He simply doesn’t stop.
Kevin Fredericks, who is best known in the world of comedy as KevOnStage, started building up a huge following through his content on social media and his live shows long before the pandemic. This was through the massive amounts of podcasts, short (and long) digital videos, live shows, and beyond that he does. However, once the pandemic set in, and comedians were quickly trying to adapt to a new format, KevOnStage already had an idea about how that world worked. And he was there with the content, at the fingertips of all of those who needed a good laugh and smile to escape the darkness for a little while.
He is a man of spinning many different plates. Whether he’s recording a podcast, making countless videos for his social media networks, teaching a MasterClass on his website about making viral videos, or performing stand-up, there’s seldom a time when KevOnStage isn’t busy. His latest venture is doing his Keep Your Distance comedy shows. These shows, which are performed for a small audience and then broadcast all over the world via Zoom, not only give him the chance to perform stand-up again, but also reach fans in areas he may not have otherwise. You get the feeling that, at the end of the day, he’s finding a way to make the best of a less-than-great situation, and still be funny while doing so.
We recently spoke to Kevin Fredericks about how he manages to keep up with everything he’s doing, when he felt like all his hard work was paying off, starting the Keep Your Distance shows, staying creative, not knowing what or when something will go viral, and what he has ultimately taken away from 2020.
In preparing for this interviewing, I was going through your Instagram, and I’ve got to say that it seems like you have at least three new things going on every single day.
Using that as a jumping off point, is there a struggle at all to keep up with all the different plates that you’re spinning?
Definitely a struggle. Well… I don’t know about a struggle. I do have an amazing team that makes things a lot easier. So the only things that I have to edit are the videos where it’s just me and something on the side. The “Keep Your Distance” sketches and all the podcasts and stuff people on my team edit. So that makes it a little bit easier to stomach. But yeah, it’s a lot.
And I kind of always feel like Kevin Hart and The Rock work extremely hard. And if I want to achieve their level of success, I have to work as hard as they do with my level of resources. Obviously they have more money than me, but we have the same amount of time in the day, so I try to maximize mine as much as possible.
And at what point did you start to feel like all of the hard work is starting to pay off?
You know, I get that question a lot. I don’t know, because I have so many dreams about what I want my career to be. And the more success I achieve, the more I want to do more things. So I never really sit and revel in like “Man, this is really working out”. I’m just like “Okay, now that we can do this, we can do this. And then next we can do this. And then next we can do this.” So I haven’t really sat and rested on my laurels yet. I’ve always just been like “This is cool. Now it gives me the opportunity to do more”.
Right. Once you stop moving forward and start looking back, that’s when you fall into a bit of a trap.
Yeah, exactly! I mean I think the nature of this business, and honestly the world, is you can’t look back. It’s easy to be like “Man, this year I would’ve toured 80 cities and then Coronavirus happened!” No matter what you would’ve done, you cannot do that now. So what can you do?
So it took us a while to kind of figure that out, because it changed a lot. Not just touring but even when we shot content. And quickly we figured out how to do Zoom and then we came up with Keep Your Distance comedy. So you kind of always have to be evolving and pivoting, or else you’re going to be left behind.
I was going to ask about that. Once the pandemic hits, how do you approach what you do? Do you right away start approaching it any differently? What is that process like?
Well the first thing was like shock setting in. You know, when we first were quarantined, I still thought “I’ll be home for three or four weeks. I’ll take some time to rest, and then I’ll be back on the road in April. At worst May”. And then, in mid-April, I was like “Maybe in 2022”. (Laughs). It became painfully obvious that it was highly unlikely to go on tour with any sense of normalcy this year.
So we quickly switched over to Zoom, we switched as many shows as possible over to Zoom. But with Keep Your Distance comedy, we actually had this idea a while after Coronavirus happened. And then seeing Dave Chappelle’s special was like super great, because it kind of showed people what we were talking about. It was like “Oh, like Dave Chappelle’s special, where the audience is far apart. You can watch it. It’s going to be just like that.” That was really important to kind of have somebody who’s at the top of the game show what these shows could look like in the future. And that was a huge boost to what we were trying to do and was really helpful.
