Interview: Comedian Kyle Kinane on beards, his college experience and the Midwest comedy scene

Illustration by Jacob Yeates
Illustration by Jacob Yeates

Kyle Kinane stand-up

The Mill – May 11 at 8 p.m. ($12-15)

Over the last few years, Kyle Kinane, a veteran Chicago comic, has seen his stand-up career take off, earning him appearances on television shows like Workaholics and Drunken History, as well as his own hour-long stand-up special on Comedy Central, Whiskey Icarus. His comedy act relies not on venting, but instead on spinning his various grievances into a larger story that exposes the absurdity that underlies them. Considering that among topics Kinane grumbles over and muses on are crappy day jobs, overly supportive parents, lamentable-yet-awesome drunken behavior and the worthlessness of majoring in creative writing, I imagine he won’t have too much trouble connecting with his audience at The Mill during his May 11 performance.

Little Village: You just did a stand-up set at a comic book expo. How was it? 

Kyle Kinane: I am not a comic book guy. But other people are. So … good for them. To make fun of them would be such a fish-in-a-barrel situation. Yeah, nerds dressing up like … nerds. But, so what? Look, I think Halloween is the best holiday, and you just figured out a way to have Halloween whenever you want. Good for you. Right on, nerds.

You seem to enjoy working hard at comedy, but a good chunk of your humor centers around getting shitfaced. Is this a Midwest contradiction you are dealing with, heavy drinking and a strong work ethic? 

Maybe it is a little of the “work hard, play hard” thing. Though nobody needs a comedian to work real hard. But I think that is Midwest too. “Nobody needs this, so I am going to do it for free because it makes me happy. And then I am going to have my day job.” And it worked out best this way for me. I didn’t expect it. I expected to have a day job and have this thing I did at night that keeps me happy and also happens to be in bars most of the time, which ties into the drinking part of it. It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.

You’re often described as a storyteller comic, and I was curious if you thought your background in creative writing plays into that at all. 

Well, I went to college because I thought I had to. It was the whole “oh you got to go to college,” thing which I think is not bad, but it is a brainwashed mindset that people have: “You have to go.” No. If you want to go to a technical school, people shouldn’t look down on that. DeVry is a punchline. But people graduate from DeVry and go fix engines or whatever instead of sitting around with a college degree and a thumb up their ass.

I liked the creative writing classes, but looking back, I realize I was just trying to write jokes. I was just trying to write funny stories and everybody stared at me for it because they didn’t think I was taking anything seriously. And I was like, “Well, I am still in the class, I am still writing the stories.” Just because I am trying to make them funny doesn’t mean I am not taking them seriously.

You’ve talked enthusiastically about unappreciated comedy scenes in the Midwest, places you’re visiting on this tour like Bloomington, Ind. Is there anything that stands out to you about these scenes? 

It is just people who want to get really good at stand-up. They just want to be good at this thing as a craft. That is what is impressive. If stuff comes from it, cool, but it is coming not because they are seeking fame, but because they are doing it so well. And that is how I think about Bloomington and Denver and all these spots. If the higher-ups take notice, and they want to work with them, good. But, they’re still going to do it. They’re going to do it for free because they want to get good at the skill.


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I wonder if the current economy plays into that, too. A lot of people are trapped in these very routinized, low wage jobs with little creative outlet. Maybe that is fueling the stand-up resurgence in a way. 

I never thought about that. If that’s driving more and more people to open mics because everybody is just a cubicle dweller these days, I like that idea. The influx of comedians is inversely proportional to the quality of life. If more people are miserable, they want to go out and tell somebody about it.

When I was listening to your album Death of the Party, the one with the cover that caricatures your beard, I was a bit surprised there was no material there about the whole fashion trend with beards. Around the same time, I was reading about these South Asian American comics who don’t like to do any ethnic-based jokes because they feel it is just a cheap laugh. So, it struck me, is that how you feel about beards? 

Yeah, absolutely! I grew it some years ago. It was just a depression beard. But now people do it as a prop. People are like, “oh, beard oil!” and they style it. They’re dressing it up like they’re taking it to prom. You grow a beard because it’s less maintenance, not because you wanted to make more maintenance and have a little beauty parlor day with it. I’m scared to shave, but beards have definitely jumped the shark. Beards are just push-up bras for dude’s faces.

I do respect people who don’t rely on the easy laugh, but being of an ethnicity, that’s not even an easy laugh, that’s just you. With the beard, I’ve even felt guilty about it in the past. You go up schlubby with a beard, looking smelly and go, “Yeah!” That’s your choice. You can change that. You can clean yourself up.

There is something strange there. I’ve been congratulated so many times on my beard this year, probably more than for anything else I’ve done, yet it’s not like it’s really an effort of any kind. If anything, cutting it off would involve effort. 

It is the opposite of an accomplishment. It’s doing nothing. A commitment to laziness. It’s stupid that it’s a thing for people. That’s what kills me. I grew a beard because it was like wearing pajamas on your face. I don’t give a fuck. It was great. But now, to see people with their twirly mustaches, perfectly groomed … I don’t know. Anything smacking of effort puts me off.

Arashdeep Singh regrets reporting all those bearded hipsters with knit caps to homeland security, but he wishes they would recognize that he was doing it ironically.

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