Kyle Kinane is comedy's miracle worker
The comedian talks Tesla, tech and the cult life
On his acclaimed new album I Liked His Old Stuff Better, Kyle Kinane leads off with this bit: I’m happy because I discovered one of the keys to happiness. And it was simple. All you need to do is redefine what a miracle is.”
Despite this inspirational quote, Kinane is not a self-help guru, he’s a comedian, and the statement doesn’t come off as treacle, thanks to the example he gives next: His clothes caught fire in a dryer at a laundromat.
Kinane follows up this hardly miraculous occurrence with a flight-of-fancy riff about creating a new element and renaming himself “The Alchemist.”
The entire track neatly sums up Kinane’s enormous appeal, both to his devoted fans and to other comedians: he comes off as a regular guy—a bit of a schlub, even—but he takes the defeats life hands him and turns them into little victories, and spins an uproarious tale while doing so.
His poetic observations (comparing bunnies engaged in an unorthodox mating position to “seeing a star explode”) belie his regular Joe appearance. Plenty of bearded middle-aged comedians joke about drinking beer and working crap jobs, but not many inspire a scholarly 6,000-word profile such as the one recently written about Kinane on the sports and culture online magazine Grantland.com.
Kinane, 38, grew up middle class and punk rock in the Chicago suburbs and started doing comedy in the late ’90s while in college. He moved to Los Angeles in 2003 where he continued to do stand-up and build momentum, and in 2007 he gained wider recognition when Patton Oswalt took him on tour. Now, after years of nonstop touring, he’s a seasoned road dog who plays venues both large and small.
Kinane who performs Wednesday, March 18, at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub, recently spoke to SN&R to explain why he’s particularly interested in performing at the J Street venue.
I know from an interview you did for the Onion’s AV Club about your love of metal and that you’re a Tesla fan. Bass player Brian Wheat’s house is less from a block from where you’re playing.
I think it was [the woman] who runs the Punchline [Comedy Club] in San Francisco who told me—hasn’t he won architectural awards or design award [for his house]? We can make this whole interview about Tesla if you want. I’ll take a roll by the house.
Are you an Internet, tech-y guy? I know you have a big Twitter following and that’s kind of necessary in comedy today.
I almost started shopping for flip phones recently. This is getting real “Andy Rooney old man speech.” I’m getting to the point where I agree more with my parents. Where I see a table out to eat and they’re all looking at their phone and I think, “Yeah, that’s kind of sad.” It’s the way the world is going and I’m eternally grateful that I at least got to have a youth without that. I didn’t get a cellphone until I was 20 or something, so I got to have a childhood that wasn’t spent staring at tiny screens.
I know how much of an old man that makes me sound. I know there are amazing benefits. I’m talking to you and using a map on my phone right now on a road trip. We used to have atlases all over the car and still continually got lost. There are things to be said about getting lost and seeing parts of the world, though, too.
I’m waiting for the psychological diagnosis of people who can only be validated through their online presence and don’t live for experience in the real world. I’d love to see an Instagram contest where the winner of the best picture gets to go on an amazing vacation but they cannot document it at all and see if they still will accept it. If you post one photo, you will be charged for the whole thing and see what happens. “But if I can’t put it online, how will people know I went on this trip?” Exactly! It’s only for you. You have to know for yourself.
You said in the Grantland article that you have an interest in cults?
I’m a little more lenient to the idea of them now. I have gone a little bit more California and I’m glad that I have. It’s a subject that interested me to try and make jokes about it. I am always curious. I live by the Scientology center and you can’t see a massive building of people all in their weird little uniforms and not think, “What did they tell you that got you on board with this? Who did you meet, so charming, that they convinced you to go along with these ideologies?” It’s inherently interesting to me.
Did you see The Source Family documentary about the ’70s Los Angeles cult?
That was what spurred my new interest in cults! It kind of seemed like not bad, until the end. “We’ve just got a fun vegetarian restaurant. We all split the rent on a mansion.” The band’s actually not bad. I mean, it’s not a good band, but it’s a good band for a cult.
You like to ride bikes?
Just mountain bikes. I used to like to ride BMX bikes when I was little and when I was a teenager. I was never good at it. And now that I’m older and I’m more susceptible to injury, I’m trying more things. Maybe it’s the idea of how short life is. It’s like, “Yeah, you can get hurt now. It’s alright.” I live in California and there’re mountains and I have to try that. It’s the same reason I got into comedy. I have to see if I can do that. I’ve got to try that. I can’t just sit back and enjoy. I need to attempt it.
In the AV Club piece you quoted David Lee Roth saying, “I might not have kids, but I’ve got a pretty awesome looking passport.” Does that resonate with you?
He’s a fascinating guy. He was a paramedic in New York after Van Halen. Then he mountain climbs. The guy is like, “This is what I want to do in life. I want to have adventures.” And also that he’s not documenting it—going back to people needing to document everything they do. Just a fascinating fountain of stories is what David Lee Roth is. And he’s still singing tunes once in a while. I feel bad saying that I see children putting an end to that life. I can say that because I don’t have kids. And will I ever have kids? I don’t know. Maybe when I’m done running around telling jokes and falling off my bike and doing all this stuff maybe my attitude will change. But right now it’s much more David Lee Roth’s attitude.