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Kyle Kinane Talks Drunk Chicago Crowds, Shuttered Haunts & Comedy Scourges

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 6, 2016 2:54PM

Kyle Kinane / Photo: Laurie Fanelli

Addison, Illinois native Kyle Kinane developed his brilliant, gruff-everyman comic voice in the Chicago standup scene during the early 2000s; but he tells me he’s somewhat confounded by the “Chicago comic” label. (“I left in 2003… I did comedy there for four years; and I’ve been in LA for thirteen,” he says)

But we’re a provincial lot, and to be honest, Kinane is just too hilarious to let go of. His upcoming, one-hour Comedy Central special, Loose In Chicago— it was filmed over two sold-out shows at Metro—premieres Oct. 15 on Comedy Central; and it’s a more-than-worthy successor to Whiskey Icarus (2012) and I Like His Old Stuff Better (2015), among the best comedy albums/specials of the decade. Aside from standup, Kinane can be seen regularly stealing scenes as recovering cocaine addict Eric in the Judd Apatow Netflix series Love and heard contributing voiceover to the likes of Adventure Time and Bob’s Burgers and co-hosting the "ghosts and barbecue" podcast The Boogie Monster. We caught up with Kinane shortly before the premiere of his new special and talked Chicago audiences, his favorite old haunts (or what’s left of them), dumb local traditions, aging out of the bar life and the scourge of empty shock-value comedy.

Your new special was filmed here in Chicago, at Metro. Do you notice any difference between Chicago crowds and others?

Chicago was a little drunker for the special than in previous shows. They’re very supportive obviously. You know, I left in 2003, and I still have roots there, but I don’t know how it cultivated into the “Chicago comic” label when I did comedy there for four years. I’ve been in LA for 13 years. But that’s where I learned how to do it. That was the school. There’s so much comedy happening there. Someone was telling me that you could get 15 spots on a Monday night if you hustled around town—that’s as much as NY and more than LA. Audiences respond well to comedy. Music folks come out, too, especially at the Metro, guys like Jason Narducy (Verboten, Bob Mould) and Larry from Pegboy. These guys are my heroes, and they’re coming out to support a guy doing comedy. I never thought in a million years that’d happen. Those circles are eclipsing each other more and more. (Note: Kinane is touring with Chicago-based punk supergroup The Falcon and Arms Aloft in November, including a Nov. 23 date at Metro.)

Is that the case in LA, with music and comedy scenes sharing space?

People are here to work, to make it. I don’t want to say it’s self-centered, but comics are definitely focused on making a career. People move to Chicago for the same thing, but if you moved (to LA) to be in a band, you’re busting your ass every night to make it work. They’re not coming out to comedy shows as often. The poster world, actually, the graphic-design world has been a huge overlap with comedy. Designers that were making band posters are now making really great posters for comedy shows—guys like Dave Kloc and Barry Blankenship. Those worlds are crossing with mutual admiration.

There’s a great bit in the special about a Chicago tradition you find silly that I won’t spoil. Are there any other local tendencies with which you take offense?

I’m so proud I got booed. You just proved my point, you fucking assholes. Nobody knows where these rules come from, but they follow them. Find the most punk rock Chicago dude who’s like fuck the system, fuck the cops, fuck the government, but with these pointless traditions, they’re like, there are rules! Go to hell. It’s like when someone knows you’re from a sports city, they never mention, say, architecture—it’s always a sports thing. Sometimes, being from a sports city, when I say I don’t really follow sports, they look at me like I just took my dick out of my pants. It’s people who have no actual conflict in their life, so they have to come up with something—or it’s just arguments created out of boredom.

Kyle Kinane / Photo: Laurie Fanelli

All that said, you seem to have a very strong Midwestern sensibility. Does that serve you well in LA?

