Kyle Kinane Is Still Punk Rock

The proudly contrarian comic started out as a musician but found his voice in stand-up. He talks to Cracked about not worrying about his image, embracing maturity and his great new special ‘Shocks & Struts’
Kyle Kinane Is Still Punk Rock

On Wednesday, September 20th, Kyle Kinane will headline Cracked Live, a night of curated stand-up comedy at the Cutting Room in New York. It’s late August now, and Kinane is relaxing at his home across the country in Portland, recalling his early days as a comic. Back then, he wasn’t top-billed — more often, he was the evening’s host. It wasn’t a job he particularly enjoyed. 

“It’s a whole other skill set,” he says. “People just sat down, you’re the first comedic encounter they’re having that night for that show. It was weird in Chicago — if you were too good of a host, it was a catch-22 because then the club would keep you as a host. You wouldn’t advance because it’s so hard to find a good host, so you kind of shoot yourself in the foot by being a great host. I was a terrible host, and because I was a terrible host, I just never got invited to perform at the club — I didn’t jump through that very small hoop of ‘being good, but not too good’ kind of thing.”

What made him a terrible host? “I was doing one-liners and my energy was low,” he tells me. “I wasn’t a hype man. You’re better off as a hype man than a comic when you’re hosting. It’s tough to do both.”

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It’s hard to imagine Kinane as a hype man. Over the course of several acerbic, bluntly funny stand-up specials, the 46-year-old comic has established himself as someone who doesn’t do cuddly or peppy. Raised in suburban Chicago, Kinane has a very Midwestern sense of humor — conversational, unpretentious, smart but not showy — and with his thick beard and regular-clothes onstage attire, he comes across as just one of the guys, albeit with better punchlines and a sharper seen-it-all worldview. Fellow Chicagoan John Mulaney has said that one of the reasons he wears suits is that he realized that when he didn’t, he looked like anybody in the audience — and so what right did he have to think that he should be up there on stage anymore than anyone else in that room? I suspect that’s one reason why Kinane doesn’t wear suits — he wants the crowd to see themselves in his everyday observations.

Kinane’s most recent special, Shocks & Struts, came out earlier this year — first as an hour-long special on YouTube, then as an extended album this summer — and it contains some of his best work yet, featuring his hilarious tales of dealing with food poisoning, weird ailments and sunburns. There’s a shooting-the-shit quality to his stand-up that creates the illusion that he’s just now thought of this amusing story he’s telling you — a display of no-big-deal effortlessness that he meticulously hones. He’s one of the rare comics who espouses a common-sense approach to political discourse without coming across as a secret right-wing crackpot — he’s pro-vaccine, pro-women’s rights, but at the same time, some of his friends on the far left drive him crazy. (His bit from a previous special, 2016’s Loose in Chicago, about liberals being so open-minded, except for when he wants to put ketchup on a hot dog, is great.)

And like his previous specials, the album version of Shocks & Struts features track listings that, perversely and endlessly amusingly, have nothing to do with the material. Wanna find his bit about pillows? That’s “Lower Strut Bushing.” His riff on having gerd? That’s “Brake Rotor.” What started as a joke has become a thing he loves doing every time now. (His 2015 album “I Liked His Old Stuff Better” has song titles that reference the N.W.A classic Straight Outta Compton: “This Track Is Not Called Fuck Tha Police,” “This Track Is Not Called Gangsta Gangsta,” and so on.)

But that impish desire to fuck with his audience — whether it’s through willfully obscure track titles or jokes about why everyone supports the importance of Holocaust museums, even though nobody ever wants to go to one — has been mitigated somewhat in recent years by a groundswell of maturity that he’s still wrestling with. The man has made changes to improve his well-being. When I contacted Kinane by Zoom, he asked not to be on camera because he no longer wants to start his day staring at a screen. (Also, as I found out later, our early-morning interview was unusual for him: “Eight a.m. Kyle is a rarity,” he admits.) Living in Portland is something new-ish for him as well, and it sounds like the move from Los Angeles has done wonders for him. Not that he’s grown up, mind you — although, as you’ll see, he does think about home decor more than he used to.

