Over the past few years, Kyle Kinane has emerged as one of the best stand-ups going, with his career rising as he’s continued to hone his craft. Equal parts witty, raw, and dark, his act has earned him stand-up spots on Conan, Mash Up, John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show, and his own Comedy Central Presents special, plus guest spots on sitcoms like Workaholics and Bob’s Burgers. Now, Kinane is releasing his first hour-long stand-up special, entitled Kyle Kinane: Whiskey Icarus, which drops on Comedy Central at 11pm this Saturday. It’s a wildly funny stand-up hour — one of the best of the year — and both a great introduction to Kinane for the unfamiliar and a wonderful batch of new material for those who are already fans. I recently had the chance to talk to Kyle Kinane about how he crafts his act, his early days in Chicago, his other job as Comedy Central’s promo announcer, and the four topics that he can’t seem to get away from (booze, pizza, God, and death).
When you began doing standup in Chicago, who were the other comedians you started out with?
A lot of guys that you cover at Splitsider. Pete Holmes and Matt Braunger and Kumail Nanjiani. Who else was in that group? John Roy. I know I’m probably forgetting a thousand names of guys who are super funny… Sean Flannery. That’s Andrew Orvedahl closing the door right now. He’s not from Chicago, but that’s a comedian I’m staying with in Denver who you might know as part of The Grawlix. It’s only right for me to promo them because he’s letting me stay at his house. [Laughs]
Yeah, but those are the guys I started with. Nick Vatterott was one of them too. T.J. Miller and Hannibal [Buress] came along after I left, but they were around… that scene after I split.
When you were part of that scene at the time, did you have any idea that all you guys were gonna blow up in a few years?
No. Nobody thought they were gonna be famous. Everybody just found something. Everybody just found their… “passion” is such a cheesy word to use. Everybody just found… “This I what I’m gonna do.” Some people got their fantasy football or poker games or bowling leagues, and we found the open mics. That’s what we wanted to get good at… I thought ‘Hey, I’d be short changing myself if I didn’t at least try to turn this into something else.’ But I don’t think anybody was performing at open mics specifically because they thought “the big time” was in their future.
What was your early act like compared to what you do now?
A lot of self-defense-induced Mitch Hedberg imitation. A lot of eyes closed or staring at the floor. One-liner jokes. I figured if I could tell a joke as boring as possible [and] people would still laugh at it, that meant the writing was good. I wanted people to laugh at the writing and not just the performance of it.
And that’s something you’ve come around on?
Well, now I’m just more comfortable onstage. I’m not so terrified. I went to school for writing, so I got into it from that background.
Do you still get scared ever before you go onstage?
It’s not scared. It’s sometimes when you try and read an audience, you’re like ‘I don’t think this is gonna go well.’ But you don’t get scared; you just hope that you’re pleasantly surprised. By the way, I want it noted that Andrew Orvedahl, whose house I’m staying at, has the most impressive Lego collection of any adult man that I know. [to Andrew Orvedahl, who’s there with him in person] I’m plugging your Lego collection, buddy! [Laughs]
So, how’d you know it was the right time to move from Chicago to L.A.?
I didn’t. I’m sure I moved early. I moved out in 2003 and nothing really started to sorta happen until about 2007, so that was four more years that I had to work up stuff. I went to Columbia College, and they told me that I had enough credits to graduate. I didn’t want to graduate, but they made me graduate. I was like, “Well, I guess I’m done here then.” That’s why I left. I was 26 and living with my parents, so I figured, “Hey, as good a time as any.”
How long did it take you to compile the material for the new special?
I had an hour that I submitted last December that was real long-form stories. The whole hour was maybe like three or four stories. I think they [Comedy Central] were concerned they couldn’t edit around it, or maybe they didn’t like it. They said we’ll give you another date to come up with more material. So, from that December where I was practicing a certain hour set up to April or May of [the] next year, but it’s not like I just wrote a brand new hour in those four months. I just had some of my smarter stuff together, got it in there.
What’s that submission process like? Do they give you a lot of notes at Comedy Central?
