"I think I'd rather be happy and take my place as a mediocre comic over time. People love all these artists that wind up killing themselves. ... I'd rather just be happy and people be like, 'Ah, 2.5 stars.'"
– Kyle Kinane
Guy MacPherson: Kyle Kinane, how are you doing?
Kyle Kinane: I'm doing well.
GM: Excellent. Where are you?
KK: I'm in L.A. I've got a few minutes back home.
GM: From touring?
KK: Yeah, yeah. A couple stops. So what's happening, man?
GM: You're coming back to Vancouver is what's happening. How many times have you been here?
KK: I've been up there a few times to Vancouver. I think the first time was like eleven years ago, in 2005 or so. 2005 was a festival. Then I played the club and I had thrown my back out not long before I got there so I didn't have a great show.
GM: I didn't know that you'd thrown your back out when you played the MIX. I thought you were great. But you did seem not as happy as I see you now.
KK: (laughs) Well that could just be the time frame. I'm a little more jovial of an individual these days. And also my back is okay. I have a cold now but my back is okay.
GM: I'm coming down with something, too, but hopefully I'll get through this interview.
KK: Minor pebbles thrown in our path.
GM: Was it that you were depressed before?
KK: I mean, I'm hesitant to say depression. I think people like to use that term pretty loosely these days. I get in trouble but it's like a sexy word now. People are like, 'I'm depressed.' And I feel like maybe you're just kinda down. Depression's a real thing that's crippling. Some people just have blues once in a while. I think I was just down; I don't think I ever had some sort of... The way depression was described with some people is they haven't left the house in months. I was just coming to terms with the fact that maybe life wasn't going to be how I thought it would have been. Or it was going to be exactly how I thought it was going to be: You have a job, you go to work, and then at night you find something you like to do, whatever you leave your day job for – your family or your significant other or a hobby or something like that. And so that's what I was coming to terms with. And then my hobby is now my job, so that’s something.
GM: Your life is pretty good so you can't be too blue about that.
KK: Yeah, you can't be bummed out about getting to do comedy for a living, but when your career talks about being bummed out, what do you do?
GM: Oh, it' a Catch-22! Did you think about if your mood improves how it would affect your comedy? Some comics might want to stay with something negative because their comedy is working.
KK: Yeah, it's either disingenuous comedy or they're manufacturing the outlook. There are things being terrible because they've warped their mindset. Their worldview is kinda warped into being this negative thing. But I don't think I was ever... I was negative towards the world's problems but in my life I'm pretty happy with my life.
GM: You said you were the "fuck-up" of your family. But now I imagine you might be the most successful of your family.
KK: They were always supportive. And I'll go back to that previous point of being bummed out and everything. But yeah, I did not have big plans for what I was supposed to do on this earth. Like, try not to step on anybody's toes and try to live a genuinely at least content life. Talk about comedians that when they're happy their material goes downhill, I think I'd rather be happy and take my place as a mediocre comic over time. People love all these artists that wind up killing themselves. They worship the art that they put out but they were still miserable. Their own mind was still hell for them that they took themselves off this planet. I don't want to be that depressed. I don't want to turn out something so... Like people like Kurt Cobain that turned out these great works of art but they themselves couldn't even be happy with it. I'd rather just be happy and people be like, 'Ah, 2.5 stars.' Yeah, but I'm having a pretty good time.
GM: Your website is Shooting For Third. I was wondering what kind of un-American claptrap is that?
KK: Yeah (laughs). That's it, man, third place. Just be happy with third.
GM: That's very Canadian.
KK: You know what? I think I may have some inherent Canadian in my approach towards the world. Not mass dominance. I'm just happy to be invited to the game, guys. I just like hanging out.
GM: You're from the American midwest. I heard you talk about midwest comics who fly under the radar doing great work. That's been said about Vancouver. We're away from any kind of industry or pressure so a lot of the comics here can develop into something different. They don't have to worry about being seen to get on TV so they can just work on their craft. Kinda similar.
