On his latest album, Trampoline in a Ditch, Kyle Kinane frequently addresses the ills of contemporary culture from an indirect angle. A bit about white privilege becomes a meditation on believing in the supernatural. He broaches the topic of sexual harassment only for it to evolve into a joke about emotional support dogs. Stories about aging parents double as a reflection on inherited values and behavioral regression. Across a brand-new set plus a collection of previously unreleased stories, Kinane’s patented blend of world-weary wisdom and whimsical delight affords him keen creative insight on everything from settling into moderation to an ever-changing world.
As a stand-up veteran for over 20 years, Kinane naturally has a unique perspective on how COVID-19 affects comedy, both as a practice and as a business. We spoke with Kinane about his own thoughts on performing stand-up during this time, how the industry can survive such a major downturn, and whether burning down the banks is really the sanest option we have left.
How are you holding up during quarantine?
Man, I hate saying it, but I’m all right with it. Ever since people started learning that the definition of an introvert is not that you hate being around people but that it uses up all your energy to socialize, and since I’ve learned that, by that definition, I’m an introvert, this has been great. I’m at home, full of energy, pursuing my own dumb little hobbies. Outside of the global pandemic, racial strife, the world coming to an end, I’ve been fine.
If asked, would you perform now under any circumstance? What structures would need to be in place for you to feel comfortable?
I know some clubs are opening up with limited capacity, and some friends have gone out and done them. Some clubs are doing a great job managing that limited capacity, and some clubs are kind of just doing it for the show of it and letting people sit wherever they want. I don’t know.
I’m not in a rush. I don’t want people who had tickets for shows that now, if I reschedule those dates, are forced to use those tickets for new dates if things are not up to snuff with where I’m going to be playing. I’m a guilty enough person as it is, and I don’t need to know that I’m putting people in harm’s way because I got to scratch my little artist itch. If there was a situation where I’m like, “Oh this looks like it lines up” — I know people are doing drive-in movie theater shows, people are doing outdoor shows — then, yeah, I’d consider it. But I’m still a little suspect of enclosed spaces.
Some comics have started livestreaming their shows. It seems like stand-up isn’t necessarily conducive for Zoom, but I’m not sure.
I’ve done a couple of Zoom things. What I’d want to do right now is work on new bits. If I’m trying to workshop new stuff, you do that and fail at it. That’s been a part of open mics, or doing a show that only has 20 people. If I bomb, then that’s why I practice this stuff before I charge somebody money for it. With a Zoom show, anybody can watch that and not understand that I’m trying out new stuff. I think an audience that wouldn’t understand what an open mic normally is would see that and not know I’m just screwing around and not taking it seriously.
Also, if people are doing so many Zoom shows, just doing sets everywhere, then how are you a commodity? If somebody watched you do ten minutes on Monday, and they saw you do that same ten minutes on Wednesday and Thursday, why would anybody tune in? There’s no geographical restriction of like, “Oh, so-and-so is coming to town, we gotta see this hour.” It’s like, “No, we just saw him three times in the week and they didn’t change their material.” You’re not creating an interest in yourself, and I hate having to look at it in a marketing, commercial way. I’m just not trying to dump it all out there and [then have the reaction be], “Oh, Kyle sucks.” No, Kyle was working on ten minutes in his garage after a few beers and forgot how many people can tune in on these Zoom shows.
I’m not one of these [people who are like], “You know what the world needs now more than ever is laughter.” No. Stay home. Doing it under this guise that you’re healing people with your comedy, it’s like … We’re selfish. We need attention. And I don’t need the attention. I want to do comedy because it excites me and it’s challenging, and [right now] the challenge isn’t there. The fear of bombing isn’t there on a Zoom show. What makes me try to be good at comedy is the fear of having a room full of people stare at you and think you’re a putz.
Roy Wood Jr. wrote an article back in March about how stand-ups should prepare for the worst when it comes to pandemic. He pointed out that industries built on disposable incomes are the first to collapse when everything goes wrong. But I also think it’s safe to say that the entire economy is going to take a bit of a beating in the coming months. How do you see clubs surviving this?
Well, I’ve been trying to get as much press for the National Independent Venue Association as I can. If people want to go to that, they’re doing petitions and raising money for independent venues. But how many GoFundMes did you see pop up that were like, “Please support the staff”? I don’t know, man. Again, I don’t want to play a show in a club, but I don’t want those people to be out of work.
It’s depressing to think about. When I really get mad about it, I just want people to burn down the banks. But that’s not the thing we can say, right? We can’t say, “Go and take your money out of the bank and put it in a credit union, because banks are the only people who aren’t staving off payments for people, even though we bailed them out with our own taxpayer money. They’re not giving us any breaks, so fuck the banks.” But that’s not funny. But they’re the ones [who aren’t] saying, “Hey, you know what, everything’s tough, let’s hold off on payments.” Even my landlord was still like, “Listen, if you’re in a rough place, talk to me. We’ll work something out,” but the bank isn’t telling him the same thing.
I don’t know. What were we talking about outside of bombing banks?
Unless there’s federal mortgage relief and rent relief, things are going to get bad pretty quickly.