Below, we discuss his thoughts about his on-stage image, why politics is like sports, how his mom helped get him into stand-up and his excitement about working with Bobcat Goldthwait on his forthcoming special, which is going to be filmed this month in Minneapolis. But what came through most clearly in our conversation is that, for a guy who started out playing guitar in the Grand Marquis, he has never abandoned a punk-rock ethos, especially when it comes to refusing to have some grand plan for his career. Well, whatever he’s doing, it’s working. 

Had Portland been a place you’d wanted to live for a while?

It just kind of happened. We moved up here in the pandemic, so that’s been three years. I had, not in an official sense, but kind of divorced myself from showbiz — I’m just doing stand-up and occasional voiceover work when it comes along. And I got that whole panic of “You’ll never be able to own a house,” and so I was like, “Well, I guess I got to buy a house.” This was the last place I could afford on the West Coast.

Was being a homeowner a life goal?

I have never had a life goal in my entire life. (Laughs) It was just one of those like, “Oh, I guess this is the mature, smart thing to do. What if I tried that path for once in my life?”

How has it felt, going the mature path?

It’s just stuff that on paper says I’m mature. As far as day-to-day, nothing’s changed there, other than picking out sconces and stuff like that — which, I’ve got to say, is not how I’d like to be spending my time, but comes along with the territory, I guess. Also, I’m well aware (that) talking about homeownership is a real “Let them eat cake” kind of attitude.

You’ve done bits about things that people say that sound extraordinarily white. This kinda qualifies.

I think it’s less “white” and more “privileged,” given the state of affairs these days. I’m trying to make jokes about it, because that’s what’s going on in my life, but the joke also starts with, “Yeah, I know, what a relatable topic — you can all line up to shit in my top hat after the show.”

One of my favorite jokes on Shocks & Struts is when you say that you look like someone who’s going to kidnap a Democratic governor. How much do you think about your look when you’re getting ready to do a special?

The easiest thing to start a set is to talk about how you look, because everybody’s looking at you. It’s not some deep, cutting joke and it’s a great jumping-off point. But the joke now is I don’t want to look like this anymore — this look is tired — but I don’t have any options. You can’t exercise your face. I’m stuck with no chin and bald. I can go get that Bulgarian special, or whatever people are getting, and go get plugs, but it’s been too long — I’ve been bald forever.

Have you ever consulted a stylist to shake up your look? “Oh, maybe try losing the beard. Or putting on these cool glasses.”

Every time I shave my beard, the general public — strangers on the internet — let me know how disgusted they are with my actual face. The internet’s such a cool place and it’s only made the world better — it’s only made people more empathetic and more open to criticism. It’s a great place. So every time I shave my beard, I am told that my face is terrible.

The clothing — I’m recording a thing in two weeks, and I’m just like, I don’t want to dress “fun.” The material, that’s what I'm selling — I’m not selling my image. I don’t have a bankable image, so the more I can dress to put focus on the material, that’s how I do it.

Your stuff is so approachable and regular-guy, it’s hard to imagine you doing stand-up in a suit. 

I’ve thought about changing up to wear a suit, but then I wouldn’t feel like myself — I’d feel like I’m either at a wedding or a funeral, because that’s the times I wear a suit. Well, I got to say, more recently, we did become members of The Magic Castle, and I wear suits there, and actually it was kind of fun.

Is the new material going to talk about magicians? 

No, no, I leave them alone — let the magicians be magicians. I don’t need to exploit them. I’m happy they took that beat-up-able skill in high school and stuck with it — as an adult, I’m fascinated by it and I’m glad they’re doing it. Nothing but respect for the magicians.

You were in bands when you were younger — did you also try magic?

I don’t have the coordination. I can’t walk across the room with a full glass of water without spilling it. Actually, we started going to Magic Castle because my girlfriend got very excited about magic — we had passes to go there and she’s like, “I just want to be a member. I want to go there all the time.” I’ve just had good times over there — it’s more like a country club for illusions, I guess. (Laughs)

So, you’re into comedy and music as a kid. Was one of them a stronger pull?

So, (as a kid) you could pick a kindergarten class — either morning or afternoon — and I picked afternoon because I would stay up late watching Johnny Carson with my mom. Seeing stand-up on there, I don’t remember who I was seeing or what they were talking about — I was just fascinated that, like, “Oh, normally (it’s) a person that’s an actor that’s in movies and TV shows” or “That person’s a musician,” but stand-up was just a guy that would show up and talk at the end. I’m like, “What? He’s not in a TV show. He’s not in a movie. This person just gets to talk — that’s all they had to do. They didn’t have to learn an instrument or anything? All right, that’s pretty neat.” 

