MLT comic ready for one of his biggest gigs: Opening for The Temptations

Mountlake Terrace comedian Kermet Apio

Kermet Apio has many fond memories of growing up in Honolulu, one being the many rides he would get to school from his police officer father. In lieu of conversation, the only sounds on those car rides came from an eight-track player and four eight-track tapes, one recorded by the legendary Motown group The Temptations.

“My dad,” Apio said, “he was not a talker. He was a big, quiet macho dude. So I just sat in the car listening to those same four eight-track tapes.”

Now decades later, Apio — a comedian who calls Mountlake Terrace home — is preparing for one of his biggest shows ever, opening for The Temptations at the Washington State Fair.

Apio has been doing standup comedy full-time for more than 30 years. He makes a living playing throughout North America at comedy clubs, theater shows, festivals, cruise ships, corporate events and just about anywhere he is asked. A few months ago, much to his surprise, Apio was asked if he wanted to be the opening act when The Temptations take the stage at the Puyallup Fair on Sept. 4.

“So I get an email saying, ‘Do you want to be the opener for The Temptations?’ And I’m thinking it’s a joke,” Apio explained. “I did look up the name of the person who sent the invite; I’m wondering ‘is that spam in some way, like you send us a thousand dollars and you can open up for The Temptations?’”

Once he realized the offer was legit, Apio quickly said yes. “It was one of those things that sort of dropped in. It would be one thing if I pursued it, but it just showed up. One email and ‘oh, I’m opening for The Temptations!’”

The Temptations have a storied career that spans more than 60 years and includes multiple Grammy, Soul Train and American Music Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and dozens of hit songs and albums. But for Apio, it’s a personal connection that will make Monday’s fair performance so special.

“My dad was a huge fan,” Apio said. “If my dad were alive he’d be thrilled; (in his mind) this would be one of the biggest gigs I’ve ever gotten.”

In terms of attendance, performing at the fair will be one of the biggest in Apio’s career as the venue at the Washington State Fair holds more than 10,000 people. Apio has only done two shows that had bigger live audiences: back-to-back nights when he opened for comedian Brian Regan in Salt Lake City in 2016 – each show had 12,000 people in attendance.

Because the Puyallup Fair show wasn’t one he had been actively pursuing, Apio believes it was his reputation of being a “clean” comic that ultimately led the fair and The Temptations’ management to contact him.

“For a group like The Temptations, you want to make sure you have a comedian who’s right for the gig,” Apio said. “So you want someone who’s clean and also understands that this crowd is probably going to be over 45 (years old).”

“It’s one of the things about being a clean comedian – your name gets brought up in situations,” he continued. “If I were to think about how many of those comics there are in Seattle or Tacoma, it would be a handful. It would maybe be four or five of us. But generally I’m known as the cleanest comic in Seattle. It’s not something I strive for; I just do comedy the way I do it.”

Writing and performing material that doesn’t include vulgar language or raunchy subject matter has been a staple for Apio since the beginning of his comedy career in the early 1990s. He explained that he isn’t offended by comics who are “edgy or dirty;” he simply chose from the start to avoid it and not settle for cheap and easy laughs.

“One of the things I realized early on is that if I gave myself to shortcuts and smoke and mirrors, I would take it,” Apio said. “But I also knew that if I wanted to get better at this I had to sort of challenge myself to do it in a way that I actually have to put some work into it. Because you can drop an F-bomb and get a punch, it will have an effect. But I kind of had to figure out ‘can I do it without that punch? Can I do it with just a line?’”

The results have been rewarding, with a Seattle International Comedy Competition win in 1991, a Great American Comedy Festival title in 2009 and a long career of both opening and headlining shows, concerts and festivals.

Performing standup prior to a concert isn’t something Apio has done much in his career, but it happens more than some may think. Apio has served as an opening act for Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Pam Tillus and Laurie Morgan among others. One reason for having a comedian open a show is that stage logistics are much easier for concert producers — eliminating setups, sound checks and tear downs that would otherwise be necessary when using a musical act as an opener.

“I walk out with a mic that I’m holding and leave with a mic that I’m holding and their stage is set,” Apio noted. “It works out much better for them.”

Apio recently returned home from a recent trip to Oahu where he performed a night at the historic Hawaii Theater in Honolulu. He also spent some time with his mom and some close relatives and helped his son Makana move into University of Hawaii housing for his freshman year at the school. Apio has other family and friends in the islands, including some affected by the deadly wildfire in west Maui.

“My friends and cousins, everybody’s alive and we’re so thankful for it,” Apio said. “But there were a few houses lost. One of my cousins, they have a business where they charter diving trips to Molokini. They lost their house. They literally had to make a decision on what to do: they realized they couldn’t do anything about the house so that’s why they tried to save the business. They saved three out of their four boats.”

While grateful that his Maui friends and family only lost material possessions in the fire, Apio expressed sorrow for those who were killed. “It’s heartbreaking the number of people lost,” he said.

Back on the mainland now and home in Mountlake Terrace, Apio is preparing for the three performances he has over the upcoming Labor Day weekend, headlining shows on Friday and Saturday and then the big opening gig at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup on Monday. While busy performing nearly every weekend of the year, Apio acknowledged that the opportunity to open for The Temptations on Monday will be something special.

“I’m really looking forward to doing this show,” he concluded. “It’s got a lot of connections to me emotionally on top of the fact that I’ll be in front of 10,000 people; it’s amazing. But to have that connection with that old eight-track, yeah.”

— By Doug Petrowski

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