Even if you’ve never seen or heard Kyle Kinane’s stand-up, you’ve almost certainly heard his voice. Originally from the Chicago area, Kinane’s is the voice of Comedy Central. You know those commercials that announce the next episode of Key and Peele or whatever? Yeah, that’s Kinane, but he’s much more than that. His comedy is a perfect mix of story-telling and one-liners. In his recent special Whiskey Icarus, Kinane spent maybe fifteen minutes talking about a strange passenger on an airplane – one who brought pancakes on board in a plastic bag – and he masterfully teased one hilarious detail after another. Kinane is unafraid to talk about mortality or his darker impulses, yet his comedy is not depressing. He’s the sort of guy for whom the sun shines brightly because he’s willing to grapple with how dark/shitty the world can sometimes get. It’s a beleaguered sort of optimism, but it’s optimism nonetheless. And since Kinane has entire stories about drinking and bathrooms, my conversation with him began there.
So much your stand-up is based around storytelling. How often do you seek strange stuff out, if it all?
Lately I haven’t been looking for strange stuff. I’m more interested in the mundane. I’m getting a little exhausted of the crazy stuff, so I’m trying to test my ability as storyteller by making something funny out of the day-to-day.
What do you mean that you’re getting tired of the crazy stuff?
Staying up to 4am and closing out bars sadly does get predictable after a while.
That’s a bummer. I wrote about five or six questions about drinking.
Hey, I’m sure I’ve got answers for them! I had a good run, but I’m thirty-seven now.
Did you quit drinking entirely?
Oh, no, I didn’t quit. I just got lucky and had a lot of crazy stuff happen to me early, but now the gonzo journalism life isn’t for me. I prefer to shoot the shit with some interesting people.
What do you think qualifies a bar as a dive bar?
That’s a weird one. It’s kind of arbitrary… once a blog or website calls something a “dive bar,” then the place kind of loses its luster. I think… all I care about are cheap drinks. The drink price will dictate what clientele show up and the décor of the place. I think most every place I’d go drink at would be considered a dive bar, but that has to do with the sheer number of bars in Chicago. Every corner has six bars in Chicago, so they’re not all going to be five-star night clubs. They’re going to service the people at a fair price. Maybe the term “dive” is derogatory. I’d prefer to call them public houses.
You raise an interesting chicken/egg problem. Is every place you go to a dive bar, or does every dive qualify as such because you’re there?
I see the algebra you put [on this question]. I don’t feel comfortable in a place if it’s too nice to begin with, so I’m at the bar, it doesn’t make it a dive bar necessarily. It is a dive by if I’m there and I feel at home.
Aside from the obvious – a functional toilet and sink – what do you value most in a bar bathroom?
This isn’t a punk rock answer, but I just want a clean shitter. You know, you have a real drinking problem once you’re shitting in bars. If you’re considering casually shitting in a bar with no stall door and you have a couple more to make it bearable, then you might be drinking too much. That’s another thing I want: a stall door, maybe some toilet paper.
When was the last you shat in a bar?
Oh, me? [pause] Probably this week. Yeah, this week. My iron stomach is starting to turn. Once you realize you can shit in bar, there’s no going back. I’ve breached it years ago. It’s like getting a tattoo: if you can hold off, don’t do it.
To borrow a phrase from The League, would you say you’re forever unclean?
You’re using that word, not me. Granted, this breach gives me a new level of comfort. I know if that I’ve gotta deuce, I don’t have to borrow somebody’s car or think about how close my friends live from [where I am]. I should be patient zero for how many times I’ve shat in a gross music festival porta potty. At least at a dive bar you might half a chance of a clean shitter. Given the clientele, people might lift the seat up and not be a fucking animal about it. With a porta potty, it’s just a free for all. It’s the Gaza Strip of bodily fluids in there.
What’s the worst hangover you’ve ever had?
It’s been a while. Even the one I got after Drunk History wasn’t too bad. It should have been a lot worse, but they give you oxygen so that settles everything. I totally understand the oxygen bar craze now. But, yeah, it’s been a while since I remember a bad hangover. Maybe I’m getting used to them, or now know my limits of liquor.
Do you have a post-hangover ritual or remedy?
It’s always good to have a bottle of Gatorade or Pedialyte on hang. I know a lot of people go for the coconut water, but that’s not for me. I usually avoid taking any painkillers, because I feel I should do the time for the proverbial crime. Unless I have a major function to attend, I’ll avoid painkillers because then I feel I deserve [the hangover]. Now I drink so much water at the end of the night, that it usually settles everything. I know this isn’t a rock and roll answer about a hangover. I’m thirty-seven; I should be at home in bed at 10pm every night.
You said those days are behind you, and yet there some hijinks in your most recent special Whiskey Icarus. From where do you draw your new material?
There are still some stories from my past. Looking back at the past is kind of a blessing because it gives me more perspective. I’m glad I’m going away from the “Oh, woe is me” stuff. It’s disingenuous to act like I’m hung over and sad because, well, I’m not. Also, do we need more sad bearded white dudes in comedy? Probably not. I’m trying to write from a different angle: I’m in a good place, which presents a challenge for me as a comedian, so I try to write positively about experiences. Now I look at hijinks with a sense of wonder.
That’s interesting. I noticed a lot of your comedy revolves around you confronting your inner misanthrope.
There was one quote from one crummy show that had five people in it, but somehow got reviewed by a newspaper. It’s hung over me for the past seven years. They called me, “bleak and misanthropic.” The quote kept showing up in bios, mostly because I didn’t pay enough attention to them.
How often do fans come to you after a show and offer to buy you a drink?
[pause] Every night. Yeah… every night. I usually tell them that the club gives me booze for me, so they shouldn’t waste their money. But I can’t get drunk before a show. I did that for ten years, and that’s why I didn’t have a career until 2008 or 2009, even though I started in 1999. It took me a decade to learn I should be sober before a show. You don’t have to be drunk to talk about the things you got into while you were drunk. I didn’t respect comedy enough, and I wasn’t treating it like something I wanted to do professionally. It wasn’t a pursuit of fame or money. I had a shit day job, and nothing else was going on, so I’d go into the back of a bar and make my friends laugh.
Did you have some kind of epiphany about your comedy back in 2008?
Not exactly. I went to a big HBO comedy arts festival in Aspen. I did a show there while I was drunk, and nothing happened, then I’d see things happen for the other guys. They got agents, while I went nowhere. I got drunk without giving a shit, and who wants to work with that? If I got this far, why blow the opportunity by being a fuck-up?
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me! If I see you while you’re in DC, maybe I can buy you a drink or something.
[laughs] Cool! Hopefully I’ll see you around.
Kyle Kinane is performing the first two nights of the Bentzen Ball with Tig Notaro, Jeff Garlin, Todd Barry and others. Buy tickets here!