Interview: Kyle Kinane on punk nostalgia and self-deprecating humor, ahead of Turnbuckle

Kyle Kinane at the Turnbuckle Comedy and Music Festival

Codfish Hollow Barnstormers — Friday and Saturday, May 26-27

Kyle Kinane performs in Maquoketa as part of the Turnbuckle Festival this weekend. — video still

Kyle Kinane, a prolific stand up who has made his mark in comedy weaving together hilariously absurd stories of everyday life with a whiskey-soaked sense of wisdom and wonder, or as he once self-deprecatingly summed up his act, “Uncle Barbeque and his dum-dum stories,” headlines the Turnbuckle Comedy and Music Festival at Codfish Hollow Barnstormers. The festival runs Friday and Saturday May 26 and 27 in Maquoketa; Kinane performs Saturday. Tickets are $25-50. Little Village talked to Kinane about the fest, punk nostalgia and being able to make fun of yourself at any age.

You seem like the perfect choice for a fest at Codfish Hollow, because the venue works best when a performer has a diehard following, and every comedian I know notes how your crowd always turns out. Is there any reason you think fans connect with you so strongly?

I think maybe the timing worked out. There is a lot of people the same age as me with the same background — people with dashed hopes and dreams and failed artistic endeavors. All I did was vocalize those frustrations in a hopefully humorous way. These frustrations of going to a liberal arts schools and that you’re not going to get the job you wanted. Things aren’t going to work out the way they’re supposed to.

The irony is doing comedy and complaining about that and addressing that in my comedy is how things worked out for me. Now I get to be a comedian. It actually worked out with me complaining about it not working out. Maybe that screws me in a way in the end. It’s an odd catch-22, but for the best.

The Turnbuckle lineup has a lot to offer, from comedians to bands to live wrestling. Anything you’re looking forward to?

All of it. I’ve seen Diarrhea Planet a couple times. They’re great. I am a White Reaper fan already but I haven’t seen them live. So I’m excited to see those bands. Also the comics I’m friends with and admire like Nick Thune and Allen Strickland Williams. I’m excited to see everybody coming out.

You mentioned Diarrhea Planet, a guitar-heavy garage rock act I’ve seen you plug on Twitter before. How did you become a fan of theirs?

I saw them a couple years ago, and I saw how many guitarists were setting up and I felt like there was no way this was going to sound good. That many guitars in a tiny venue, there is no way it’s going to work out. But it was fantastic. Everybody still had the part they were going to play. The one guy is doing silly finger tapping solos and the other guy is singing and playing. It was just phenomenal that they pulled off that many guitar players without it being a total joke.

They put on a fun show. I hate bands that act like they are doing you a favor by playing a show. These guys put on on a show and I feel like, “Thank you — thank you for being a real rock band.”

I saw you recently respond to someone on Twitter for getting too political at a show. I was wondering how you feel about being a touring comedian during this particularly political time.

I’ve never had a set where all I do is talk about politics. So this guy with his head up his ass calls me out for being political. I’m happy to lose someone like that as a fan. I don’t want people that I would dislike as a human being appreciating what I do. And if that means losing fans, awesome. Let’s thin the herd. I’d rather appeal to decent people instead of dickheads.

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And I don’t think I ever preach about it without … making sure the joke is the most important part of what I’m saying. I don’t like the easy knocks. You also need to criticize the things you believe in.

As far as political comedy now, how much more do you need? There is no insightful take right now making fun of Trump. Colbert, Seth Meyers — all the people on TV are doing it great. What can you offer that is really cutting as a comedian? It better just be a fantastic joke. Otherwise, if you’re just saying he’s bad, well, no shit.

You were recently featured in a video for the punk-themed satire site Hard Times. Having played punk music and being a punk fan, I was wondering how you feel about projects like these that poke fun at that scene.

Punk took itself so seriously. I never got into the political angle. I just liked fast, exciting music. I look back at what I listened to and it was always pop-punk. And that’s the thing. As a fan, you’re supposed to say Black Flag influenced me or Fugazi. I liked Fugazi but it was all so serious. I was trying to enjoy being a teenager. So, yeah, I’m going to be listening to fun music.

It’s the same thing with comedy. Like when people talk about Bill Hicks: I didn’t listen to Bill Hicks. I recognized it was good stand-up, but this guy was just angry about shit and that’s not who I am. Mitch Hedberg appealed to me more with his hilarious, well-written one-liners.

Man, if you can’t make fun of yourself, you’re not allowed to make fun of anything else. If you can’t start with yourself and what’s ridiculous about you, don’t start pointing out other stuff in the world. Everybody is an asshole when they are a teenager. Whoever thought they did their teenage years right, thinks they were right about everything then, I’d love to meet that person. And it’s not just my teen years, but my 20s and my 30s. I feel like that about shit I did last week.

Any thoughts on turning forty?

There is that thought about forty where it’s like, “Is this the mid-life crisis?” But I never lived the type of life you have to have in order to have a mid-life crisis. I streamlined my existence to where I could just be like, “No, I’m going to do comedy.” I’m not going to be married and I’m not going to have kids. Not that I wanted those things and I made some grand sacrifice. That was never what motivated me. I just needed to find something that keeps me — this sounds melodramatic, but that’s not how I mean it — I started focusing on what was going to keep me alive. What’s going to give me a reason to wake up every day.

Stand up came along and it was felt like it was this thing that is never going to be finished. There are infinite ways to talk about the world or at least there are so many that you might only touch on all of them over your whole lifetime. And so I found it. I’m going to have a dumb day job that pays me just enough to stay alive and every night I’m going to go do this. And then when I turned 33 I got to quit my day job. So for seven years I’ve been doing comedy as a profession. And the fact that I’m forty now, it just feels like, ok, so far so good.