KK: Yeah, when you're allowed to develop without any sort of pressure to prove yourself, it's usually how you want to. So in the midwest or as you say people in Vancouver, it's people doing it because they love to do it. They need to get on stage and get something off their chest or be silly or whatever it is without thinking they're going to be famous. It keeps it rather pure, the intention of why they're doing it is pure. Creative exploration as opposed to who's in the audience, where I need to behave a certain way because I'd like to get some Hollywood work or what have you. No, it's we're doing this because I need to do this tonight or else I won't be able to sleep. I need to go on stage and do improv or do standup or be silly or make a point or something.
GM: They're not searching for an audience; they're just doing what they do and then an audience hopefully will find them.
KK: Yeah, exactly. As it's proven now, they're doing quite well in all these different scenes that aren't New York or Los Angeles.
GM: Yeah, it's really thriving, isn't it?
KK: Yeah, I mean I get to be a part of this show that's coming out here that was created and conceived in Denver. Denver's getting a great comedy scene that they've built on their own with no Hollywood being around there. Just a bunch of guys going 'Let's make videos. Let's put on good shows. We're not trying to make money; we just wanna play good quality shows, good videos out there.' And now those guys have a TV show called Those Who Can't.
GM: Is it out yet?
KK: It's coming out I think in February.
GM: Is it a standup show? What is it?
KK: No, it's a sitcom. I'm lucky enough they included me in it. I'm excited. I'm excited for their success because it allows me some. I'm glad to be a part of it.
GM: Those who can't are guys like me, the interviewers.
KK: Are you a performer? An ex-performer?
GM: Nope. Never done it.
GM: Writer, yeah.
KK: You can always tell people you write. That's what I say when I stay in my hotel all day when I'm on the road: "I gotta do some writing."
GM: And that involves just thinking.
KK: Watching five hours of Forensic Files.
GM: I've watched them all.
KK: I know! Exactly! And then maybe you write one joke about it. There's research in it before I can write!
GM: You're a storyteller comic. Is that by nature or by design?
KK: I kinda laugh at that labelling.
GM: But isn't it true?
KK: It's totally true. You start comedy having five minutes to work with. You want to get as many jokes as you can in five minutes. And then you get ten minutes and you just compile all the best ones you got in those five-minute sets. But then you jump to, like, 45 minutes or whatever and I was just taking a couple of those short jokes and beating the shit out of them for twenty minutes each and now I'm a storyteller. I was just trying to be economical with what material I had. It was stretched out and now I get called a storyteller. That's a better title than bullshit artist.
GM: How about long form?
KK: Yeah, yeah, long form. How regal!
GM: It must make it harder if you have to do a five-minute set because you're used to really getting into something and what you're doing doesn't even pay off in five minutes, although there are jokes all along the way.
KK: That's what's fun now is that you have an outlet like Twitter that still reminds you you can write a quick joke. And I have some short jokes that don't fit anywhere in a longer set because they just come out of nowhere. So if I get a shorter set, I'm like, 'Oh yeah, I can still have my little zingers.' I can get those in a short set.
GM: You say you don't do much in your everyday life. These stories you tell, are they from your past? Do you have to go looking for new experiences?
KK: I'm a pretty stereotypical comic who's spent a lot of my time in bars and getting into pretty wild situations. You don't have to know how to tell a story to make something that's inherently interesting interesting. You just have to recite the facts. But now it's more like, all right, if I'm a storyteller I should be able to make a story out of any pursuit, like going to the grocery store, overthinking even random encounters. You know, I just turned 39 and the idea of having to put myself in harm's way just for a joke... I'm not trying to Hunter S. Thompson my life here. Like, I want to have some brain space left to enjoy things. I don't need to do acid with Hell's Angels to get a story. I'll just go down to the grocery store and hang out for a minute and something silly will reveal itself. I don't need to live all the lyrics to Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue.
GM: So it may be a misnomer calling you a storyteller but you know how we love labels.
