John Keister – known and loved by Western Washingtonians as the host of KING-TV’s “Almost Live,” the local answer to “Saturday Night Live” – has not lost his way with the Northwest zeitgeist.
“I saw the other night that the new iPhone is being nicknamed the I5,” he said. “I said, ‘Boy, that’s not going to sell really well in Seattle. There’s nothing about that that sounds fast or easy to use.’”
Keister, who will perform Saturday in Olympia, is at work on a new show called “The (206)” after Seattle’s area code.
But wherever he goes, whatever he does, “AL” goes with him the way high-fiving white guys go with beer commercials, to reference one popular bit on the late-night favorite.
“Almost Live” aired from 1984-1999 and continues in reruns to this day, acquainting new generations with the rules of driving in Ballard and the streetwalking lawyers of Aurora Avenue.
The show became so popular that KING 5 delayed “Saturday Night Live” to air it and Comedy Central picked it up for a while. It also originated “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” which went on to become a PBS series.
“I think ‘Almost Live’ invented a certain comic language for the Northwest that people had always thought of but it hadn’t quite been said out loud,” Keister said. “People really loved seeing a good comedy show about their area.”
Just how big a deal is “AL” even after 13 years off the air? It seems impossible to find an article about the new show Keister is developing that doesn’t mention it. Wikipedia, in fact, calls the new show a possible sequel. And it does reunite Keister with fellow “AL” alum Pat Cashman.
Amy Rolph of the Seattle PI’s Big Blog offered a list of suggestions for any new program. Among them: “Since the ‘Lame List’ can’t be presented by grungy rockers anymore — Seattle has changed, after all — we suggest you let Capitol Hill hipsters do the honors. They think lots of stuff is lame, like chain restaurants and music people have heard of.”
Keister doesn’t mind the comparisons. “That’s what people always say,” he said. “People have this need to do that.” After all, he added, the humor coming from him and Cashman is going to be familiar. “There will be a comic sensibility that’s similar.”
“The (206)” doesn’t have a sponsor yet, Keister said, but it will definitely be seen on the Web. It already has been seen live. The sold-out “Night of the (206)” two weeks ago at The Triple Door in Seattle combined live performances by Keister, Cashman and Cashman’s son Chris with filmed segments.
Perhaps Keister’s most memorable contribution to “Almost Live” was “The John Report” (later called “The Late Report”), a “Weekend Update”-style news segment.
“If something weird happened in the news, people would just be like, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do with that,’” Keister said.
He loved to take on the news of the weird, he said, lamenting the many things he’s been unable to comment on, from the man who died after having sex with a horse in Enumclaw, to the World Trade Organization protests, to the rise of bicycle culture, to the day Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the Yankees while the New York team was in town.
“He just had to walk from one dugout to the other,” Keister said.
The comedian said his stand-up sticks pretty close to life in the Northwest.
So does he have any Olympia jokes at the ready?
“Evergreen was always a solid target,” he said of The Evergreen State College. “It’s the only college where when you have a May Day riot, you actually get academic credit for it.
“We actually would get letters from faculty at Evergreen,” he recalls. “They were angry that we were perpetuating this completely unrealistic caricature of the school. We would read those on the air to great hilarity.”
His response to people who say they don’t want to talk to him because he made fun of their favorite college or neighborhood or subculture back in the day: “We made fun of everything. Don’t take it so personally.”
John Keister and more
What: John Keister, host of the still-legendary “Almost Live” – Seattle’s answer to “Saturday Night Live” – headlines an Olympia show.
Also on the bill: Duane Goad and Monica Nevi
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Royal Lounge, 311 Capitol Way N., Olympia
Tickets: $12 in advance, $15 at the door
Also: The show is open ages 21 and older only.