The internet has turned the entirety of the industrialized world into something surprisingly similar to the DIY punk scene. For those who remember a world before the internet became a household utility, you might recall a time when people found out about bands almost entirely through word of mouth. In the days before Punknews was a thing, and MRR and HeartattaCk were hard to find, people learned about their bands from friends and voices within the culture. Punk scenes since the late '70s have functioned on tribalism. Read American Hardcore, and notice how it's organized: There are different sections for different regions and different chapters for different states, each with their own bands, venues, slang, style of dress and general milieu. There is still a mainstream--a collection of "normal" interests--but it's far more facile and fickle than ever before. There's often more power in the many cultural tribes that now thrive in the small venues and message boards and blogs. It's the reason why seeing Kyle Kinane's Death of the Party on the Best New Music section of Punknews had such a powerful effect.
It often seems that the people for whom the DIY punk scene was an integral part of their growth are often now following interesting and less-traveled paths, almost as if the scene gave them an advantage in this new world, or ingrained in them some kind of crucial value. Kyle Kinane came up in the small punk venues and comedy clubs of Chicago and his success has paralleled that of the fellow Chicago comics with whom he shared those small stages, comics like Matt Braunger and Kumail Namjiani. While Kinane's narrative, grown-up slacker brand of standup has resonated with comedy enthusiasts, it seems to have especially resonated with those who came from similar beginnings. Perhaps touring with no money and sleeping on couches was good practice for a world where even major label bands are sometimes expected to pay their own way on tour.
Punknews staff writer Jon Reiss caught up with Kinane to find out the extent to which punk has played a part in his adult life, and how it does-or does not-reconcile itself with the comedy lifestyle.
Death Of The Party is the first comedy album Iâve ever seen posted in the "Best New Music" section on Punknews. Do you have any perception of how that happened and how people in this pocket of culture became interested in you?
Well, I came from that scene in Chicago.
Okay, I thought so but didnât want to assume.
I think what turned it around the most was a story I told about going to Fireside Bowl in Chicago, maybe that lent some credibility my way. But also, I think it was because it was an album on an independent comedy label and I tried to model it off the DIY scene. To me, it was a record, so it should be ten bucks, and then I went around and just toured small venues, not like it was my choice because nobody really knew who I was [anyway] but I basically did it like a band. If I wanted to play a small town, Iâd play a house if I had to.
But, I think talking about taking a shit at the Fireside Bowl helped too. But, yeah, I grew up in the punk scene.
Thatâs partially why I wanted to interview you. Iâm always interested in talking to people who grew up in that world who now do interesting things, other than just being in a punk band. I feel like a lot of people I grew up with, for whom this was a big part of their life, are either doing nothing at all, or something really interesting. I think growing up in that world can inform the way people live their adult lives in really interesting ways. Would you say thatâs true for you?
You know, I hope it would be. For some people, it just didnât take or they found another path. But for me, to see that there was another viable existence and a worthwhile life outside of just pursuing the highest paying job, to see that I could do something that made me happy and then Iâd be content if I was poor doing it [was worth pursuing]. It also kind of gave me faith that if I did something that made me happy, that I truly enjoyed, it would turn out all right. And thatâs good, you know? Thatâs not hurting the world. You feel like the universe will let you do that as long as thatâs the case.
I think that ethics was a big part of it. A lot of people go into comedy thinking "Oh, Iâll be famous." No, I found it because it was a form of expression I was better at than playing guitar. Then it was like, okay, I found something that makes me happy and Iâm going to keep doing it and if the universe allows me to do it for a living, then great, but Iâm not going to change myself in order to be able to do that.
Itâs interesting that you brought up ethics. Because few people who were personally unfamiliar with punk rock would equate ethics with the culture. I think thatâs a misconception. You say this thing on Whiskey Icarus that I think is this really poignant descriptor of the punk ethos. I know it was a joke, but it really hit me. You say, "I wasnât put on this earth to be a goalie."
Well, I mean, itâs something I have to put on myself because Iâm a comedian so there is always judgment. A lot of times Iâm walking around going "Look at this dude over here." From a comic standpoint, that can be fun and humorous, but from your own well-being standpoint, you canât just walk around criticizing and being disgusted with things. My thing is if youâre going to complain about something, either complain about it but then have an idea for a solution, or try to go inwards and ask, well, what about this is making me upset? Maybe I can improve myself rather than just point fingers and just decide everything is stupid. The cynicism thing just gets too exhausting.
Can you tell me about going to see shows in Chicago? Can you reminisce?
