As he releases his first-length album, Chicago comedian Dwayne Kennedy says ‘it’s a good time for it to be heard’

Fellow Chicagoans Hannibal Buress and Kumail Nanjiani cite the South Side native as an influence who shaped their comedy.

SHARE As he releases his first-length album, Chicago comedian Dwayne Kennedy says ‘it’s a good time for it to be heard’
Stand-up comedian Dwayne Kennedy poses for a portrait outside Zanies Comedy Night Club in Old Town, Thursday afternoon, April 23, 2020. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Stand-up comedian Dwayne Kennedy’s first full-length comedy album, “Who the Hell is Dwayne Kennedy?” was filmed at The Punchline in San Francisco.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago-born comedian Dwayne Kennedy believes in meeting people on their level.

In a time of uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kennedy’s first full-length comedy album, “Who the Hell is Dwayne Kennedy?” — filmed at The Punchline in San Francisco — aims to fill the void.

Since audiences can’t come to him, he’s going to them.

“People are looking for stuff to do, of course,” said Kennedy. “And because so many people are at home for so long, I guess they’re burning through content. So it’s a good time for it to be heard. And, you know, I think the potential for it to be heard may even be greater because of the adverse situation.”

Fans can get their hands on Kennedy’s album Friday. It’s also available for preorder at oakheadrecords.bandcamp.com. The album was produced by Ahamefule J. Oluo and co-produced by comedians W. Kamau Bell, who does the album’s introduction, and Hari Kondabolu.

In 2016, Kennedy released an EP, “Oh No, It’s Dwayne Kennedy!” But his first full-length album was planned before COVID-19 took effect.

“I had attempted to do it for some years,” said Kennedy. “So, I was able to get this done and get it out, so I’ll take that.”

For his new album, Kennedy touches on polarizing issues such as race, religion, politics and economics with sharp wit that thrusts the audience into places some stand-up comedians are afraid to touch out of fear of social media backlash.

In one sequence on the album, Kennedy asks, “How come we cool with white people calling us ‘people of color,’ but when they call us ‘colored people’ we lose our minds?”

The audience roars in laughter.

“Hopefully, you just do the stuff you do and you hope that people enjoy what you do, but certainly, you might not be for everybody,” said Kennedy. “Nobody is for everybody, which is the beauty of it, you know; it’s just a matter of finding your audience or having your audience find you.”

After all, Kennedy is far from a neophyte. He’s an O.G. in the comedy circuit who has no time to suffer fools.

Kennedy has acting (“Seinfeld,” “Martin,” “227”) and writing (“Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell,” “The Arsenio Hall Show,” “The Orlando Jones Show”) credits under his belt.

As a performer, the Pullman resident has made appearances on “Late Show with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” among others.

Comedians such as Sarah Silverman, Maria Bamford and fellow Chicagoans Hannibal Buress and Kumail Nanjiani often cite Kennedy as an influence who shaped their comedy.

“Man, it’s flattering and, you know, you don’t even really think about that. You just go up and do what you do,” said Kennedy. “And then people come, people see what you’re doing and some people say they were inspired by it also.”

In 2019, he won an Emmy Award as a producer for Bell’s CNN original series “United Shades of America.”

In one episode, the show visits Chicago to put a spotlight on the city’s systemic issues within intentionally divested communities — content rarely seen in mainstream media.

“I understand the importance of people wanting to tell their story,” said Kennedy. “People who don’t always necessarily get to tell their story ...just give people a chance to tell their story in a way that they want to tell it.”

Like many comedians, his comedy was inspired by what he saw — and the comedy records he listened to — as a kid who grew up near Avalon Park.

“I was more inspired to do comedy just from seeing it on television,” said Kennedy. “Seeing Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby and Franklyn Ajaye, so I just oddly still love comedy. I do love comedy, but I just love watching it and just being amazed that somebody could do that.

“Now, you know how everybody knows somebody hilarious growing up and sometimes seeing how that can affect people seeing someone funny and how they can just change the mood of a room or change the mood of a person.”

Kennedy’s other projects, including “United Shades of America,” have been put on an indefinite hold due to the pandemic.

He’s hoping the album can keep him fresh in the minds of people who could use a laugh during such a tough time.

“So nobody’s really doing the road right now,” Kennedy said. “I just do stuff online. Hopefully, ithelps me build an online following.”

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