Comedian Kermet Apio saves the world from itself, one joke at a time

KermitApioStageby T.M. Sell

Kermet Apio’s comedy career began at an early age.

“Sesame Street went national when I was 5,” he recalls, and with it the meaning of his name.

“I found that if I could make a joke first, I could disarm it,” he said, and a comic was born. And jokes about his own name (“Hey, frog boy!”) remain a regular feature of his routine.

And that is Apio’s standard approach to comedy – he takes people in to his otherwise ordinary life and makes fun of himself, and thereby us, and let’s us know we’re all in the same boat.

Such as his now retired jokes about his soon to be retired purple Taurus station wagon.

The wagon soon will be donated to charity. “People would wait for me after shows and be amazed that I actually drove that,” he said. “People took pictures with me and the Taurus.”

Apio largely is the guy with the Taurus – married, a couple of kids, a normal suburban life near Seattle. And it informs his comedy at every step.

“It’s a tricky thing,” he says of deciding what material to perform and what to put away.

“I was relatively clean,” he said of his start. “I made a decision to keep working that way.”

Now, it’s what audiences expect.

“I always try to have a sense of who the audience sees me as. No matter who the comedian is, they (audience members) want them to be consistent.”

Good comics, he says, know that.

“They all have a consistent voice, no matter the premise,” Apio says.

So that means he’s careful with what, for him, might be edgier material, and profanity doesn’t go beyond the occasional “damn” or “hell.”

(And if you think that sounds tame, there’s at least one live theater group in Seattle that doesn’t perform anything with even those words in it.)

“There are things that sit in my notebook for years. As a headliner, if I do a joke that bombs, I worry about that.”

He doesn’t suffer too many bombs.

Apio got his formal start in comedy in the 1980s. He had moved from Hawaii to Seattle to attend the University of Washington in 1985, and by 1989 was working at United Airlines and living in SeaTac.

A co-worker was working some open-mic nights. Apio tagged along a couple times and soon gave it a try himself.

By 1991, he was a full-time stand-up comic.

“It was relatively quick,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be a long-haul gig.”

But after passing his self-imposed two-year deadline, Apio stuck with it.

“I had this idea that I would do it until I was 25 and then grow up,” he said. Instead, he grew into it.

Poking fun at himself tends to ingratiate him with the crowd.

“My humor is self-deprecating,” Apio says. “It’s a great way to connect with audiences.”

But, he adds, art and humor tend to come from pain.

“I think that is true for many, many comics,” he says.

Which leaves one of the nicest, warmest comics you’ll ever see making people laugh at a time when public discourse has become increasingly charged and unpleasant. Particularly on social media, people are willing to say things that were largely banished from public conversation 30 years ago.

“You don’t have to look at their eyes,” Apio says of social media. “You can push send and put your phone in your pocket and never know how much you’ve hurt somebody.

“With the interactions we have today, there’s no cost. You don’t see where it hits,” he added. “Comedy still depends on that direct relationship – me looking into your eyes.”

But now, people can’t discuss politics without veins bulging in their foreheads.

“We’ve become so polarized that we can’t talk now,” he says.

Apio said he’s tried to “ramp it down” on social media, “except in election years I find it ramping up.”

And as anyone who’s expressed an opinion on social media knows, that invites comment – and insults.

“People say “You’re just a crazy liberal,” he says. “I might be. But what I attack is hypocrisy. When what your representatives are saying is hypocritical, you should be angry too.”

And so Apio finds himself in the role of comedy medic, letting people in and healing them up for when they see someone who doesn’t look like them, or disagrees with them.

Apio describes a conversation with someone once who pointed out how Richard Pryor simultaneously cracked the lid on another world for many young white people, but also let them know that he, like they, had experienced all the same joys and fears of childhood.

kermitapio2“Here’s a door you can look into,” Apio says. “It’s related to you on a level you can see. Instead of preaching about race, he was helping you see ‘I can see how he feels.’”

A joke Apio has told in the past revolves around the reaction of some young white folks unable to comprehend his being from Hawaii. Apio said he told them about picking sugar cane in the back yard and his mother weaving a grass skirt for his sister’s prom date.

It’s a very funny bit, but also, if you think about, very painful. That joke doesn’t happen unless somewhere, people have said inane things to Apio because he’s Hawaiian. At the same time, it reminds the audience to avoid saying idiot things to people with different skin color.

“I don’t know if I’m educating,” Apio says. “What I’m trying to do is to relate.”

Most of the time, people are OK, Apio says. He’s performed at the Medora Wild West Show in North Dakota – not the most diverse edge of the country — and loved it.

Tricky venues are about venues, not about geographic locations. Such as sports bars where they don’t turn the TV off, or bars where the patrons send you shots from the floor and expect you to slam them on stage.

“I’ll work an early show different than a late show,” he says. “Friday late shows can be pretty tricky. They’ve been up since 6 a.m. and they’ve been drinking since happy hour.”

Apio has been happily busy doing stand-up the last few years, but still has dreams of bigger projects, although not necessarily as the headliner.

“Who knows where it’s going to go?” he asks. “When you’re 47, doors start closing. But I would be perfectly happy to be the guy who creates something.

“If I have a script about Hawaiian guys, find a handsome Hawaiian guy in his 30s. I don’t have to be the star.”

He worries that what he would like to do might get watered down in the evenly sliced, white-bread world of mainstream entertainment. Still, he would gladly follow the long line of funny comics who have cashed in on middling sitcoms.

“I have no problem with the bad sitcom,” Apio says. “If they want me out front, I’ll be there.”

Even that’s risky. The powers that be in television land are unforgiving.

“When the sitcom fails, they move on,” he says, leaving the comic to pick up the pieces of her or his career.

But he doesn’t bemoan his career or its occasional hardships.

“A challenge in comedy is nothing compared to the challenges most people have at work,” he said. “When I look at the big picture, I’m rather lucky.”

To learn more about Kermet, visit

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