At what point did you start doing the Keep Your Distance shows?
Our first one was in Mid-July. My agent and I were working on some shows. And then clubs would open and then close. You would have 100 percent capacity and then 25 percent capacity. And there was just no kind of consistency. I believe it was in mid-July. And so we’ve been going every other Friday ever since.
Do you feel like the extra time that people have now has helped creativity at all, or hurt it in a way?
Definitely helped, for me. I think my creativity has always been helped by lack, usually of resources. Like “Okay, we can’t do this but what can we do?” And I think not being able to go out to clubs, not being able to shoot our content the same way, created “Okay. How can we do it?” And then we generated some new shows that we didn’t even have and probably never would’ve thought of if we weren’t all stuck at home.
With comics, a friend of mine did a show where 5 or 6 comics every Monday through Thursday they would talk about everything from comedy to life to sports or whatever, that would’ve never happened without the pandemic because people were on the road and working. But since most people’s gigs were canceled and they weren’t traveling, they’re just sitting at home and available. And so it was an easy way for comedians to make a couple bucks while they’re sitting at home and not being able to go out on the road or doing open mics or anything that we normally would do.
And of all the new things you’ve started, what are some of the highlights of those new things for you?
Really Keep Your Distance comedy probably is the highlight. Because the thing I miss the most is performing stand-up. It’s not the same. It’s not like a packed club or theater or anything like that. But it’s enough to get the juices flowing. And we have a small live audience that really scratches that itch. And it’s really been super instrumental in getting us out to more people because there are people who are disabled, they couldn’t get out to comedy clubs or people in Afghanistan. There’s a couple that emailed us and said that her husband’s deployed and they watch together. People who live in remote parts of Alaska emailed and were like “You guys never come to Alaska, so this is a great way to see stand-up comedy”.
So, for me, getting my stand-up comedy out to more people was like super amazing. It was super instrumental in what we’re trying to do. And nobody wanted the pandemic at all, but we’ve kind of got to play the cards that we’re dealt. And it was born out of that. And it’s been really great.
Are there any challenges that come with prepping a Zoom show versus a live stand-up show that you maybe weren’t expecting?
Well it is performed live in front of a small audience. But the biggest difference is I’m only doing stand-up every other Friday. Because the clubs in L.A. are all still closed. The majority of the clubs. There are some shows that are outdoors and things like that. But before the pandemic, I was performing no less than five times a week. So I was in much more of a rhythm. It’s like if LeBron James played in one basketball game every other Friday and never went to practice. You’ve really got to work hard to make sure that you’re in a place where your material is still good. Because a lot of time it’s some people’s first time seeing you. And they understand that it’s a pandemic, but they also want to make sure that they see a great show. So that’s probably the biggest difficulty that we faced.
Did it take you a few shows to get back into the rhythm of it?
Not really. Luckily I had been doing comedy for so long that it’s kind of second nature. But it did take a while… Actually, yes. (Laughs). Yes is the answer to your question. I was so excited the first time. And my timing needed work. I just hadn’t done it in like three or four months when we did our first show. It’s like if you know how to ride a bike, but if you haven’t done it in a little while, you’re going to be a little bit wobbly.
And luckily we’re pros, so we figure it out a little bit quickly. But comedy is such a rhythm and timing game. You do it every night, you’re tweaking, tweaking, tweaking. And once you’ve kind of gotten your set perfected, you’re on cruise control until you find a good tag or a good setup or something that makes a joke work better. But when you stop, you stop. So you kind of have to build that up all over again. But it reminds me of when I was a really young comic, trying to figure it out. So I even still enjoy the struggle part of it.
I definitely get that. And throughout the pandemic, were you still writing jokes? Or just focusing on your other content?
