Embarking on a national tour with his Fringe hour Winner Takes All, Alex Kealy takes on Silicon tech monopolies asking important questions about what it is like to wake up at 3am PT or the point of New Zealand. Here Kealy chats with Katerina Partolina Schwartz about his upcoming tour, the future and character of Big Tech, and his new podcast.
That feeling of connecting with other people and your jokes getting laughs is just a high that never seems to abate
How would you summarise your show?
It’s a show about Silicon Valley tech monopolies where I’m trying to be reasonable and nuanced and go into the reasons why I think particular elements of the business models are bad. It’s not necessarily anti-business or anti-tech, I think tech is good and businesses structured in a sensible way can be socially good. There are specificities in there that I’m pro regulation, but not necessarily pro dissolving those companies, but maybe breaking some of them up into sub elements.
At the time you performed Winner Takes All in Edinburgh, Elon Musk was just about to buy Twitter. Have you had to change anything in your show to keep up with what’s been happening in the news?
There’s a joke where the entire structure of the joke is predicated on Elon Musk being the richest person in the world, but because of Tesla’s stock crash that’s not true anymore. I don’t know if he’s even in the top 3 or 4 anymore. It’s impossible to update that joke and all I have to do is rely on the audience not remembering that fact and that maybe there’s a larger truth that rings, that the flavour of Elon Musk being the richest person still rings true enough even if that’s mathematically not true anymore.
I think it’s that classic thing in stand up where it’s like when Road Runner will run over a canyon but not look down and just run through the air and get to the other side and Wile E. Coyote will fall down. That’s why comedy is a quasi-fascistic art form - as long as you lie convincingly the audience don’t have time to investigate that.
What’s the future of Big Tech?
Well, it’s funny, as well as the Musk thing, I suppose the other thing that’s changed in the past four or five months is that almost immediately after Edinburgh is that we’ve had this ratcheting up of interest rates. All these companies have been crashing because interest rates are going up and now people want to move from speculative growth stocks to safer stocks. So maybe some of the last 15 years have been a product of 0% interest rates, and now that they’re gone maybe a lot of these companies will start exploding if they can’t turn a profit. It’s like they were playing economics on easy mode where they had all this cheap capital that wanted somewhere to go, and now that capital’s more expensive, the fact that they have these ‘don’t worry we’ll make massive profits in the future’ models become less attractive to investors.
Why did you choose to do a show about Big Tech?
I suppose they’re quite a right target for satire because there are a lot of companies with unethical business models and I think if a basic block of satire is hypocrisy, then a lot of these Big Tech companies not only have slightly naughty business models, but are very keen to impress upon us their particular ethical good. I think that there’s a tendency in Big Tech to self-moralise in a way that I don’t know is quite as prevalent in other industries.
Kiss, marry, kill Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk?
I guess probably kill Musk and work back from there. I just have a visceral dislike of Musk in a way that I don’t for the others. Then probably, marry Zuckerberg, I feel like he seems placid in comparison to Bezos. And I guess by default I’m kissing Bezos.
What are you looking forward the most on your tour?
It’s always really fun doing a show that you know and that you’re not struggling and reaching around for new punchlines, so I think that getting to go out there and do a show where my brain isn’t struggling for memory, and instead I’m just in the room and jazzing around a show that I already know, I think that’s exciting. It’s such a treat performing to people who’ve come to see specifically you. Most of the time in comedy, you’re just a comedian that happens to be on the bill, so it’s always a privilege if people have come to see specifically what you’re presenting.
How did you start doing stand up?
In my first year of university I did a competition where I didn’t get through. Wouldn’t recommend doing a competition as your first gig because you have the immediate high of doing some stand up and the world not collapsing, and then immediately afterwards you get objectively rated for a subjective art form, and then you immediately get disappointed because you didn’t win a competition on your first gig. And basically my first 10 gigs, every odd numbered gig I’d do well, and every even numbered gig I’d have the hubris of the first odd numbered gig and not prepare properly. I would need a crushing defeat of an even numbered gig to make myself prepare properly for the odd numbered gig. And only after about 8 shows did I go, "oh yeah, you need to prepare each time."
What do you wish you knew when you first started working as a comedian?
Travelling easily is important, that’s the administrative advice. The technical advice would be to try to develop different types of joke writing skills. A really good sign if you’re a young, new act is not just that your first few sets are good, it’s also that you are able to do different types of jokes, are you not relying on the same thing. And the emotional one would be, a gig will go badly at some point always. Sarah Millican has a rule that you can be upset until 11am the next day and then you’re not allowed to be upset anymore and you’ve just got to crack on, so I suppose trying to find a way to emotionally separate yourself from the feeling from rejection.
What’s your favourite part of being a comedian?
It never gets boring being on stage. That feeling of connecting with other people and your jokes getting laughs is just a high that never seems to abate. It does sound like a drug addict describing a high, but that’s what it is. It’s just so fun, the actual time onstage is just the best thing.
That’s why Edinburgh is so great because dying at a gig in Edinburgh means nothing because you might be onstage again in 2 hours so you only have 2 hours to feel miserable. Or you do a hundred gigs in a month, and you realise that your heart isn’t being weighed up by the Egyptian god Anubis because of the one gig you just died at. It doesn’t matter emotionally in that way.
What are you are working on next?
As well as the tour coming up and a couple of extra dates announced in London, which I’m excited about. I’m starting a podcast with my friend Ivo Graham where we take a comic to a music gig and we have a night out with them, and then later in the week we record a podcast where we talk about that. We’ve got Rose Matafeo, Phil Wang, Tom Rosenthal doing the first few episodes. It’s called Gig Pigs, so that’s my spring project. We should be starting to release that later this month, and then it’s a question whether we can fit in a gig a week with another comedian and recording it until that project drives us mad through its logistical complications.
Is the Tayler Swift Eras Tour on your list?
I don’t know if we’ve got a way into the Ticketmaster ticket monopoly that would allow us to get a ticket. Maybe the long game is that we’re massive Swifties and we’ve set up an entire podcast to get free tickets to see Taylor Swift.
You’ll have to bring down Ticketmaster.
Yes, that’s Edinburgh 2025.