I don’t think I had to cut out any name brands or anything. I wasn’t being too disparaging towards any name brands. But a lot of it, keep in mind you’ve got to put commercials in there… my act is pretty long, drawn-out bullshittery at times, so they’re kinda like, “Well, you know where the commercial breaks are.” “Well, I’m not gonna rewrite my jokes to where it’s not funny to fit commercial breaks.” I’d rather edit it. I’d rather have a commercial make it weird than me not doing a joke the way I want to. But I think it turned out all right. I don’t think you notice too much. Maybe one or two [spots] are a little too awkward but nothing too bad.
Do you write mainly onstage or offstage?
I guess you write onstage, you know, you come up with the idea and you get up there and you’ve gotta feel it out. “Am I having fun talking about this?” [It’s] the opposite of how I started, which was ‘Oh, clearly this is a joke, this is a punchline.’ Now, it’s more attitude and having a topic and beating around at it with a stick, seeing if it works, seeing if it’s fun to talk about, seeing if people are even halfway interested in listening to you talk about it. Then, eventually, through a few reps of that, that inspires the shape of a joke.
So, what’s it like being Comedy Central’s announcer?
It’s great! It’s a great job. I got to announce my own show.
That must be really weird.
A little bit. Two careers I did not think I would ever have crossing paths. It’s a good job, you know, because you have some anonymity… It’s a great job. Go in, it’s easy, you can do it from the road. Hopefully, they don’t get sick of me.
You just have recording equipment and you record promos for the road?
Sometimes if I’m driving around to a different city every night, I have a rental set up. Every city has a little studio for voiceovers. [For] every local commercial and everything, they have those studios in every town. They usually just set me up with one of those.
Do people ever recognize you on the street off of your voice from Comedy Central?
No, they don’t get it from the voice. I think it’s one of those things where you hear announcers, but you never recognize announcers, unless it’s a famous person, then you recognize the voice. There were a lot of people going, “Is that Kyle doing the promos?” And I wouldn’t say anything for the longest time. It was kinda funny.
What was it like filming your Comedy Central web series “30 Seconds Over Washington?”
It was fun. Mike Bridenstein and Tom Segura were writers on it, so it was fun. They had me post up in a bar for a day and make fun of videos. It was a pretty sweet gig. No shortage of material with political ads. There’s a lot of creeps out there who are trying to be in charge of your life.
Do you have any other projects you’re currently working on?
I’m in Denver, doing a web series with the boys from The Grawlix. So, that’s what I’m working on this week. I don’t know. I’m trying to think of what’s goin’ on. Hitting the road. I’ve just been on the road a whole bunch, so that’s about it. Trying to get another record out there.
When do you think your next record’s gonna be out?
I don’t know, it’s weird because when you’re working, it’s like a coral reef that’s [this] constantly-growing, living thing. That sounds so pretentious, Jesus Christ. But it’s never like, ‘Okay, here’s an hour.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve got a new joke.’ So, I just try to put it into the set… so I just have to stop doing that and work on ‘Okay, here’s a perfect hour’ instead of going ‘Here’s what I’m entertained by saying at this particular time.’ [By] springtime, maybe I’ll record something.
Who’s a comedian from a previous generation who you’re patterning your career after? Is there anyone you look to where it’s like, ‘Oh, I would love to do what they do?’
No, it’s more… seeing what people did to screw up. I more analyze that than I do people. I think success in this type of business is a heavy hand [and] relies on luck heavily, but there are pitfalls that are easily avoidable. So, that’s what I’m trying to analyze. I try to do more risk analysis than ‘Oh, maybe one day, I’ll be famous or something.’ I just don’t want to fail, that’s all. I just don’t want to fuck it all up by my own mistakes. Old road guys, they stopped writing or they stopped caring or they lost interest or burned themselves out, so I try to avoid that kind of stuff.
What can people expect from your new Comedy Central hour?
Oh, just typical Kyle Kinane talking about pizza and God and death. I have all those elements in there, I believe. Booze, pizza, God, and death.
[Laughs] Do you try to hit those with every special you have?
No, but they seem to have been recurring themes in my life lately.
Kyle Kinane’s new hour special, Kyle Kinane: Whiskey Icarus, debuts this Saturday, November 24th, at 11pm on Comedy Central. Here are some promos from it: