Calamity Kinane

Is American standup Kyle Kinane becoming too happy – just as Fringe audiences are getting their first sights of him? Definitely not, he tells Si Hawkins

feature | Read in About 6 minutes
Published 16 Aug 2015

You did worry for Kyle Kinane when you heard that he’d be flying in to perform a full Fringe run this August. The Chicago-born comic is famed for his feats of bad behaviour. Not bad behaviour in the decadent rock star sense—although “these are not unheard-of things for me to partake in,” he admits—but bad habits. Bad eating. Bad sleeping. Bad end results.

The first routine of his first Fringe show, for example, is about Kinane being deported from Canada immediately after arriving due to a driving-while-intoxicated conviction, then having a full-blown meltdown because Burger King ran out of Whoppers. It’s curiously charming. And during that bit you can’t help noticing that his T-shirt appears to be surprisingly crisp and stain-free, over a week into the festival.

“That’s because I just got my bags,” confides the comic. “The laundry’s still fresh. You can blame, or congratulate, British Airways for my clothes looking clean.”

Complain they might, but standups secretly punch the air when something crappy happens. Kinane’s prime stuff is solidly based around personal calamities, and the more sordid the better. These "scumbag stories", as someone charmingly put it, have earned him an increasingly avid fanbase back home, and his albums are seeping over here too. Hence this Fringe run.

Now living in Los Angeles, the comic is looking pretty healthy when we meet, mid-afternoon, on a sunny George Square balcony. How’s he coping so far? Has he been eating properly?

“I’ve been getting some stuff to have at home,” he says, with a smile. “Last night I got real cocky about myself. I was stoned, I put apple slices on a pizza, like a real gourmand – ‘I’ll give it a shot’. It was great! It was great. I had some cheese that I sliced, I mean the basis was still a frozen pizza, but that’s the closest I’ll get to being a chef. I was pretty impressed with myself.”

Funnily enough, there may be some misguided ticket-buyers who’ll go to see Kinane expecting a high-concept pizza-related experience – something like George Egg’s cooking-in-a-hotel-room effort, rather than revelations about a dude soiling himself. The show is, after all, called Ghost Pizza Party, and he looks awfully jaunty in the promo photo. It could almost be a kid’s show.

“I was in London last year and I got one of those big thick books [the Fringe programme], and everybody’s picture…”. He flinches at the sheer horror. “And ohhh, the wordplay. In my picture it’s like, ‘this guy looks wacky!’ and that was kind of purposeful. I was trying to make it purposefully stupid.”

Early in his hour there’s a great observation about Fringe posters – although that gag might well be gone by week three. The ghost pizza party routine was culled before he’d even begun. Kinane admits that the real test of the lengthy Fringe run is not staying healthy, but staying sane onstage. Hence he’s mixing the set up.

“A month in one place, that’s a lot, for Americans,” he says. “You realise you just looked at the same part of the wall at the same time you said the same sentence yesterday. I remember when I worked in an office and a warehouse and I just got that feeling. That feeling is terrible.”

Standup eventually provided a route out of those non-careers – although, “it’s not like I was raised with comedy,” he admits. “I don’t need Bill Hicks telling me how the government lies to you, I don’t even know what that means – I’m 11! And then Mitch Hedberg is on TV: ‘Oh, this doesn’t fit, that’s just a weird guy who accidentally walked onto the stage…’”

He started gigging in 1999, as a “worshipper” of the doomed Hedberg (who was die of an overdose six years later), but his own unique approach eventually flourished. He has an admirable candour, so much so that Kinane even makes his gag choices out loud, weighing up which story to tell next. Success brings its own issues, though, and the comic admits on stage that he’s weirdly happy nowadays. Is he running short of new material?

“It’s a little bit harder, and also I’m just older now, I’m not trying to throw myself into ‘let’s do a bunch of coke and steal a speedboat’. Not that I ever did that. That’s like a Miami drug kingpin.”

“But you can just magnify any moment in your life, telling it with enough of those weird side details, it should be at least an entertaining enough story that I don’t have to put myself in harm’s way. I don’t have to Hemingway myself in some bullfights or anything. I can just go to the grocery store, keep the details and nuances in mind, and it should be alright.”

To "Hemingway" yourself – that’s a tremendous concept. “Yeah, I’ve never read any of his books. But I get it, he was a tough guy, did crazy shit.”

Does he know standups who’ve done a reverse Hedberg; become so well-behaved that they had nothing to say?

“Sobered up? I think there’s a few stories about comics where it was a fun outlet but they made a few bucks and disappeared. That’s an attractive plan. Going off into the woods.”

Indeed, and Kinane does now have a more sedate comedy-related career to fall back on. One reason he needs to keep it together this month is because he’s actually still doing his day job, as the programme announcer for Comedy Central in the US. Every few days here he’ll plug in his equipment and announce the latest big standup special; which is awkward when it’s a show of his own.

“Yeah, the first one I was like, ‘You gotta let me do something weird’ and the executives go"—he puts on the voice of an executive— "'We think it’d be too distracting from promoting it.’ ‘Really? But by not mentioning it, and me sounding exactly the same as the person in it, that wouldn’t be distracting…?’ But the last time I did it they let me screw around.”

He won’t be wandering into the woods for a few years yet.