I was trying to write a piece for Jaded Punk, it didnât come together because it was coming out too schmaltzy. Valentine's Day was my twenty-year anniversary of my first show, which was the last show at a place called McGregorâs. It was Screeching Weasel, the Vindictives and the Bollweevils. I didnât know what I was getting into; some skateboard kids said they were going to see a show and I was like, "All right, I thought if itâs bands isnât called a concert?," and they were like, "No dude, it's a show."
I get very nostalgic about this stuff because the only stuff Iâd heard before that was in movies or something when bands would play, like when Plastic Bertrand played in National Lampoonâs European Vacation. Iâd see that thinking, whereâs the music that sounds like that? Where does that music come from? So as soon as I heard Screeching Weasel I was like, "This is what I want music to sound like, and I could take this CD home and learn to play it." Also I realized what was possible, that there were hundreds of people at that show and this band has never been on MTV or the radio, but somehow all these people knew about it. So it brought me into it from the DIY standpoint, from the scene of it. It affected me on many different levels.
I heard Screeching Weasel is doing a reunion…
Whoâs doing a reunion, Ben Weasel or Screeching Weasel? I know Screeching Weasel has been playing and thatâs justâ¦ I canât. My theory on Ben Weasel is that he just went with the contrarian element of punk rock. He just has to be against whatever he can go against. Like heâs going to be a right-wing Catholic now? Okay buddy, good luck with that, youâve succeeded in being outside the norm.
Okay, hereâs another punk question. I promise not all these questions will be about punk rock butâ¦
No, pleaseâ¦ I donât get to talk about this stuff with all of my comedy friends. I like talking about this stuff.
Great! Well you had a Cheap Girls song as the opener for Whiskey Icarus. It felt like a major coup, hearing them on TV. Iâd guess that many of us, when we think about realizing our dreams of having a movie, or TV show or comedy special or whatever, that weâd hope to be able to incorporate the music we like. Iâm curious whether you were met with resistance from the network, or if there were licensing issues or anything like that.
It was Comedy Central and therefore such a huge jump from the first one. So I was like, "Okay, this is Comedy Central itâs a lot more money and everything but I still wanted have control." My friend Mario whoâs in Madison Bloodbath, he introduced me to Cheap Girls, I met them doing The Fest and I thought they were great and we hit it off, so I just asked them if I could use their song and they were like, "Yeah go for it."
Itâs weird, Iâve met more people in my favorite bands now from doing comedy than I ever did trying to play in bands myself.
Can you rattle off for me some of your new or current favorite bands?
Iâm looking forward to the new Off With Their Heads record. When I moved to LA in 2003, I basically just knew comedians who didnât know where to go for shows, and nobody really plays here in LA as much as they do other places like San Diego or San Francisco. So I fell out of the loop. But within the past two years Iâve gotten re-introduced to new music, like I got into everything that Mikey Erg has been involved in. Laura Stevenson and the Cans is a great band! I just heard Torche for the first time a couple weeks ago and I havenât been able to stop listening to them since. Lately I feel like Iâm 16 again, finding and getting excited about all these new bands.
What do you think you would have done if you werenât a comic?
Man. I donât know! I think Iâd still just be doing whatever I already was doing during the day and just failing at comedy at night. I mean, I just thought Iâd found my retirement hobby when I started comedy, the thing that would keep me busy. I always thought Iâd just go to work during the day, doing some menial job and do this at night, and Iâd be okay with that job as long as I had something I could throw myself into at night. For whatever reason Iâm allowed to have that hobby turned into a career. So honestly, I donât really have a back up or another idea of what I would have done. I would have just been working at a warehouse job or whatever I was already doing and failing at comedy at night or failing at being in a band at night.
Thereâs a perception of you as "a storyteller comic." Youâve definitely got a knack for engaging people into a story and building that engagement. What makes a good storyteller? Has it always been a talent of yours?
I think itâs just a Chicago thing. Itâs bar bullshittery. You sit there at a bar and someone is telling a story with everyone sitting around listening and the next guy tries to tell a bigger story. Or, if you tell a good story then you go to the next party and the story gets a little bit bigger, then a little bit bigger. First, you fought two guys, and then you fought three guys and so on. It's just bar bullshit. Iâm jealous of guys that can write joke after joke after joke. I canât do that. But, I can keep adding to a story to make it more entertaining. I think itâs laziness really, but Iâll take the "storyteller" moniker. But I wish I had the skill to write as many jokes as other people do.
I was listening to Slateâs Culture Gabfest podcast and they were talking about the Mike Birbiglia movie Sleepwalk With Me, which is about a stand up comic. In response to the film, they posited the zeitgeist is currently sick of the idea of "the tortured artist," and further, the only archetype of "the tortured artist" people still accept is "the tortured comic." Do you agree with that? Why do you think that might be?
