other comics; usually bigger names I’d had no hope of booking. When they took the assignment more seriously, we got magic: full band accompaniment to tales of sexual depravity, dance numbers choreographed from journal entries written during a period of institutional hospitalization, porn addiction support groups, conspiracy theorists booked from a Craigslist open call, time traveling dating coaches, an animatronic Men’s Rights activist, drunken Bible worship, and much more. Our final show even featured comic Kevin Hawkins rushing the fifty best known names in indie comedy through an apocalyptically overwhelming round of One Minute Podcasts. Yes, he booked the entire open mic scene for a ten minute bit.
But for those in attendance on May 6th, the night of Keith’s appearance on Tell & Show, something transcended. Keith took the microphone and casually introduced us to his backstory as a child of addiction. Growing up, his mother and her various boyfriends had been meth-heads who raised Carey in a household that encouraged building elaborate structures in the middle of the night and maintaining a candy-only diet. Carey has vivid memories of being beaten by his mother for attempting to eat her Swedish Fish (which he only recently discovered is the worst of all candy) and spending so many nights with local law enforcement that he honestly believed all nuclear families had a mother, a father, and an Officer Jerry.
Then, with no warning, Keith brought his guest performer to the stage: his mother. The room went quiet, then gaspy, then totally silent again as we prepared for a Jerry Springer level confrontation between a survivor of abuse and a life-long abuser. Instead, Keith handed his now-sober mother the second microphone, and the two proceeded to roast each other for ten minutes. I say ten minutes as if anyone was checking the time remaining on Carey’s set, which no one was. It may have been thirty. It was an honest and beautiful exchange of barbs that seemed to heal a familial bond with each bombshell of regrettable memory. It was the most awe-inspiring thing I’ve ever witnessed on stage, and nothing since has eclipsed it.
Since that night, Keith Carey has gone from the best known bisexual Doctor Who fan in Orange County to the producer of a successful comedy show that takes place in a tattoo parlor, to finding his breakthrough as a recurring champion on the very popular Roast Battle Show at The Comedy Store— a show he was performing on last night when a man was brutally executed on the steps of the historic venue.
No one is unaware of the stats. There have been more mass shootings in America in 2015 than there have been days in 2015. In fact, it’s become uncommon to make it through an entire day without someone reposting That Onion Article because it has just become relevant yet again. My friend Asterios has even made his own evergreen list of Conservative Mass Shooting Talking Points, which spawned its own companion article about the re-usability of said mass shooting bullet points. We have reached a point where reactions are so automatic we have memes and all-purpose quotes and images we share on social media because the problem never changes, and America’s refusal to respond with meaningful change seems… unchangeable.
While the details about tonight’s shooting are still not clear, the cultural context is: we are no longer safe. No one is safe anywhere they go. And whether you think “good guys with guns” can help or you believe gun laws should be strengthened, the politics do not change our new status quo of the constant threat of danger.
So I’m not posting that Onion article anymore. I’m not using space-fillers for something that has hit close to people I love multiple times this year. From now on I’m going to share my celebration of a life.
I’m going to introduce people to a human life worthy of celebration. Because the first 2/3rds of this article could have just as easily been me sharing memories of a deceased friend. Keith Carey has beat so many odds just to make it here today, and knowing that he’s at a diner making offensive jokes with other shaken survivors right now fills me with joy, but I also know a single wall separated him from a barrage of bullets, and in a moment he could have been taken from us tonight, before so many of you got to experience the joy born of his tremendous talent.
Maybe this will become the new normal response. Maybe we will remember the victims of these crimes but also spread the word about all the amazing people we could have lost. Maybe the idea of preservation will speak to those preventing change in a language the dead cannot.
I’m glad Keith is still here, and I hope he makes it through tomorrow too. Increasingly, the chances aren’t in anyone’s favor.