Kyle Kinane, submitted photo
Since splitting for L.A. a decade ago, Kyle Kinane has risen steadily in the comedy ranks. Once an aspiring stand-up in Chicago, where he played backroom joints (including the Lyons Den, where Pete Holmes, Kumail Nanjiani and many others began their careers) and eventually Zanies, he’s now a state- and country-hopping headliner (and the official voice of Comedy Central) who’ll land in Chicago Thursday Nov. 14 for the first of five shows (through Saturday) at UP Comedy Club in Old Town.
Shortly before arriving in Chicago, where he’ll catch up with family and friends as time allows, the 36-year-old Addison native — who also co-starred on a very funny/profane episode of Drunk History — talked about his early years, moving to L.A. and how he’s different from his onstage persona.
Sun-Times: You’re the James Earl Jones of Comedy Central. How has that voiceover gig allowed you to focus more on where you want to go in comedy?
Kyle Kinane: Uh, because it pays well. Financially, it’s a nice fallback. It came out of nowhere, and it’s a coveted job that fell in my lap and I’m forever grateful that they just picked me out of the blue to do it. Because I wasn’t pursuing any kind of voiceover work or anything. And because it’s minimal effort to do, I just tuck that money away and don’t want to look at it like it’s even mine.
Q: One former Chicago comic commented that Chicago is the place to be until you get tired of not getting paid. Then you move to a coast. Was that part of your mentality, too?
KK: Guys who were going on the road to get paid, all of a sudden their acts were starting to change because they had to appease these roadhouse drunkards. Because you had to get invited back. I’m like, “No. Day job. I want to know how much money I’ll make each week, but then I’ll do [comedy] for free but do it the way I want to do it. And if it turns into something that I think might be a viable commodity, then I’ll take my chances.” I found my retirement hobby early. I found the thing that I wanted to spend my free time doing. But fame or not, money or not, it was, “I just like this puzzle that can’t be solved, so this is what I’m going to do.” It’s like when you see somebody retire and get into model trains or something — that’s what I found with doing comedy.
Q: What else did you do to support your comedy habit?
KK: I was bouncing around colleges throughout the city. There was still that idea that, “Well, I’ve gotta get a college degree.” I went to three colleges over the course of 7 years. Not a real go-getter.
Q: Did you finally get a degree?
KK: [laughs] I went to Columbia. They made me graduate. I had just gone there long enough and I’d taken enough courses to equal a bachelor’s degree. And that’s why I moved. Once they told me, “You’re graduating,” that’s when I left for California. I’d been working delivering pizzas and working in warehouses.
Q: You did your share of grunt work to make ends meet.
KK:Yeah, laboring jobs. But I liked those, because I didn’t have to think. I got to write all my jokes while I was there. You can have me physically. I was basically a muscled whore at that point. I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll load boxes, but on lunch break I’m just going to write down all my jokes I’ve been thinking about all day.” Because I didn’t have to use my brain space for anything.
Q: How old were you when you split for California?
Q: Has it been a pretty smooth ten years or have there been some rough spots?
KK:You got out there broke and you’re one of thousands of people who moved out there because they thought they should chase their dreams too. And some false idea of hope that maybe, just maybe…But it wasn’t a dream of any sort of superstardom. It was, “Well, alright, I may as well take my chances. Comedy is going well enough in Chicago. I gotta get a place to live anyway. Let’s make it L.A. and see what happens.” I was ready for the fact that, “You’re going to start all over, you’re going to start at the bottom,” and work my way back up over a few years. It wasn’t great, but I had a day job so I could pay my bills. Just barely.
Q: You’ve cultivated this stage persona as a sort of underachieving, possibly alcoholic loner, but it seems you’re much more ambitious and put together than that. What’s the difference between onstage Kyle and offstage Kyle?
KK:I think it’s cautious ambition. A Midwestern sensibility of, “Don’t fool yourself, but all right, give it a shot.” But no wild-eyed dreams of stardom or anything.
Q: Here’s a question no comic gets asked: When did you first realize you were funny?
KK:[laughs] I still don’t know if I’ve realized it yet. I’m still working on it. There’s still a healthy amount of doubt.
Q: Did you find that humor diffused tense situations when you were growing up?
KK: [laughs] Well, it did. But then it also created a lot of those situations.
Q: What’s one that sticks in your brain?
KK:I had one bully let me out of a headlock on the bus because I was still making jokes. But then I also had situations where I’d make a smart-ass comment to one guy on the soccer team because I thought my buddy would laugh at it, which he did. But then I still got pushed into a locker. You learn when to let it out and when not to. There’s a time and place for everything.
Q: Which one mattered to you more: getting the laugh or getting pushed into a locker?
KK:Well, when [you] start going, “I might get my ass kicked, but it’d be really funny if I said it,” that’s the risk you’ve got to take. That’s what stand-up is: “This might work, or I’m going to get my ass handed to me in a room full of strangers.”
Q: You learned early: kill or die.
KK:Yeah. That’s the thrill of it, too.
Warning: strong language