KK: It makes me sound like much more of an artist than I am. I'm not going to fight anybody over it.
GM: I saw Bill Burr last night. What's the difference? He'll talk about a subject for 15 minutes, too, but we don't call him a storyteller.
KK: Well, ranting, but I feel ranting has a negative connotation and Bill Burr's more than that. You can pick apart a subject without a story. That's just a comedic analysis of a subject or topic. A story's a beginning, middle, end: "So here I was one day" as you would maybe write it down in a narrative form. Narrative versus analysis I guess is a nice way of describing it.
GM: Wow, now you are sounding all hoity-toity.
KK: Once in a while! Once in a while! Most interviews after I hang up I'm like, 'You just rambled out of your ass for a half hour and you don't even know what you said.' But once in a while there's a good sentence in there.
GM: You said about beards, "Anything smacking of effort puts me off." That can relate to comedy, too. That's the key, isn't it? You obviously put effort into your show but you don't want to come off looking like you do.
KK: I guess you don't want to seem like a salesman. There are some people that get up there and you know the story is disingenuous. I'm going to watch a comic and I want to believe him. It doesn't take a lot for me to believe a standup when they're telling a story, even though I know it's bullshit. If it's entertaining, I wanna hear it. That's why when people are going after David Sedaris saying it's not fact, I'm like he's not in court. It's not a testimony. He's a humour writer. Did you laugh at it? Then lighten up.
GM: Don't you think it's in the presentation and if you present it as real then it should adhere more to truth?
KK: Well, even the craziest stories don't start that way. And every time somebody tells them, it's big fish tales. The colours get a little brighter, the characters get a little more interesting, a little dirtier every time you retell it. Now you're going to go see a comic tell it over and over every night, well of course those details are going to get exaggerated. But I can tell when a comic straight-up just made up a scenario in their head. 'Oh, you reverse-engineered a punchline and made a story beforehand.' As opposed to somebody that had a story. Maybe you just got drunk and went to a bar, but then this guy did this and he took out a knife? No, I thought I saw a gun. Okay, I've been drunk in a bar. I know how these stories work so if you can tell it to me in an entertaining way, I'm going to laugh at it. I'm not going to go to court and put my hand on a bible and say these things are facts, because that's not why I'm at a comedy show. You're allowing an element of bullshit into your life. Somebody already made the joke that whenever a comic says "the other day," it just means that story never happened. "I was at the post office the other day." You were never at the post office. This story is completely fictional.
GM: Yeah, you've never been to the post office.
KK: Just think about the details of storytelling. "The other day I was at the post office." Or "Three weeks ago Tuesday I was at the post office." Which story are you going to believe? Pay attention to details and it makes it work.
GM: I love it when a comic will say, "Today" or "Yesterday". What? And you just came up with this fully fleshed-out bit tonight!
KK: Yeah. "I was walking down the street yesterday..." No, that is not how things happen. If you want to sell me this story, put the details into it. That's why I wound up being a storytelling comic. When I'm writing a story I'll start it with, like, "So I was walking down the street the other day." What was I doing? "I was going to the store. I was out of paper towels." And then I try and write some weird joke about how I hate using paper towels. And then that's a seven-minute bit about buying paper towels into what I saw walking down the street. So that's why it's a story, just because I've got to flesh out these details.
GM: Sometimes you get a touring comic who's been here for a weekend and they talk about yesterday in their regular life when you know they were here in town yesterday.
KK: Oh, yeah, I always feel bad for people that work at a club and have to hear... You still have to sell it a little bit, make it entertaining. But you can still tell these things with relative truth.
GM: Relative truth. And poetic license.
KK: Yeah, exactly.
GM: You're not even 40. You talk about aging. You got a long way to go. But did you always feel older than you are?
