R.I.P. Kelly Monteith (1942-2023)

Kelly Monteith died on New Year’s Day at his home in California. Monteith was 80, and has suffered two strokes in early 2021 that left him unable to perform due to aphasia.

But long before that, Monteith established the idea that American comedians could enjoy successful careers across the pond in the UK. Originally from St. Louis, he performed multiple times on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the 1970s and had his own variety show on CBS. But it was in Britain that Monteith thrived, starring in a BBC program from 1979-1984, and then again a generation later co-hosting Brit Flix with Kelly, Paul and Two-Buck Chuck on The Anglophile Channel from 2014-2020.

Here’s an unedited story from Monteith in his own words, which you can find a version of in Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff’s book, “I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics,” thanks to Shydner:

“When I first start thinking about this stuff it’s a little scary cause it goes back like to the late 60’s, when I started out. I just don’t know where to begin because there’s so many of them. My first job as a single – I worked as a team for awhile, traveling around down in the South East mostly; strip clubs. They were the old strip clubs, like the one step above burlesque, you know? We had a stripper day where we would strip down to pasties and a G-string and I would introduce them and do bits in between and do band breaks, basically emcee, that kind of bullshit. I remember I worked one place in Duluth, Minnesota, because there was no comedy clubs; you had to go wherever you could find a job.

I remember being in Chicago. I had thirty bucks in my pocket and I was in this motel on the north side of Chicago; I had no job. It was winter, of course, and I get this job in Duluth, Minnesota at the Saratoga Club. It was a strip joint. I’ll never forget it, it was a great big carnival place. It was right on Lake Superior. Somebody told me it’s still there. I don’t know what it is now, but … I remember working in there and they didn’t have a band, they had a juke-box; this old, fucking juke-box. The girls would say – you know, most of the time you go into rehearsal for strippers and they say; “Oh, I want ‘Night Train’ and ‘Harlem Nocturne’ and ‘Satin Doll’.” This rehearsal was; “I want D-7, T-6, A-4 and F-12.” Now I’m the guy that’s gotta press all these, right?

So I’m up there one time and you always know when the show’s starting cause they cover the pool table, thank god, cause they didn’t play pool when I was on, although they did in a couple other clubs I worked. They’d get all these open pit iron mine guys from Hibbing(?) that would come in. These guys worked outside in the winter, for Christ sakes, so you know what kind of guys these were. They had their feet on the stage when I walked up to open the show at nine o’clock. No band, nothing, just walked up cold. Usually, what I get from them ringside was “fuck you”. That’s what I got as soon as I walked in; “Fuck you”. I’m starting, doing anything I know, you know, and the girls are a bunch of B drinkers. Haven’t you ever worked a club with B drinkers, where they get a live guy to buy them a drink? So they proceed to order a bottle of champagne and they bring him the bottle and a glass, and they bring him another tall glass with a cocktail napkin around it with a rubber band holding it in. So the girl would take a sip of champagne and ostensibly take a chaser with the water, but she’d spit the champagne back in the glass; she could drink two or three bottles. The guy’s got to be stupid; she’s not even getting drunk. Anyway, you know, their brains are in their balls at that point.

So I’m on stage one night and this girl says – I introduce her and I press all the buttons, B-7, G-5, A-12 – all that bullshit. This fucking thing had this – it was an old juke-box, so anytime you’d pick this song it had this thing that went up and down the whole row of records till it found the right one; real slow. Then it would pick the record out and if you rejected it, you had to wait for it to do that. So this girl’s on and she’s got a live guy, so I introduce her and she’s waving to me; “No, I got a drinker, so introduce the next girl.” Now I’ve got to reject every one of her records, which takes about fifteen minutes. I’ve done every fucking thing I know; I’m doing everybody’s act, I’m doing whatever I can while I gotta reject this goddamn thing that, you know, till it gets the record and pulls it out and goes all the way up and down … So finally, I get that done.

One night there’s a huge storm outside and the lakes are overflowing so it’s coming in the door. There was a side door there, right by the dressing room for the girls and this fucking Lake Superior is coming up through the doors. It was a huge storm in the middle of winter. Of course, you know these joints, they would never stop the show, so gradually as I’m working, the audience is shifting. You got people on your left and in the middle on your right, pretty soon there’s nobody on your left, just sort of moving to the middle. Next thing you know, the middle’s moving over a little more to the right. Now pretty soon I get the whole room just on the right, but they wouldn’t stop the show. There’s fucking water coming in half a foot deep, girls are taking all their clothes out of the dressing room and running across the room while I’m on; always when the comic’s on.”

Rest in peace, Kelly.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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