I’ll be honest: I love it here. My Midwestern sensibilities prevent me from getting caught up in the bullshit. Coming from Chicago, which is such a drinking town, I realized that people don’t drink like that anywhere else. Outside of Chicago, people might get to the bar around 10 p.m., and it closes at 2 a.m. I’m like, “That’s not enough time to drink all the drinks I wanna drink! We should get there at six. You guys don’t do this? That’s not what happens out here?“

But the Midwestern sensibility gave me a work ethic that keeps you from getting caught up in the daydream-y aspect. You left your hometown cause you have dreams? You better bust your ass on those dreams. There’s no such thing as luck or magic. It gave me a pretty decent bullshit detector. Not great—I still fall for some, but no more than anyone else.

Are there any old, favorite Chicago spots that you miss, being out west?

Everything’s closed. Everything I loved is gone. The Lincoln Lodge is going but not in original building. Lions Den closed. Club Foot’s gone. Getting to record at Metro was amazing because I always check who’s playing there when I come to town. Liars Club is still there. I still go to Portillo’s… now somebody’s gonna argue about what the best hot dog is. You can’t fuck it up! It’s gonna be good everywhere. I do the jumbo chilidog with cheese and onions. Some people don’t do chili —that’s why I go to Portillo’s. There’s no need to argue about it!

Let’s see, Logan Square still has the Fireside Bowl. That was there in my day. It’s not like there’s a shortage of places in Logan Square now. You know what place I miss? There was a taco place next to Double Door that had a venue in back. You had to walk through a taco restaurant to a live venue in the back. (Editor’s note: Big Horse) When I was in a band, one day I was unloading amps to play there. A very attractive woman came up and asked if I was playing the Double Door. “No,I’m playing at the taco restaurant next to Double Door! I’ll put you on the list if you want!” I was humiliated but trying to stay proud.

In the new special you talk a bit about getting older. Do you find yourself slowing down?

I’m gonna be 40 in December, so the hangover is not as elastic as it used to be. Going out drinking, seeking out the most fun you can have, that’s been the majority of my life. Eventually you get to the point where you have one or two beers and realize nothing amazing is gonna happen. It’s okay to go home and go to bed—which took me a long time to realize. Before, I thought, I’m missing out on life, but that’s warped.

California is a little bit better for me. Food options are healthier, the bars do close at 2, and there’s outdoor stuff year-round. Moving out here has probably kept me alive.
So I’m not slowing down so much as redirecting energy.

You do a lot of voiceover work these days, too, but is standup still where your heart is most?

Yeah, that’s the one place that can be as filtered or unfiltered as you want. Now, you definitely have to face the music if you choose to say something that’s out of line. You can make rape jokes but you’ll have to deal with the results of making rape jokes. I don’t wanna make rape jokes at all. I don’t think anybody should. But you’re still allowed to say whatever you want on a stage. I’m not trying to push buttons, but it’s nice I can address anything in my life. I don’t think comedy should be used as therapy, but it is very therapeutic. If I did something wrong and go tell a roomful of strangers about it and they laugh, it’s like a little bit of forgiveness.

In Tacoma a couple of weeks ago, I was telling a shame-based story. A woman in the front row just goes, “Kyle!”—just like a disappointed relative. I was like, I let her down. I didn’t mean to let you down, stranger. I was trying to win you over.

You mentioned the pitfalls of a comic stepping out of line. Do you still see a lot of comics trying to be provocative in ill-advised ways?

New comics find out very quickly that being provocative doesn’t mean you’re good. It’s easy to be provocative, to shock. My example of someone who does it right would be Drew Michael, who says very provocative things but has a point behind them. But if you just wanna get mad at words that a comedian isn’t supposed to say on stage, then your missing whole point. You shouldn’t be at a comedy show if you’re just waiting to get upset at words. With so many comics, though, you can tell they’ve tried to reverse engineer a joke. Especially for guys, you’re just trying to create a stir for yourself. Want a shitty reputation? Good luck to you.

Loose In Chicago premieres Saturday, Oct. 15 on Comedy Central. Tickets are now on sale for Kinane's Chicago appearance with The Falcon and Arms Aloft, Nov. 23 at Metro.