How angry do you want to get about everything? Where did all these small business loans go? Oh, to more billionaires. Great. Cool. Not the people that need it. This is where I want the civil war to start. I think it’s a class war: Tear down the rich, rob the banks, give the money to the poor. Robin Hood the whole thing. Oh boy, where’d this interview go?
I have a bartender buddy who’s out of work now but is convinced bar culture in 2022 or 2023 is going to spike — that people who stopped going to bars years ago are going to start regularly going out just because it’s safe. Do you see that happening with comedy?
Honestly, in terms of global strife, it’s a minor inconvenience to have to stay home and not go see live entertainment or socialize for the last four months.
I don’t know where it’s going to go. If the venues close and people are out of work, they don’t have the money to go out and do these things. Living in Los Angeles, there’s already a huge homeless issue, and we can go down the rabbit hole of the reasons why people become homeless, but we’re going to see a lot more of it because of what’s happening now, especially in the arts community, where it’s people who are servers and bartenders and that’s how they stay alive to pursue their art. I would love to say, yes, that in 2023, everybody’s going to be so happy to be on the other side of this. But will they have money? Will they have health and money to be able to go do those things? Or is it going to be us picking ourselves up out of the rubble and forming some weird utopia hippie gardens and barter societies because that’s all that’s left because capitalism has imploded? Anyway.
I really didn’t want this to be a bummer.
I’m very lucky. I saved my money, because making money from comedy past what I need to survive feels like stolen goods. Also, it’s an uncertain future if you’re a creative type, because if you’re betting on yourself, you don’t know. “Oh, this year was good” — that doesn’t mean next year’s going to be good! It’s not some corporate ladder that you climb up. I always planned for the worst. That’s one thing about low self-esteem: It lends a lot to self-preservation.
I’m comfortable now, but I’m scared for the venues I want to play at. I’m scared for other performers that aren’t in that situation because they did bet on themselves. I’m worried about my colleagues and people that run the venues. God forbid you hear people being empathetic for Hollywood agents and managers, but my agent has been working three times harder having to rebook all these shows with zero income, because I’m not doing the shows. If I don’t get paid, he doesn’t get paid. I like my agent. I like my manager. They need to make a living, too.
If you start to think about it for more than 30 seconds, you realize it affects everyone.
I will say this: If you can take anything from punk rock or a DIY ethos, that’s where I would go up against Roy Wood’s model. [He discusses the possibility of] how larger comics are going to go down to work in clubs, and those clubs are going to bump the [smaller] acts that they had booked. It’s weird, because I want to say if a club bumps an act they already had booked because a bigger act wants that weekend, fuck that club; that’s shitty. But now with the way things are, the waitstaff and everybody in that club is going to make more money that weekend than they would with the person that wasn’t there, so I can’t entirely say “Fuck that club” because it will benefit other people. I would say if you’re a larger act, you should have enough heart and a moral compass to say, “I don’t want to take a weekend away from someone.” Nobody told you to buy another Range Rover. Let the people who need it get the work.
But if we go full punk rock and DIY like, “Hey, I’m going to go put up in this parking lot. I got a PA. I’m gonna do comedy. I’m gonna pass the hat around.” Or sell merch. Then move on to the next town doing the same thing. Bring beer, post up, and we’ll do it this way. I think that worked for music, that can work for comedy, and if people embrace that, that might be the saving grace of some of this. But it’s hard to trust that model. It’s hard to go, “Yeah, I’m gonna sleep in a car for three weeks.” The stand-up comics, some of them are still thinking [about] Hollywood and fame, and they don’t realize the punk-rock part about not showering for a few days and eating on five dollars a day. You gotta be willing to do that.
I also think, with the parking-lot scenario, inevitably, you’re burning the clubs a little bit, too.
If a comedy club has a parking lot, they should be doing shows in the parking lot. I know there are complications and I’m oversimplifying, but venues that can do it in a parking lot, do it outside. If the venue isn’t willing to do that, I’ve booked tours on Facebook and social media before; you can do it. You say, “Here I am. Friday night. Schools are empty. I’m gonna be in this parking lot. If the cops come to shut it down, hey, that’s great press.” That ethos that worked for punk rock in the ’80s and ’90s should not be ignored. That way of doing things, you might see it flourish for other creative avenues now.
Recently, there was a new study that said a record 5.4 million people have lost their health insurance during the pandemic. It made me think of the bit on your new album about your confidence-shaking trip to urgent care, and how a lot of people are going to have to settle for that type of care.
I’m not educated enough to get too political about stuff, but we keep stepping in our own piles of shit, don’t we? “Oh, look out, I shit on that floor. Oh, I stepped in that shit I left on the floor!” The pitfalls in capitalism are on full display right now.
But also, I never bought a house. I never started a family. I didn’t do any of these major life things, not because I was ready for something like this, but because I was scared that at any moment the idea of being a professional stand-up comedian could be taken away from me because it’s not real. That’s the only reason I’m calm about myself. I’m still worried about everybody else and the venues, but it’s only because I was scared about my own longevity in this.
That sense of self-preservation you were talking about ended up paying off in times like this.
I don’t want to come off like I’m judging anybody. I’m not like, “You should have saved your money. Why didn’t you do what I did?” I lived with paranoia and, for once, the paranoia is paying off. That’s all I’ve got going myself.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.