Through grade school, at the same time you’re listening to rock radio and your friends are getting into that, (I was watching) The Sunday (Comics) on Fox. I had cable at a young age, so I was watching the Young Comedians Specials, and I always liked it. (With music), I saw, “All right, you’re in a band in junior high, but then you go to the place that sells guitars, you could take a guitar lesson, this is how you learn music…,” and that made sense to me, but I didn’t know how you started comedy. This is no-internet era — people were just on TV telling jokes. I’m 11, I don’t know that there’s comedy clubs — I was in the suburbs. I remember there’s one intersection by my house that had a legendary all-ages punk venue, and there was also a comedy club across the street, and I remember as a kid being like, “What’s a comedy club?” My parents didn’t even know how to articulate it — they were like, “People go in there and they laugh.” I’m like, “What a stupid building.” (Laughs) The concept escaped me.

I like the idea of you and your mom sharing The Tonight Show. Was she just a big Carson fan?

She’s a night owl. My dad worked midnights — my dad would be gone at night, and so my mom just stayed up late. Johnny Carson was her Good Morning America — sit and watch that and kick off the rest of her night. I would go to bed afterwards — as soon as you hear the M*A*S*H theme song, you’re like, “I am up too late.” That is a feeling that has not left — you put on the M*A*S*H theme song right now, I’m like, “Oh, I got to get to bed,” no matter what time it is. It’s like the equivalent of hearing a last call at a bar: “Oh, we’ve been here this long, yikes.” My 10-year-old equivalent was “Suicide Is Painless.” (Laughs)

When your parents unsuccessfully explained what a comedy club is, did you then think, “Okay, I’ll make my living in a band”?

I was never going to make a living off of anything. I was going to be a warehouse manager or whatever job you just get. I was suburban and rudderless — everybody just kind of got jobs. “Oh, that’s a good job. So-and-so got a good job. So-and-so’s managing the warehouse. So-and-so moved up to manager of this place.” 

I didn’t have goals. I had things that I would obsess over. When I started comedy, I’m like, “Oh, I’m just going to do this — I don’t know what it’s going to lead to, but I’m going to do this.” When any new comic is like, “What’s your advice?,” I’m like, “You’ve got to love it enough that you’re going to do it for free forever.” That’s the attitude you have to have toward it.

If you didn’t have life goals, how did you approach developing a comedy career at the start?

I would always use an arbitrary date on a calendar where I’d look back a year before: “Have I improved? Do I think I’ve improved with the quality of my comedy? Has it improved by the number of shows that I’m getting booked to do? Am I progressing?” It was never financial — it was always just like, “Am I getting better at this thing?” I didn’t want to lie to myself — you see enough people that are just going and going and going, and they’ve been at it for years and they may have never been funny (but) they’re still going. It’s like, “All right, well, how can I lock onto that level of ambition, but also somebody else’s level of self-awareness and combine the two things into an ever- improving self?”

You’ve talked about that in previous interviews — how you don’t want your comedy to position you as all-knowing and that you’re still learning and growing. Have you always been a pretty self-aware person?

I think there’s still a good chunk of self-doubt coming from looking back at what an asshole I was — and, I’m sure, still am on many occasions. When I was around music, everything was about, “Where’s the next party? We’re going to see these bands. We’re going to play a show” — it was, “How drunk can you get?” I look back and I still, to this day, have remorse: “Oh, I mistook thinking I was funny for just being the loudest person at the party.” I was really confusing “Everybody’s listening to me” versus “Well, they have to because I’m being the loudest one.” I mistook being funny for just being obnoxious for many, many years.

When you were playing guitar in your band the Grand Marquis, were you the funny guy in the group?

No, I didn’t even get a microphone — I’d be funny afterward, but I would just be drunk. That’s the realization: “Was I funny? No, I was just drunk.” I would make jokes, but I don’t know if they were funny. I remember myself talking more than I remember anybody else talking — that doesn’t mean I was the funniest one, that just means I commandeered most social circles. Now that I get that through stand-up, I like to just listen now.