KK: No, I feel younger than I am. Mentally I feel younger. That's why the physical stuff surprises me. I forget. I was watching on TV where somebody had marital problems and they have a kid and the guy's like, "I'm 37." And I was like, "Oh, man, I'm two years older than the character in the story who has a house and a kid and a regular job, and I'm laying on my couch in front of a coffee table I throw knives into in my one bedroom apartment. Oh yeah, maybe I'm behind the times on this. Physically, that's why I feel old. I don't have kids so I don't have this constant reminder of how time progresses in front of me, a growing human being that I have to keep alive. I just keep doing everything the same. I keep having fun, I go out, I see my friends, I still try to ride bikes. I still might try to BMX bike in Arizona with somebody this week.
GM: You're going to be sore.
KK: Yeah, I might hurt myself.
GM: So you don't have kids. But you have the beard as a reminder. Every day it gets longer.
KK: Oh, that's true. Who's the guy who fell asleep?
GM: Rip Van Winkle?
KK: Yeah. That grows longer. That's another thing, too. My hair fell out early on so I always shaved my head so I never got to see my hair go grey or get male pattern baldness at an appropriate time – it started falling out in my mid-20s so I just shaved my head. I'm get grey chest hair now. I'm like, "Oh wow, that's gross."
GM: I know you shaved off your beard for a while. Do you have it now?
KK: Yeah, I have it now.
GM: So you might be getting greys in there.
KK: Yeah, a little bit. I'm trying to go for that Leo DiCaprio look in The Revenant. I think that's the hot look this season so I'm going to try to go for that.
GM: I read you said you thought it was weird when you realized you could write and deliver jokes while clean shaven. That kinda goes back to the happiness thing. People attribute their success to something that has nothing to do with it.
KK: You don't want a gimmick. I do jokes about having the beard now and why I need it. I have a tiny chin that I can fix with putting on a beard. I've said it before: beards are just push-up bras for guys' faces. Double chin? Throw a beard on it. It's a little bit of trickery that'll boost your self-esteem.
GM: And they're very popular right now.
KK: I think they're already out of season but I'm going with it. But it goes back to the disingenuous thing. People love Larry the Cable Guy. That guy's a multi-millionaire who's up there like, "I'm just a crazy old hillbilly." People fall for that gimmick. You're just watching a character. I don't want to be a character; I want to be who I am.
GM: And you did have a beard before everyone else hopped on board. There was a while when you'd see a guy with a big beard and you'd think, "Oh, he's in a cult."
KK: Yeah, yeah! I like that vibe. I enjoy that vibe. When I first grew it, I was blowing a couple big shots – or what I thought were big shots – in comedy and was kind of in the giving up process and I noticed that people would pay attention to me when you're one of 25 people on an open mic and I went up there with my big cult beard. People would pay attention to me when I would talk. It was like, all right, this is a trick to get people to listen but the jokes still have to be there.
GM: I remember an album came out with a few comics who had beards.
KK: The Beards of Comedy.
GM: Now it could be anybody.
KK: Yeah, I know. I'm actually pals with those guys.
GM: Did they try to get you to join?
KK: It was a communal thing, like if you see somebody with a sports jersey that you're also wearing: "Hey, how's it going?" That goes back to the conversation about people getting good within their own scene. Those were all Atlanta and southern guys that just got real good and got together. By their own admission, I think they thought the Beards of Comedy was just a gimmick to tour with. Just needed to put a name on it.
GM: People like gimmicks and labels.
KK: Yeah, it's something easy and something easy to attach to.
GM: I also read you said you didn't see yourself getting married or having a family and that's how you found comedy. Now you have a girlfriend. Are you getting closer to getting married?
KK: It just doesn't seem like a necessary institution. That's a thing I say now but who knows what's going to happen in a few years.
GM: And what about kids?
KK: Kids I don't... You have to allow yourself to change. I never understand when people get mad at political candidates who change their mind on things. You absorb information as you grow as a human being and you're allowed to change your mind. It's just growth. But children? The idea of it is not appealing to me. Now. In five years? Maybe but I still don't... I can't even get a dog because of how much I travel. What kind of life would I be giving a child if I'm only around one week a month?
