Fresh off a Tonight Show appearance and a new Comedy Central special and album called I Liked His Old Stuff Better, standup comedian Kyle Kinane appears to be at the top of his game — which is a funny place to be when you've built a career portraying yourself as a bit of a schlubby scumbag.
In addition to touring internationally, Kinane holds down a regular gig as the voice of Comedy Central. That's right, he's the man behind the gruff voice that tells you about the next episode of South Park. Here's hoping you already got a ticket to see one of the comedy scene's current cult heroes.
City Paper: It looks like your show is already sold out here in Charleston, so I guess I'm not doing you any favors promotion-wise.
Kyle Kinane: Well, all right, so I could really talk some awful things right now and see if we can open up some tickets.
CP: Yeah, maybe open up some seats for people who didn't get a ticket in time.
KK: [laughing] See if they hit Craigslist with 'em now.
CP: One thing I wanted to ask you about — and I read this, but it might be untrue because it's uncited on Wikipedia — but it said that —
KK: Oooh, I neither confirm nor deny anything on Wikipedia.
CP: Well, it said your dad was actually a beer vendor at AWA pro wrestling events when you were growing up. Did you go to those growing up? Were you into pro wrestling at all, or was that entirely made up?
KK: Hey, man, what do you want to do, pull the curtain back on Wikipedia? [laughing] I will say that Wikipedia, I never put that page up there, and I don't know how you access Wikipedia pages, but as long as it's nothing offensive or cruel to me or my family, I look at it like a living art project. I look at it like a literary sculpture that the public can access and augment at any time. So yeah, maybe my dad did sell beer at those events.
CP: But it's more about the art project to you.
KK: At least you're like, "Yeah, I saw this on Wikipedia." When people are like, "So, your grandfather was Lon Chaney Jr.'s stunt man?" I just go, "Sure was, guy. Sure was."
CP: Well, I know you've been giving a lot of interviews recently, so I was trying to find something you hadn't talked about a million times.
KK: I appreciate it. Thank you for that, I appreciate it.
CP: I know a lot of people ask you about this, but you present yourself in your standup as Uncle Barbecue telling his dumb-dumb stories, as you said it one time. Obviously you're a little smarter than that. You went to college. Why do you put yourself down that way?
KK: I don't think I am smarter. I mean, I may have flipped through a couple more Word of the Day calendars than somebody else. I just — I wouldn't say my processes and my choices are on an intellectual basis, but I can talk out my ass. Maybe I might approach things a little more philosophically, like less passionate. People go, "Oh, I take this side" or "I take this side;" I look at things more pragmatically. But I wouldn't say that's intelligence, that's just making the wrong decision enough times in life enough to go, "Yeah, maybe you're wrong a lot, so you should look at both sides of the story first instead of getting real noisy about one side only."
CP: One thing about your standup that seems really hard to me is that there's this one level of confessional comics, guys like Mike Birbiglia, who are telling you about their real life and their insecurities, but then you're at this next level where you're, like, confessing to crimes and saying things that might actually make people dislike you. How did you get to a point where you're comfortable putting yourself out there like that?
KK: I didn't start like that, and a lot of comedians make the mistake of seeing somebody like Louis CK and saying, "Oh, I can just be brutally honest about my life." No, you've got to know how to make it palatable for somebody. And I didn't seek out to use comedy as therapy, but when you're involved with comedy long enough, it becomes that. It becomes, you're going to talk about what happens to you in life, and you talk to your spouse or your group of friends, and you do comedy enough to where it's your job and every night you're on a stage, and that becomes your anonymous group of friends. That's your AA meeting or your poker game or something.
CP: You mentioned you didn't start out doing comedy this way. You're a Mitch Hedberg guy, right?
KK: Yeah, when I started. When you start comedy, you only have five minutes, and you know how a joke structure works, and you figure out how that single joke structure works, and with five minutes you want to get in as many as you can. I mean, a lot of people get shaped that way, get shaped into writing small, quick jokes, and Hedberg was the most efficient at that.
CP: One thing you do that seems unique to me is you establish a protocol for things, like the whole thing about eating pancakes on a plane and the proper way to do it, or the proper way to drink your beer in the shower. You go into really extensive detail, and I guess it's like a comedy of manners or an advice column almost. Where did that come from? Is that something you would say to your friends, or how did you come to that?
KK: I mean, I don't know how I got there, but now that you put it that way, I do have friends ... As gentlemen, there were some weird lines you don't cross, like my buddy picking his nose at my other buddy's house, and he's like, "Stop picking your fuckin' nose in my house," and he's like, "What's the problem with it?" and he says, "There's not a problem with it, except I know you and you're gonna rub it in my couch. You rub it on the couch instead of getting a napkin, so you don't get to do it in here." So yeah, I guess that is something that should never be done, just openly picking your nose in somebody's house, but in this case it's allowed, except for him, because he wipes his snot on the back of the couch. It's just a modicum, a redefinition of class, I guess. I dunno.
CP: It's all about context, I guess, knowing the appropriate nose-picking places.
KK: Yeah, you know even — I haven't seen The Sopranos, and I'm watching The Sopranos and there's still this weird sense of rules. These are all murderers, but they say, "Oh, you have respect for this person or that person." You're a murderer, you're already a scumbag, but yeah, you don't have to be the worst kind of scumbag. Everything has its systems and hierarchies.
CP: A lot of your comedy comes from self-deprecation and putting yourself out there as sort of unkempt, but obviously you're doing a little bit better for yourself now, you're a little bit older, maybe a little wiser. Are you finding comedy in different places than you used to as a younger man?
KK: Yeah. I mean, it's that part where it's recounting a story of craziness, right? Everybody has those stories, everybody can go out on a Friday night and get drunk and just go follow the giant question mark around the rest of the night and go find something nuts. That's how I lived for the longest time, like, "What's the weirdest thing I can say yes to right now?" And having done all that, it's nice — granted, it took me until now that I don't have any curiosities about that anymore.
Now I just listen. I go to the grocery store and just eavesdrop. Or, you know, I have the time to sit and dwell on minor, piddly things. I can sit and dwell on a conversation at the post office because I can get home and sit around for six hours, as opposed to, like, "Oh, I still have to go to my job, I still have to make sure my kids are fed and my house payment's taken care of." I can just sit back and watch the garbage man sing a song while he's putting garbage in the garbage truck and wonder what this guy's life is about. Granted, I think that's what I did anyway, and I think that's why I never made it that far during my day jobs. Too much daydreaming, anyway.
CP: One last thing I wanted to ask you, and I ask you this because you strike as me as the kind of man who's had a beard for some time and it's not just a passing fancy. What do you think of the beard as the hipster signifier that it's been for the last few years? Do you think they have a right to it?
KK: I'm not gonna say I'm outside of the hipster realm by any means. And again, for me to get mad at hipsters is just such wasted breath. I'm 38, and it's like, yeah, you're 23, be a dipshit. That's when you're supposed to do it. I get a little upset when I see genuinely handsome men with full heads of hair with beards and hats. Like, come on, man, that's for us baldies with no chins. Let us have that; stop taking away our advantage. And people have beard oils and all this stuff. No, man, you grow a beard because you don't want to have to fuck around with shaving and everything, and now everybody's turning — now they're treating their faces like it's a 17-year-old and every day is prom weekend. Get all oiled and twisted and curled, I mean get the fuck out of here. Bunch of ponces. Unless you're a boxer from 1913, get your fuckin' curly mustache out of here. With your bow ties, your craft beers and cocktails.