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Comic Andy Kindler: Why Leno Jokes Never Get Old

For the last four years, Andy Kindler has been a regular correspondent on The Late Show with David Letterman, joining the ranks of such Dave faves as Rupert Jee, Pat Farmer, and Biff Henderson. But unlike his cohorts, he’s funny all on his own. (His hilarious new half-hour special airs on Comedy Central at 11 p.m. tonight.) He has hip-comedy cred — he came up through the alt-comic ranks with Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk, and David Cross — and his annual scathing “State of the Industry” address at the Montreal comedy festival (one year he compared Dane Cook to Hitler, unfavorably) is feverishly anticipated by both his peers and hard-core comedy fans alike. So what the hell is he doing as a celebrity judge on the upcoming season of Last Comic Standing?

Last Comic Standing. Seriously?
You know I’m not trying to do anything except entertain America. I made fun of it for so many years in Montreal, but they did really retool the show. Like, the other judges are Greg Giraldo and Natasha Leggero. And the host is Craig Robinson. And my landlord is just thrilled about it.

You don’t like confidence in comedians. So did you advise any of these young comics to become more timid with their material?
I have a two-pronged answer, whatever that means. The first prong was that when I took the gig, I said there’s no way I’m going to take the gig and be mean to people. I can be mean to people in my act, but those are people who are already established and supposedly should have thick enough skins to take it, like Jay Leno. But I don’t want to be yelling or judging some up-and-coming comic who may not know that they’re really great, or have had a bad set, or whatever.

Why hasn’t Last Comic Standing ever produced a great Jewish comic?

Well, there’s not a lot of Jewish comics, is the problem. I’m looking forward to the day when the world is open to a Jewish comic. I don’t know. People say things about the show all the time and I never remember. Like somebody will say, “Remember the time when Anthony Clark went on a rafting trip with ANT?” I don’t remember any of that stuff.

Did you watch Conan’s appearance on 60 Minutes?

Yes I did. The whole weekend was fantastic. Dave Letterman was fantastic on Regis. And then Leno read his jokes at the correspondents’ dinner. He wasn’t even fakely upbeat! He wasn’t even able to fake his normal personality.

Can you even responsibly make fun of Leno anymore? Have Leno jokes become hacky?
The cliché that comics always use is that whatever is happening in the news is “the gift that keeps on giving.” I always thought that was a bunch of nonsense. But to me, Leno is the gift that keeps on giving, because there’s always going to be another permutation to how he reacts to the stuff that is happening to him. If it was up to me, I would still be making fun of the way he does headlines — [adopts terrible distaff Leno whine] “Dozen eggs, 5,000 dollars.” But I’ve done that probably 4,000 times. I still love it, but I’m trying to move on. But when he has so many glaring current things, that’s what’s fun. And then Sunday, Conan was fantastic. When Kroft told him that Leno said we’ve all been screwed, and Conan laughed and said, “Remind me how Leno had been screwed?” That was fantastic. It was not a good weekend for the Leno camp, which is a very small camp right now.

How did your recurring Late Show work come about?
I didn’t see it coming. In January 2005 I had a spot on the show where everything fell into place and the audience was excited, for a change. And then after that his company, Worldwide Pants, contacted my manager and said that they wanted me to do something on the show. When they called up, they said this stuff is coming directly from Dave. So that was the greatest compliment I ever had.

How long have you been a fan of Letterman?

I remember him from the morning show that he did on NBC before 1982. I remember watching that. And then Late Night in 1982.

Were you still in New York?
No, I came out to L.A. in ’78 to be a musician. I didn’t get into comedy until the mid-eighties.

What kind of musician?
Very unique: I was a singer-songwriter-guitarist. Very unusual in the late seventies to find a singer-songwriter, and on top of that, a guitarist.

During the Late Show spring-training video with the Yankees, CC Sabathia complimented you on your voice.
Oh! I almost collapsed when he said that. He actually seemed sincere at the moment. I don’t know if he was having hearing problems at the time. But when he said to me, “You have a nice voice”? Oh, my God. That is a first.

And it’s not like you were singing a pop hit either. You were singing the Torah from your bar mitzvah.
I was singing him the haftorah, the thing that all Jews do at their … you’re Jewish, right?

No, I’m not. I’m Catholic.
I just assume all journalists … I thought we controlled the media.

I’m sorry for blowing my cover. I mangled the pronunciation of “haftorah.”
If your life depended on me guessing what you were saying, your life would be over. I had no idea what you were saying.

I read this thing by Malcolm Gladwell from What the Dog Saw about late bloomers. Do you feel like you’ve gotten better at stand-up?
Yeah, I really do feel like that. The other part of life which I think is just generally true of everything in life is that you’re never going to get it nailed down. I just don’t think the universe is constructed like that. [Also], in Outliers Malcolm Gladwell has the 10,000-hour rule. I was thinking about that, and one of the things that makes people turned off to doing anything in life is when you tell them you have to work hard. Work hard! I think that’s the wrong thing to tell people. I think what you should tell them is really find what you want to do and then it doesn’t seem like you’re working hard.

When do you think you hit 10,000 hours?
Well, I started out as a duo.

So subtract 50 percent.
But then I’ve been doing comedy on my own for 24 years. Hold on, I’ll just do it right now for you. Three hundred and sixty five times 24 equals … oh you know what, it’s only 8,760. (laughs). It looks like I’m a couple of thousand shy of being a funny comedian according to the Malcolm Gladwell rule.

Comic Andy Kindler: Why Leno Jokes Never Get Old