Kyle Kinane Is Not Punk Rock

After a long, unconventional course of some fifteen years, Kyle Kinane finds himself at an interesting point in his comedy career. To his fans and peers, he is one of today’s best comics. He’s developed a unique, personal style that allows him to deliver his observational wisdom through the natural persona of a grizzled everydude. His first two releases, Death of the Party and Whiskey Icarus, garnered critical acclaim and his list of TV credits continues to grow. Now, on the eve of the world premiere of his new Comedy Central special, I Liked His Old Stuff Better, Kinane faces the challenge of staying true to his old fan base while courting new admirers who are getting their first taste of his work. I talked to Kinane about the new special, the connection between comedy and music and, most importantly, drinking in the shower.

Your new special is called I Liked His Old Stuff Better. Can you explain the title?

The last one did so well so there was nowhere to go but down. I thought I would get ahead of the critics. Any criticism they are going to have I’ve already agreed with them on. I’ve already beat them to it so, now what?

Whether you like the labels or not, you’ve been called a “punk rock” and “DIY” comic. Those titles are usually created to describe not only your comedy, but also your fans. Do you feel that as you get more successful a gap is being created between you and your long time fans?

I don’t know if there is a gap. A lot of people like to use that DIY label, but sometimes there’s no other way to go about things. I didn’t want to start comedy by being an MC or Feature at comedy clubs because I realized early on that’s not for me. So I just went out and tried to find shows on my own. That worked for me and now I have an agent. I jumped to that level. I just took a different route to working with agents and management. It’s not entirely DIY. But the people that I met while I was doing those shows I still keep in contact with. Now, going back to those old punk rock days and people crying, “Sellout!”, I haven’t experienced any of that.

How do you feel when people throw around labels like “punk rock comedy?”

I don’t know. I mean, I was doing festivals and that’s the music scene I grew up in, still like and still listen to. I still do those festivals. But there’s nothing about my act that is punk rock. Maybe because I wear a band t-shirt on stage instead of a sweater? But the content doesn’t differ from anything anyone else is doing right now. I’m not up there like GG Allin with a mic in my ass throwing drinks at people. I don’t know what it means.

I don’t either, but I continue to hear the term thrown around. A lot of comics hate the term and say there is no such thing as punk rock comedy. That’s why I was curious how you felt about it, considering that you’re one of the few comics who continue to get that label. Is it possible to be punk rock anything other than punk rock itself?

Well, that’s not even a thing anymore. It was dead a long time ago. I think it’s just another way to put alternative comedy into fragments. If you want to do comedy you’ve got to find some place to do it. Whether you go to a comedy club and try to work your way up, or you find somebody’s basement and put on a show, it’s all the same thing. Maybe putting a little label on it can help you stand out and give you a niche. But just because someone listens to the Dead Kennedys doesn’t mean they’re going to like a particular type of comedy. Alternative comedy is popular right now. It’s becoming mainstream. Unless you’re talking about some sort of Jeff Dunham thing, any comic who knows what they’re doing can go into an alternative show and clean up. Whereas some alternative comics – myself included – might say, “Oh, I don’t want to do that room because I don’t know how to win over that audience.”

Maybe Jeff Dunham is the most punk rock comedian ever.

We were joking the other day about if he did a murder-suicide but the puppet was holding the gun. Or if he hanged himself and also put the puppets in little nooses. I don’t wish him any ill-will. People like him. Millions of people enjoy his stuff. It’s not my thing, but who cares?

That’s something I’ve had to embrace. Don’t be too quick to hate on someone who is packing the house.

Right. So it’s not cool comedy. So what? Im 38. I like paying my bills. I like not having the IRS on my ass. I like not having creditors calling me. I like that.

You’ve worked minimum wage jobs. You did comedy for free for many years. How does it feel now to be getting paid to do comedy as a full-time career?

It’s scary because now I have something to lose. I figured out how to do it without worrying about making money, like, “I’m not going to make a living doing comedy, so I’m going to do the comedy I want to do.” But doing the comedy I want to do got me here, so now there’s something on the line, something that can go away. Now there is risk involved, which is scary. I can’t talk about the things I used to talk about, like working a shitty job, or how art school was a waste of time. I’m not going to do some Larry the Cable Guy thing where I’m living in a mansion but talking about working in a warehouse. That’s disingenuous.

I don’t think you have to worry about that. Your last couple of releases are pretty consistent in that you observe seemingly mundane details in your life and extrapolate those to create longer-form stories with some sort of meaning. For instance, I saw a clip from the new special where you talk about drinking in the shower. And let me just say thank you for bringing attention to that. It’s beautiful and important and not enough people do it.

Yeah, I didn’t know I was going to be a flag-waver for something that I thought was kind of obvious.

