Kyle Kinane: The Lost Art of Storytelling

Comedy Features Kyle Kinane
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Of the 10 tracks on Kyle Kinane’s uproarious debut album, Death of the Party, released on ASpecialThing Records (Paul F. Tompkins, Jen Kirkman, Doug Benson) in 2010, only one of them is less than five minutes long. One, the epic “I Know What I Want,” an extended meditation on, amongst other things, Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” moving to Los Angeles from the Midwest, how people relate to each other via food, and crashing a Ford Focus, comes close to 10 and a half minutes. To say that Kinane is a bit of a storytelling comedian is an understatement. But like any great story, from one told on the spot over drinks between close friends, to a well-worn and increasingly embellished tale told by an old timer trying to impress his grandkids, it takes some work, or at the very least, an inborn knack for this kind of thing, to make it truly pop.

“Sometimes I realize halfway through a story, I’m like, ‘why would anyone care about this?” Kinane admits. “It’s uninteresting. You know that feeling where you told it once to somebody and it was really funny, and then you try and retell it, and it’s one of these things where at the end you realize, ‘Oh shit, you guys had to be there.’? Now really, any decent story you can translate to somebody else, nobody has to be there, it’s just a matter of sitting down and finding the right details of the story and going, ‘Oh, this is where it’s funny and this is where it’s funny and this is where it drags.’ It could be an incredibly mundane story, but it’s fascinating because the details are great, and that’s why it’s hilarious.”

Kinane, who got his start in stand up in 1999 while attending Columbia College in Chicago and playing in a pop-punk band called The Grand Marquis, has become wildly adept at identifying these details and allowing them to shine in his comedic anecdotes. For example, a recent bit that he’s yet to record involves him going to the grocery store after a few beers to buy yet more beers and a frozen pizza. He ends up making a buzzed impulse purchase of a stick of deodorant. That’s pretty much it. Laid out like that, there’s no humor, but hearing Kinane work through it onstage is just ridiculous. It’s this technique that prompted Patton Oswalt to rave thusly in a mid-2010 blog post: “Kyle’s been opening for me for about two years, and during that time he’s grown in those lurching leaps forward that young comedians take when they find their voice and everything they experience then becomes a joke. The act of writing ‘jokes’ is no longer a task separate from them being in tune with how they recognize and react to even the most mundane details of their lives.”

Kinane’s not sure if he’ll stick to his storytelling brand of comedy or branch out into something new in the future (“I hope I don’t get caught in that,” he says. “I don’t want to go like, ‘Oh, let me just go up and just talk about my day.’”), but this aesthetic is certainly paying off in the interim. He was named one of Variety’s “Ten Comics to Watch in 2010,” recorded his first Comedy Central Presents special in February of this year, appeared on Conan in June, has been doing some voice-over work lately and even recently wrapped a pilot. As much as Kinane would like to get a new album out by the end of the year, it’s looking less and less likely. All this success is really holding back his stories.

“You know, sometimes your dreams come true and it’s a real drag,” he says, laughing. “I realized I was complaining [about not having enough time to record], but what are you complaining about? These are beautiful issues to have, you dumb asshole.”