In a band, you’re up there with other people and instruments. In stand-up, you’re up there all alone. Was that a hard transition?

It’s weird when you think about people, like Fred Armisen, who came from music way back when — I had such a hangup about telling people in the (music) scene that I was doing stand-up. At the time that I started, at least the shows I was going to see, everybody in the bands were genuinely funny. So I’m like, “Yeah, I’m doing stand-up” — (I thought people would say), “Oh, you’re going to make people laugh on purpose? Just do it between songs.” So I kept it a secret for a long time. 

(Thinking) “I’m in your face, I don’t care what you think of me!” — that’s lonelier when you have that attitude in stand-up. At least with music, it’s your little army against the people that are opposing you. You’re playing loud noises — you can’t hear criticism when everybody’s turned up to 10. (Laughs)

If I went back and saw you when you were starting out, what would I notice that’s different from how you are now as a stand-up?

My short game sucks right now — when you start off, you get five minutes, so you’re trying to cram as many jokes into five minutes. But they’re just that — they’re jokes, they’re not an insight into the person. You don’t get to know somebody too much in the five-minute set — it’s like, “Oh, I got to get to these punchlines. I got to make people laugh,” unless you were doing some really weird experimental stuff. Now it’s like, yeah, okay, I’m doing an hour-plus every night — but if you give me a seven-minute set, I’m just like, “Oh, geez.” I’ve got to brush up on my short game, so I’m trying to relearn that stuff and get back to writing some quicker jokes. 

On Shocks & Struts, you’ve got this great, lengthy bit about you and your van getting stuck in the middle of the desert and the unusual stranger that helped you out. How long does that take to develop and hone?

Knock on wood, I haven’t gone through some sort of monumental tragedy yet, so when a thing happens, you make these notes: “Oh, that part’s funny…” If you’re a sad-sack and you want to remember something in your life, you’re going to remember the saddest parts of it — you’re going to embellish the saddest parts of it. But if you’re a comedian, you’re going to remember what the funny, weird parts were, and you might embellish those parts. I’ll put the color on it, and as you’re telling a story, you’re like, "Oh, wait, then that guy had to call another guy to come help me out, and that guy had a big, stupid truck.” I did see the Fourth Amendment written on his truck, and I was worried about getting out of there, but I’m like, “That’s a weird thing to have on your truck — okay, we’ll remember that detail for later.” (Laughs) 

The same reason those stories work in comedy are the reasons eyewitness accounts in a courtroom don’t hold up — you can’t rely on them — but you just have to rely on mine to be funny. It’s all the little details — that story could have just been “I saw a guy with a truck that had the Fourth Amendment on it.”

Yeah, but there’s also an emotional arc to the story as well — part of why it works is what you learned about yourself in the process. When does that element of the bit come about?

The frustrating part is that I wasn’t going to fictionalize an end to that story — I got stuck in the desert and there’s a long 20-minute bit about me making fun of a guy that saved my life. Now, the God’s honest truth is that my one friend was out there with me — my buddy Dave Stone — but he couldn’t help me. He just got stoned and slow-cooked some ribs over an open fire while I tried to dig my van out, because it was a one-person job since we only had one shovel. There’s also a weird, funny detail that he was listening to Sleep and just staring out over the desert while cooking ribs — it just didn’t fit with the story. (Laughs) It sounds better if I’m by myself. I wouldn’t have died — Dave would have driven me back to society at some point — but, essentially, I am on my own with this task at hand. 

I had a joke about how I always have some pee in my pants and I think that’s some sort of karmic thing about judgment — that’s my secret and it keeps me in check when I want to be judgmental of other people. It just so happened I had that joke written separately, and I’m like, “Oh, here’s this whole story about me judging this (stranger) as he is helping me — this would be a great end to it.” I still feel like it’s a pretty rough seam how I married those bits together, but I’m like, “Oh yeah, this works with this.” If you have enough material laying around, you start seeing how they can fit together.

You’re one of the few stand-ups who can talk about disliking political divisiveness and make jokes about both parties and it feels genuine. I basically know your politics, but you thread that needle really nicely. Does that attitude come from how you were raised? 