I was in Denmark and they – especially the younger people – drink beer throughout most of the day. They had slang names for each type of beer they would drink, like “breakfast beer,” “park beer,” and “walking beer.” All the same beer, but a name for each occasion it was consumed.

Hmmm, I like Denmark.

But they had no word for “shower beer.” Maybe drinking in the shower is a distinctly American thing. I started advocating for a Danish term for shower beer. They were using it by the time I left.

You advanced the Danish culture.

How do you feel about vaping?

I understand it’s a better alternative to smoking, but the only redeeming thing about smoking is that it’s a cigarette and it looks cool. They took something that looks cool and turned it into rollerblading. What rollerblades are to skateboards, vaping is to smoking. It’s a silly thing to make fun of, but everyone makes fun of it, as they should.

Considering your past and some of the lessons you’ve learned, what kind of advice would you give a newer comic?

Do you love comedy enough to do it for free forever? If you can say yes, then you’re fine. With no expectations of fame or income, you’re going to do it because you care about it. If that stuff comes along, great. If nothing comes along and you’re happy having comedy as the thing that you go out and do at night, if it’s your “poker game,” or the thing that keeps you from going crazy because of your day job, that’s good too. That’s what it was for me. Eventually, it started moving a little further than I thought it was going to and I decided I’ve got to at least give it a real shot.

You’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of experienced heavy hitters. What have you learned from them?

You know, it’s the same thing. Patton let me open for him. He got into comedy when it was even more dead than when I started. I started in ‘99. He started in the early 90s after the 80s comedy boom was over. He started in a wasteland. Now people are getting famous and getting TV spots. Comedy is a cool thing to go see. But guys like Patton started simply because they love comedy. “For the love of the game” I guess is the phrase people would use.

A few years ago I said to Marc Maron, “I thought you would be playing theaters by now,” because he was doing a lot of comedy clubs and I thought he would be doing more theaters and rock venues. He said, “No. I still have to play for people who don’t know me. That’s my job. I have to get in front of them and make them laugh.” That really stuck with me. He could just play for fans of the podcast, but he recognized that to expand the fanbase he needed to get in front of crowds who don’t know who he is. You have to write new jokes and learn how to be consistently funny to strangers.

That’s one problem you see at larger comedy clubs like the Improvs and Funny Bones of the world. They book these 90s movie stars, like Rob Schneider, and people come out, not because he has written some new, quality comedy, but because they want to see a TV or movie star. So many of those shows are devoid of anything resembling decent comedy. It’s just a minor celebrity up there getting away with goofing off for an hour because people know him.

That’s the same thing with being labeled a “punk rock comedian.” Sure, I can go to a town and play a dirty, weird rock venue or dive bar, but then there are going to be people coming out who may have seen something I did on TV, expecting more of a comedy club thing. They’re there are with all of the crusties with bad tattoos. They have to have just as good of a time as all of the other people who, by default, will come see me because I’m a niche comedian. I have to make sure that the people who drive out from the suburbs have just as good of a time.

You have a correlation with music, being a bit of a musician yourself…

I always wince when people say that. I played guitar in a band, but I’m not a musician.

Fair enough. But you have an indisputable tie to music. You did a split 7” with Slow Death last year. You headlined the comedy portion of FEST in Gainesville, Florida. What is the connection? Why do you think you get jobs where you’re presented alongside musical acts?

Well, a lot of the larger festivals were already having comedy tents. There has been a history of comedians opening for bands, especially in L.A. at Largo with Jon Brion and Amiee Mann doing things with the comedians who would be there. With FEST, I was going to go anyway. I was like, “I don’t get to see music anymore. I need a vacation. I’m going to Florida to see this thing.” It just came about that at the same time, Tony, who runs the event, said, “Hey, would you want to do comedy at this thing?” I thought it was going to fail, but I said yes to it. I’ll usually say yes to anything that sounds like it’s going to fail because you can only be pleasantly surprised. It’s the “guaranteed sure thing” shows that end up falling apart. Comedy at FEST worked out because people didn’t have to sit in a hot room with bands screaming at them. They could go sit in an air-conditioned room and listen to someone tell jokes. It was like an oasis from four days of loud music. Not a lot of people knew who I was. They were just like, “Let’s go see what this weird comedy show is about.”

Where was the new special filmed?

At the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia.

Who did the promo art for I Liked His Old Stuff Better?

That was a friend from my hometown, Dom Gianneschi. He does all of my albums.

It’s beautiful.

Yeah, I tell him, “Here’s the name of the album. Go for it.” I don’t give him any other direction.

Other than the new special, what else do you have going on?

A lot of touring.

Photo by Moses Robinson.

I Liked His Old Stuff Better debuts on Comedy Central tomorrow night, January 23rd, at Midnight.

Kyle Kinane Is Not Punk Rock