Definitely. I think because I do podcasts, I’m always [up to date] on what’s going on in the world. But talking about something on a podcast isn’t the same as making a tight joke about it on a stand-up set. So not everything is perfect for stand-up.
But for example this next show tomorrow, I’m doing all new material just because I’ve had all these new ideas since we last performed. And I’m hoping for the best. (Laughs). I’ve got great, nervous energy because I haven’t worked a joke out. Usually you work a joke out at an open mic or on a guest spot at somebody’s show, kind of piece by piece. But we’ve got some people who’ve been coming to every single show, and I want to make sure that they have new material to hear. So I’m still excited to get out there and hope it works.
Had you also considered doing more rooftop or drive-in type shows that are becoming pretty popular now?
Well I’ve got some friends doing a tour of backyards, standing on rooftops. If I didn’t do Keep Your Distance, I would’ve done some version of that. I would’ve drifted towards the one where there’s a live audience. Zoom is great, but the thing that’s hard for me is without that immediate reaction, you don’t know whether or not that joke worked or not.
And there’s that delay with Zoom laughter.
Yeah, that delay is what really kills you. You just need to make sure that joke works. Laughter is the reaction. If they don’t laugh, you need to do something else. But if you can’t tell for 15 seconds when they’re laughing or not, then you’ll think it killed when it hasn’t, or you’ll think it sucks but it’s going great. Either way, that sucks. But the worst of it is thinking it’s going well and it’s not.
And I’m sure the thing everybody asks you is “How do you go viral?”. What is the biggest misconception that you’ve found as far as viral videos go?
I think the biggest misconception is that anybody knows how to do it. Like anyone who says they can teach you how or anything like that is lying. No one knows. There’s some things that you can do to give your video a better chance of success. But to make a viral video, if I knew that I would be a millionaire ten times over. But what I do know is how to make consistent videos and hope they do well, but I do not know how to make them go viral.
You remember the Gangnam style video a couple of years ago? Nobody could figure out why that hit. It just had the right element. And in hindsight, you could go “This and that and this”, but nobody knows. Because I know a lot of videos are made like that that don’t have that success. So sometimes things just pick up steam and a large group of people love them and you just have to hope to be able to make a few of those and ride the wave as long as you can.
How often do you find that you’ll put all this time into something, and then the stuff you don’t expect to go anywhere and you don’t put as much time into it, takes off? I imagine those instances must happen quite a bit.
It is completely baffling. In my experience, the things that I have done that I was certain would go viral and put me on the map flopped tremendously. The things that I didn’t put that much thought into and just did in a minute or two and threw up, have done amazing so that’s what has kind of helped me to be like “I don’t know what makes what work.“ I’m just gonna put my best foot forward every time and literally hope for the best. That’s really all you can do.
Did you see a large spike during the pandemic, where everybody is home on their phones?
I did a little bit, but not crazy. Because there’s also so much stuff to watch. People had all their stuff on Netflix and Hulu and Amazon. We definitely saw a little bump, but not as much as you’d might think.
Now views wise, I didn’t necessarily see a huge jump. But I did see like hours watched jump. Like if somebody was watching a podcast, they sat and watched the whole thing. Whereas before the pandemic, they might’ve watched 30 or 45 minutes of it. So people were watching the whole hour and a half because they had more time on their hands. It wasn’t necessarily a whole bunch of people watching more videos.
Going off of that, the last thing I wanna ask is what do you think you’ve learned this year so far?
The most important thing that I have learned is that the worst has happened and I’ve made it. My biggest fear was like “What if I get cancelled and I can’t tour?” I didn’t get cancelled, but outside got cancelled. I figured it out. I would never have thought that I could still sustain with my number one income going literally to zero. But you figure it out. I figured out a way to make things work. And that, to me, has been an amazing feat to realize that in the face of great adversity, we’ve figured it out. For the most part, we’ve figured out what we can do to make things work.
You can read more about Keep Your Distance comedy shows on his website here.