It was probably inevitable, but as a weekly sketch comedy show, Almost Live! was often compared to network television’s Saturday Night Live. Why not? Almost Live! aired on Seattle’s KING TV every Saturday night, immediately adjacent to the venerated SNL. Both shows had ‘live’ in their title. Both traded in sketch comedy. Both featured regular ensemble casts of performers and writers satirizing the world around them – the national SNL show more broadly; the local Almost Live, more… locally.
But while Saturday Night Live featured a different guest host every week – Almost Live! – from 1988 to 1999 – had the same guest host every time… John Keister. Yes, Keister. Insert your joke here. He’s heard them all.
John and Seattle grew up together. His neck of the woods is the Seward Park neighborhood. Abraham Lincoln, who had quite a neck himself, had a secretary of state named William Seward. He’s the guy who came up with the idea of buying Alaska in 1867. It was so cheap, he bought it with cash on hand. And some coupons.
John Keister grew up in a time when “kids spent more time on bicycles than on their damn phones!” [The preceding sentence was written by a grouchy old man from Covington.] Seward Park is not far from Lake Washington… very near the spot where summertime’s Seafair Hydroplane races took place. And John, like lot of other Seattle kids of the time, were so enamored with the sport of hydroplane racing that they would fashion toy versions of the big boats… tie them onto their bikes with long strings… and then drag them behind as they pedaled at top speed down the neighborhood streets. Today, they’d be arrested.
John attended Sharples Junior High (now called Casper W. Sharples Alternative Secondary School) which is too much for any kid to remember or spell. Franklin High School was John’s next stop – he being just one of many famous Franklin alumni including Fred Hutchinson, baseball star and namesake of Seattle’s preeminent cancer research center…
There was a student named Ron Santo – who became a Hall of Fame baseball star – another alum was Keye Luke, an actor famous as number one son in the Charlie Chan movies. Cartoonist, Lynda Barry went to Franklin – as did international dancer and choreographer, Mark Morris. Also a Franklin graduate: one-time governor, Gary Locke – Seattle’s legendary sports writer, Royal Brougham was a Frankliner. And some of the Nordstroms went there. and Kenny G. – and Johnny K. – John Keister. Everybody went to Franklin. Except, of course, Franklin.
Next, the U-Dub – working with the student newspaper, The Daily. After graduating, he got hired at a Seattle music magazine, The Rocket – which lead to a gig called ‘The Rocket Report’ on a KING TV show. Not long after, a new show called ‘Almost Live!‘ came along – and through an unlikely happenstance – John began doing stuff for it.
Today, John Keister is sort of a Seattle icon as much as the Space Needle – although not as tall; as much as grunge music – although without the distorted guitar and angst; and even as native as the geoduck – although Keister himself is not a bivalve mollusk with a shell. Unless he’s been holding out on me.
He’s the dad of three adult kids – Elroy, Riley and Arlo.
Here he is, from the Seattle home he shares with his wife, Mary – still living within blocks of the old neighborhood.