GM: Well, there'd be the mom.
KK: Yeah, but that's also putting my girlfriend in the position of which sacrifices... Do you quit your job, do I quit my job? She's still in pursuit of things.
GM: Is she a comic?
KK: No, but she works in the industry. She's on the development side of things. That's why it works. That's why every night I go, "Yeah, I got a show," and she's like, "Yeah, I'm going to be there." "Oh, okay." Not "You get to go out every night to a bar."
GM: Yeah, I get what you mean about the politician being labelled a flip-flopper. It's amazing that's an insult.
KK: We should avoid the idea of politics altogether. Keep in mind I'm in America and we might see a reality television star be the president. Start building your wall.
GM: Do you think that's likely?
KK: The fact that it's even a possibility is too far. The fact that he's gotten this far in the race should terrify people.
GM: Well, it terrifies many of us.
KK: Yeah, yeah. My buddy just had his thing go viral. He's making campaign posters that just say, "I don't care. Anybody but Trump. 2016." And that got picked up pretty big. People started making shirts and everything. I try to avoid talking about politics. I know I don't know the first thing about how they work and I still believe in secret societies and lizard people. But as far as the reality of it, it's horrifying and God help us if Trump wins.
GM: David Icke for president? Is that what you're saying?
KK: Who's that?
GM: David Icke. That's the lizard people guy.
KK: Is it? Is he the reptilian guy?
KK: Oh man, I gotta do my research. I'm losing people now. Lizard people is just my default write-in candidate. I don't know which one is the representative. I just write it in because it expresses my disapproval.
GM: Are you still the voice of Comedy Central?
KK: I am.
GM: I ask because we don't get Comedy Central up here.
KK: Yeah, I know. It's kind of a bummer.
GM: Do you like coming to these festivals? Do you get to catch up with old friends?
KK: The comics joke is you can live in the same city as somebody but you only see them when you're in Montreal or whichever comedy festival you're at. It's the one time everybody's in one place because the rest of the time you see them in airports. So yeah, it is fun to catch up with folks I haven't seen in a while.
GM: What's in your show these days? What are you talking about?
KK: I got gout. So I talk about gout for a while.
GM: Ooh, painful.
KK: Yeah, it's pretty funny, though. And I had writer's block and I got gout so I got 15 minutes out of it.
GM: Perfect. Hopefully you get shingles soon.
KK: You know, that goes back to the I don't want to have to Hunter Thompson my life to get stories but something happens like gout and I'm like, "Oh, finally, a subject to write about!"
GM: You need a silver lining to that cloud.
KK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. It's not exactly like I was doing DMT driving a Cadillac through the desert. I just had too many rodeo bacon cheeseburgers. But still, it's something to report back on. A cautionary tale.
GM: So you talk about gout. It's all personal stories, right?
KK: Yeah, there's a couple a little more removed observational things in there. Less stories of the past and more maybe some outlook stuff or current diagnostic analysis of my state in the world.
GM: There's that fancy talk again.
KK: Well, you know, you gotta talk like that to cover up that you really don't know what you're talking about.
GM: Well I look forward to seeing you.
KK: Well, thanks, man.
GM: I think that's about it. You don't bring an opener for a festival like this, do you?
KK: No. I will have openers up there. I think my pal Graham Clark's doing one of the shows. I forget who's doing the other one.
GM: That's too much beard for one show.
KK: It's a lot of beard. I do try to avoid double-beard bookings but it's Graham. Graham's one of my favourite guys so he's doing it.
GM: Oh, Kinane. Is that Irish?
KK: It is Irish. It's funny, I was actually in Ireland doing a festival and they were like, "How do you pronounce your last name?" I'm like, "You tell me! It's from here."
GM: How did they pronounce it?
KK: They were like, "We say Kinahn." Well, we butchered it, so bring me up as Kinane, if you don't mind.
GM: All right.
KK: Thanks for doing the piece.