I think it’s more, just in the last eight years, we took how somebody voted and then made them a villain because of it. There used to be a whole time where you didn’t talk about who you voted (for) and you didn’t know how somebody voted — maybe you could have guessed, but it didn’t stop you from being a neighbor or having a fine Thanksgiving with those family members. 

There’s definitely some issues where I’m like, “Oh, you’re voting because of that issue? Get the fuck out of here” — but my best friend since preschool is a right-wing guy. It’s great that I can talk to him and we know, “All right, we’re going to avoid this. We’re not going to agree, but maybe sometimes we want to learn from each other about why you might lean this way.” Where did that element go? Now it’s like, “Oh, you voted for so-and-so — I’ve got to cut you out of my life,” on both sides. I don’t think that’s helpful.

So, where do you think that element went?

I don’t know. I’m not hyper-political — I vote, but I’m not loud about it. For myself, the way people thought Obama was going to be Jesus — for me, personally, I’m like, “It’s a politician, calm down.” For all this stuff about “(I hate) Trump, I’m not in a cult that buys presidential merch!” — those Shepard Fairey posters were everywhere, those “Hope” bumper stickers were all over the place. It started there, this whole presidential worship thing — I was all right with the guy, but I (thought), “You’re not electing Christ into office at any point in time ever, and you never will." 

To be that adoring of a presidential figure is now creating a rift for the other side to be like, “Look, all these people are just up this dude’s ass.” It’s like you’re at a bar, you don’t even care about sports, but whatever team is winning and those fans are there and they’re obnoxious — I’m a contrarian, so I’m like, “You know what? I want the other team to win because these guys are being obnoxious.”

I totally get that — the obnoxious-sports-fan backlash phenomenon is real.

As I’ve said in the past, (the Shepard Fairey posters) worked because that design was cool. I think liberals are much more attuned to design and how things look — conservatives don’t care. Conservatives — white people wearing red, it’s a bad match. It’s just not a good color palette for fair skin. They’ll wear all the “Let’s Go Brandon” shit because they don’t care if they look cute in it — they just want to get the point across. It’s opposing sports teams, and now merch got into it. 

Depending on where you are in the country, do you have to tailor your material to the audience?

No. I was just in Phoenix, and they’re pretty conservative down there, but you’re not online at a show. You’re at the show, and you should be able to laugh at yourself and somebody else at the same time — and I should be able to facilitate that. You can get all the clapter you want by just restating political causes that everybody in the room agrees on — and, honestly, what’s more American than trying to win over your enemy to get their money from buying a ticket? God, I got conservatives’ money ‘cause they’re buying tickets to come see me because they think I’m funnier than I am political? That’s a win. But, also, my ticket prices are low because I understand times are tough. I am more liberal — tickets should be $25, because anybody who wants to take a chance to see comedy should be able to afford it.

It feels very punk rock of you. 

It’s not just punk rock — I think it’s just a human ethos of “How much money does a person need?” I already feel like I’m a king talking down to people because I bought a house. (Laughs) I’m still in a circle with people that are doing comedy and trying to scrape by doing comedy. Who’s coming to the shows? I try to keep it around 25, 30 bucks because Ticketmaster is going to throw another $15 of arbitrary bullshit charges on top of that, so your ticket is still going to be 40, 45 bucks. I try to charge cheaper, but then scalpers can come in and buy a bunch of them, depending on the venue. Sometimes, it’s a lose-lose. 

I can put on a great $25 show — I can do the same show for 50 bucks, but you won’t be as happy. At that price, I want more people to know who I am. I look at my contemporaries and wonder how their basketball-stadium tours are going. If 25 bucks mean, “You know, I’m going to buy a couple of these when they go on sale, and I’m going to invite somebody that doesn’t know who Kyle is,” that’s investing back in myself. It’s being able to make sure people can take a chance on the show without it being too much of a financial hit.

You haven’t pretended to be Elon Musk on Twitter in a while. Did you get in trouble for that?

No, nothing happened. If shadow-banning is real, I got 200,000 followers on that thing and anything I put out, it might get 14 likes, so I know it’s all bots and bullshit on there. 

That guy, I don’t know if he’s intentionally tanking it for a reason. He might be a guy so full of himself that he’s too blind to criticism or blind to making bad choices. But it’s just social media — everything survived without it before. It’s viewed as this obligation to be there if you want to have a career, so I get it, but I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to do the dance, and it’s pretty dead for stand-up on Twitter anyway. It’s not getting you what it might’ve gotten you 15 years ago. Nobody’s getting a Rob Delaney career out of it, so who cares?