As far as comics being tortured artists I think itâs a reaction of this generation, a generation that was like "Okay, we went to college like we were supposed to," and in response they got, "Good, hereâs your debt and hereâs your shitty economy." So I think everybody is tortured. I donât think someone gets to be tortured just because theyâre an artist. A lot of people are fucking tortured. There are tortured day laborers, tortured office workers, people that donât have the privilege to go and express themselves through jokes or writing or music. Everyone is tortured in one way or another, and so I think the "tortured artist" thing is just a little bit exhausting right now. Threeâs definitely a trend in comedy of which I fully fall into the category of just privileged, bearded, straight white males who are disappointed in their privilege. Itâs why when I write, Iâll say to myself, why not try to write comedy thatâs positive and be more amused by the wonder of the world rather than constantly critical of it.
Can you tell me about your path to success? Were there awful jobs and going bed without supper? How did it all happen?
I always had a day job. Maybe itâs the way I was raised or something like, "Donât screw up your credit, donât go into debt." I donât understand capable people who want to criticize the system but theyâre also all bartenders who are getting unemployment under the table. Then theyâre criticizing the very government theyâre scamming. Like, "The government is totally fucked!" but theyâre making $500 dollars a night and still getting a government check.
So I always had a job, I always worked, paid my bills, etc. I moved out to LA and got a shitty job because thatâs what you do here. You donât get to move out LA and hear, "Oh thank god youâre here! Another comedian has moved to LA!" So I worked in a warehouse and went to college, I went to like three colleges and dicked off and they eventually made me graduate because I had enough credits but I was like "I just want to be here!" Itâs a catch-22: if you stay in college-you donât have any debts to pay. Itâs like a weird prison mentality.
But yeah, nothing exceptional. Two nice parents that let me chase my dream. I never put comedy in front of having a wife or a kid or anything so if I screwed up anything it would just be for myself, so thatâs all right. I cannot call myself tortured, not in any way.
Iâm not sure why I have this compulsion but I want to prod you to tell me about how good it feels to have realized your dream. I mean, you chased your dream, you worked and now youâre there, like right now as Iâm talking to you. Is that not a unique feeling? I guess what Iâm asking is, if you could talk to yourself from 2003 when you first moved to LA, would you be psyched to tell yourself that you just had a Comedy Central special? Would you be excited to tell yourself that this is where it all leads?
Oh yeah! Of course thatâs whatâs fun about it. Thatâs what I knew early on. I moved here because I lived with my parents until I was 26 in the suburbs and didnât want to move 20 minutes from where I lived to Chicago. So I moved to California because I always like skateboarding and BMX and the culture and palm trees made me happy, so fuck it! Let's go for it! I came out and I was like, "Hereâs my jokes! Iâm going to keep coming, and keep telling them." It didnât happen right away. It happened over the course of many years.
Thereâs always going to be confusion either way. Thereâs always someone thinking, what if I just kept trying or practiced music a little bit more? Then thereâs someone in a band thinking, what if I settled down and had a family? Iâve never worried about it. Also I will say, LA is an easy place to do this because itâs a city of adult children, where people play make believe and make jokes and make movies and thereâs not that pressure of "When are you going to settle down?" Itâs a whole city of people saying "Donât settle! Keep going!" so I think itâs much easier to get away with that attitude here.
Did you ever feel like you had to be someone you werenât to get ahead?
A little bit of it popped up here and there. But thatâs whatâs really great about comedy right now. Standup comedy really took on a kind of DIY form. I wasnât going to stand in line for three hours to get time on an open mic at the Laugh Factory. I didnât need to do that because there were all these great independent rooms that came up. Now all those big comedy clubs are trying to emulate these independent rooms in LA because theyâre thriving. And that attitude affected the landscape, and it was great.
Tell me about some of the up and coming comics to look out for.
Standup is flourishing in an unbelievable way right now. My buddy Matt Braunger is great but heâs on Comedy Central, most people know him. Up and comersâ¦ my buddy Ian Karmel is great. Iâm blown away by standup right now, my initial reaction is to say "Go see everybody!" Letâs see whoâs been just killing me lately? Aparna Nancherla, sheâs writing for W. Kamau Bellâs show right now. Actually I almost want to tell you to check out scenes. I want to say, look up Denver standup comedy, look up Atlanta standup comedy, because that whole scene is great. Itâs just a whole scene of people pushing each other to be better. Itâs not unlike DIY punk. You know that scene and its characteristics and you know the pedigree they come from.
Whatâs next for you, Kyle?
I donâtâ know. I mean, Iâm allowed to just tell jokesâ¦ for a living! It seems like such a foolish thing to even be allowed to do. So I just donât want to fuck it up. So whatâs next for me? Not fucking this up.