On his debut album Death of the Party, comedian Kyle Kinane tells stories about crashing a forklift, being pulled over on his bicycle by the cops, and getting so drunk he confuses Bob Seger songs for the National Anthem. ("Doug, take your hat off! 'Night Moves' is playing — don't be a dick, man!"). Kinane's comedy is whiskey-soaked and misanthropic, with punchlines delivered like headbutts and an eye for real-life absurdities that comes off as gleefully self-destructive.
In other words: Kyle Kinane is totally punk rock.
"I think it's almost entirely how I approach comedy," Kinane says about his DIY strategy, on the first night of his aptly named "Kyle Farts Across America Yet Again" tour. "I was going to see shows where it's just hundreds of people to see a band that nobody's heard of. Something's being done correctly here, and I'd like to take that model for these tours."
A self-described "failed musician," Kinane spent part of his adolescence playing guitar in pop punk bands like The Grand Marquis, a band of Screeching Weasel disciples from Addison, Ill., that now exists only as a mostly neglected MySpace page. He began to find his place in stand-up comedy during his stint studying creative writing at Columbia College Chicago, but the part of him that relished playing music in basements and community centers clearly has not left him.
It isn't just that he tells the kind of stories you'd expect to hear from your ne'er-do-well friends — you know, like getting drunk and calling a cab so he can go through a Wendy's drive-thru. Kinane's DIY punk spirit finds its way into every aspect of his temperament and business sense. Everything from how he dismantles hecklers to the way he books tours reflects an almost Fugazian approach to being an entertainer.
"I think the DIY thing's really starting to get into comedy," Kinane says. "Which is great, because I've been trying to find a good balance of DIY and still also participating in the system of agents and managers and that kind of stuff."
This tour is decidedly outside of that system. On the night he spoke to the Scene, Kinane performed at a Denver community space called The Deer Pile, which has previously hosted record swaps, small-time indie rock shows and film screenings. It's a far cry from the glossy '80s-vintage comedy clubs that still form constellations in America's regional touring comedy scene. Most touring club comics will book multiple shows in some configuration of comedy clubs — many with names like Side Splitters and Go Bananas — to build a leg in a region of the country.
Kinane, however, has gone an entirely different route. Over the course of 22 days, he will drive from his home in Los Angeles to New Orleans, with gigs in cities like Fargo, St. Louis and Nashville along the way. His tour will take him through small music venues like St. Louis' Firebird and Nashville's The High Watt, as well as bars, small theaters, and appropriately, Gainesville's sprawling Halloween-centered punk festival The Fest.
"There's just something a little bit more romantic about playing a music venue, but it's all about what kind of clientele the place attracts," Kinane says. "So, if it's a music venue, there's more people that know why they're going there. Whereas a comedy club, sometimes people just wander in without knowing quite specifically what they're getting into."
There's a lot of truth in Kinane's assessment of the way that the average person treats live stand-up comedy. Though we're ankle-deep in what is arguably the new comedy boom — bolstered by a glut of comedy podcasts and flawed but useful television shows like Last Comic Standing — the collective consciousness has an idea of comedy that hasn't evolved much since Seinfeld. Comics like Kinane, who focuses on long stories rather than quick jokes, feel an extra pressure to find an audience that exists outside of the typical comedy club system where mass ticket giveaways and morning zoo guest spots are still the norm.
"Louis C.K. is a perfect example, you know? Undermining ticket promotions and selling his downloads for $5," Kinane says, referring to CK's recent attempts to eschew Ticketmaster and television networks by selling tickets and comedy specials on his own. "He's got managers and agents and all of those things, but he's also successful enough now where he can go back to 'All right, everything's 5 bucks.' He's said in interviews, 'I've made enough money. I don't need more, I can provide this for people.' "
For Kinane's part, he's still figuring out that balance by walking the trail previously blazed by comics like Patton Oswalt, who stormed music venues in the mid-Aughts with Brian Posehn and others as The Comedians of Comedy, and anti-comic Neil Hamburger. But, really, Kinane's goals are modest at best.
"Nobody really cries 'sellout' so much with comedy as it was with music," Kinane points out. "It's not like I'm loaded and I can just be like, 'Oh, I'll never need money again.' But there's also a part where, like, how long is the universe going to let me be a comedian? I should probably take as much money as I can right now. When I fail at this in five years and am delivering pizzas again, I've got something to fall back on."