As a comedian, do you find it hilarious that Musk tries so hard to be funny and he’s just not?

Yeah, there’s that whole crew. Now you have comedians that are just — I don’t know if it’s ironic or un-ironic — wearing sunglasses and smoking cigars on podcasts. I’m like, (they’re) the two old guys from Trading Places, just billionaire puppet masters: “For fun, let’s do this with our billions of dollars. I’m going to go to space instead of solve homelessness.” Get fucked.

Also, I had a real problem with waking up in the morning and just being on my phone in bed looking at stuff — it would color my whole day, and I’d be pissed. It’s just like being at a stand-up show — this isn’t online, we’re all here in person. We’re all here to hang out and have a good time. I desperately want to live my life less online and more in the real world.

Bobcat Goldthwait is going to direct your upcoming special. How did you guys meet?

He would pop (into) shows in L.A. when I was there, and it was, “Oh my god, that’s Bobcat Goldthwait.” I knew that he had gone into directing movies, like World’s Greatest Dad — these wild-premise movies that somehow have a ton of heart. Then, I was on Those Who Can’t with the Grawlix — that was their show they had on TruTV, and they had cast me in that. He directed some of those episodes, and he just brought such a good attitude. You realize a director is also (about) keeping up the mood on set: “All right, we’ve been here all day and it’s hot, but if you guys are in a good mood and you’re making a comedy, it’s going to translate to what the end product is.” I got to know him as a director from doing that. 

Then just being around town, he’s this total sweetheart of a guy that’s been around stand-up and been living long enough to have been through things. He’s got a bit of what I’m trying to achieve myself — he can stand back, he’s got more wisdom and doesn’t need to be the center of attention in a green room. Also, now, he lives just outside of Chicago — I go back home to see my parents, “Hey, Bobcat, what’s going on? Doing any shows?” It’s fun to talk to him about being out in the ‘burbs where I grew up.

(Shocks & Struts) is directed by Jonah Ray (Rodrigues), and he did a great job. (He and Goldthwait) are both stand-ups, so they can look at the set from a stand-up’s perspective and be like, “Oh, what if you did this joke after this joke?” It’s not just like, “Oh, this would look cool if we shot it from here” — (I’m) like, “Yeah, but would it service the act by doing that?” I’ve shot stuff for other places where it’s like, “All right, get here five hours early because we’re going to shoot the sequence of you walking into the venue” — nobody gives a fuck about that. Nobody’s like, “Oh, what is your favorite stand-up special?” “The one where they looked real cool walking into the venue!” Nobody cares — you’re just trying to justify your fee as a director by blowing out the budget and getting a crane shot in front of the theater that people will forget as soon as the show starts. I’m like, “How about I get there five hours early and I just worry about having a good set? How about I worry about that part?”

I love on your albums that the track titles don’t have anything to do with the actual bits. On Shocks & Struts, they’re all just different car parts. What made you start doing that?

I just thought it was really funny at first, but it’s me shooting myself in the foot and trying to be punk rock: “Well, if you like it, you’ll find it.(Laughs) I haven’t done much to help my career, intentionally or unintentionally. I always thought it’s a real self-worth issue — how I know if people really liked it is if they went through the trouble. Part of it forces people to listen to the whole album, but mostly, I think it’s funny and I keep doing it — it makes it difficult, but what’s the joke supposed to be titled? Like, “Oh, hey, Journey has that song about love — what’s it called?” Do I have to say the punchline in the title of the joke? That’s corny to me, and so what I think is corny has probably prevented my growth, in some senses, as a comic. Now, it’s more like an insider bit for the people that do know.

That’s how I know I’m not famous — the first albums were (references to) Kiss and Cheap Trick, and those are two very litigious bands, and I haven’t gotten sued by either of them yet. I did all the Cheap Trick titles for Whiskey Icarus for Comedy Central, and then the next Comedy Central (special), I wanted to do Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A, and (the network was) like, “You can’t do that, that’s illegal.” I’m like, “Well, you let me do it on the first album.” I watched legal at Comedy Central just fucking scramble over the fact that they let that one slide. That felt pretty cool.

You alluded at the beginning of the conversation to recently “divorcing” yourself from showbiz. Was it hard to say, “I’m not gonna do that acting stuff anymore — I’m just focusing on stand-up”?

Oh, no, that wasn’t tough at all. I moved to L.A. to be a comic. Going from Chicago, it’s like, “Well, you can either start doing all these road runs and really build up your skill set and your reputation by performing live (in the Midwest)” — this is early 2000s, there wasn’t YouTube — “or you can move to New York or L.A. and try and get some TV credits, and then you’d have those and you could get booked at clubs.” That’s the route I decided to go, because people would go out on these runs and they’d come back from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota — (I’d ask), “How was it?" “Well, it’s a 12-hour drive between gigs. I made $75.” That would just make me wind up hating comedy — I don’t want to ruin this thing by doing that to it, so I’d rather just move to L.A. and work a day job and then do comedy at night. 

So you get to L.A., and it’s that old Mitch Hedberg joke about asking if you can act or write when you’re a stand-up — it’s like asking a chef if (he) can farm. It’s like, “I see how you think this is part of what I do, but it’s not at all.” It was like, “Oh, I’ve got to write a show, I’ve got to pitch a show” — I would have these shows and I’d run around trying to sell them, and then I’d get excited about an idea that I had, and you spend 10 months at different places, and then they reject it, and then you’re depressed. It’s like, “I don’t even want this — I just want to be a stand-up — and now I’m getting depressed because I’m not getting something I didn’t even want in the first place. Wait, this is all wrong.” There are people that hate the stand-up part — they love coming up with show ideas and trying to pitch those. I don’t — I saw enough of it. 

I was at one place where you do a general meeting and you just pitch yourself — it’s like a first date with some guy in a conference room in a production office — and there was this guy that stopped me in the middle of me telling him about myself so he could get his lunch order in. He’s like, “Oh, I’m sorry, hold on one second — this guy, if I don’t tell him now, I won’t be able to get (what I want) from this bagel place.” I’m in the middle of “So then, when I was 10 years old, this happened in my life…” — he had to get his lunch order. That rubbed me the wrong way — (it’s) indicative of (that) town and its self-centeredness. 

Then I had a show with my podcast partner, Dave Stone. We were doing The Boogie Monster, and this production company came to us: “We think we can make a good TV show out of this.” We were both at a point where we had gone through the game, so we said, “All right, but we’re going to do it exactly how we want to do it.” They were like, “Yes” — the production company was great, and it was a two-year process of pitching it and then shooting it, and we got a network to buy the premise and fund a pilot, and the pilot was going well. Even the network execs came out to where we were shooting it and told the director, “Why are you coming up with all this other stuff? We bought a show from these two guys — shoot them being funny. We don’t care about your drone shots.” I’m like, “Thank you very much, network executives, even you guys get it.” 

It was all building up to, like, “Oh, wow, this is going to go.” Then, somebody higher up the network quit — a new guy came in and, because (our show) was under the old guy, scrapped everything in an afternoon’s, half-hour’s worth of thought. “Well, that’s what the old guy was doing, and I need to put my stamp on this place.” Two years of work gone with a Thanos snap. I was like, “Oh, fuck this place. I’m going to take what I want out of here, which is TV credits, and I’m going to be a stand-up and I’m not going to get emotionally involved with all this other crap.” That’s what made it very, very easy for me to live in L.A. and just do stand-up shows: (Agent voice) “Hey, you want to do this audition in Santa Monica?” “Not at all — I’m going to go on a mountain bike ride.” (Laughs)

That being said, when somebody’s like, “Hey, we have this part that we wrote with you in mind — would you like to do it?” Yeah, that’s fun — the creation of the stuff’s fun. It’s the absolute bullshit hoops that you jump through to get to that point. I believe it’s called “offer only” — that’s how I operate these days.

That’s a good philosophy. 

Well, I’m not getting a lot of offers, let me tell you that. (Laughs) I’m not Brad Pitt: “Oh god, if we can’t get Kinane for this project, I don’t even know if it’ll work!”

“He’s the perfect guy to play the villain who kidnaps the Democratic governor!”

Yeah, I got your January-6th biopic look.

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