Photo: Anthony Chiappetta (BA '95)
"I'm not trying to live my life strictly for a joke, but everything's pretty silly."
By Sean McEntee ('14)
Stand-up comedian Kyle Kinane (BA ’02) says the only thing that makes him sad is not being good at comedy—it’s the only thing he can’t turn into a joke. As the Addison native continues to take the stage while getting new laughs, it’s safe to say Kinane hasn’t had much to fret about lately.
“I’m not trying to live my life strictly for a joke, but everything’s pretty silly,” he says.
Kinane, 36, has been on the rise since being invited to perform at the Aspen Comedy Festival in 2007, which he calls a breakthrough event for stand-up comedians and his personal turn toward success. He later performed on Last Call with Carson Daily, Conan, and Live at Gotham and released his critically acclaimed comedy album, Death of the Party, in 2010.
In 2011, Comedy Central invited Kinane to perform his first half-hour Comedy Central Presents. And if Kinane’s voice sounds familiar, that’s because he delivers most of the promos for Comedy Central—when you hear, “Up next is Tosh.0,” that’s Kinane talking to you.
Before attending Columbia, Kinane spent a year at a local community college and a semester at the University of Illinois at Chicago but found the traditional academic structures too stifling. After enrolling at Columbia in 1999, he found his groove through improv and writing classes, where he took the opportunity to create funny stories. At an open casting call for stand up at Zanies Comedy Club in Old Town, Kinane ran into classmate John Berger (BA ’01), who introduced him to open mic nights all over the city.
“All the stuff I wrote at Columbia started getting shorter and shorter and became part of my act,” Kinane says, noting that his sets revolved around “shenanigans” he’d get into with friends as well as humorous tales from his mundane jobs at gas stations and warehouses (“fodder for comedy,” he says).
After a few performances, Kinane found his calling and continued to perform at the Red Lion Pub and The Lion’s Den (now The Globe Pub), places he says many Chicago comics “cut their teeth.” In 2003, the 26-year-old moved to Los Angeles to give comedy a real shot. He planned on giving himself until he was 30—four years—to find some success in the business; otherwise he’d move back to Chicago and try something else.
“Chicago performances were kind of the Eagle Scout training you needed, and Los Angeles was getting lost in the woods on your own,” Kinane says. “I went from a medium-size fish in a small pond to being just plankton.” Indeed, finding success on the LA stage often seemed too far-fetched: Kinane recalls several nights when he stayed in his apartment, believing there was no point in performing at an open mic night.
But he stuck with it and eventually began performing at well-known venues such as the Improv, the M Bar, and the Upright Citizens Brigade. Along the way, he met industry professionals—from stage assistants to talent agents to other comedians—who had some connection to Columbia. (“The empire is growing,” he says with a chuckle.) After Kinane released his album in 2010, comedian Patton Oswalt, one of Kinane’s heroes, asked him to open for him on and off for a couple of years—a big break.
Being a stand-up comedian means Kinane is constantly on the road, and his act has taken him across the globe, including South Korea, Ireland, and Australia. “I bombed in all these places,” Kinane says, jokingly. “Failing across the globe. I like to call it ‘globe flopping.’”
Self-deprecation aside, Kinane continues to strut his stuff. This past summer, the comedian performed at TBS’ Just For Laughs comedy festival alongside household names including Bill Maher, Seth Meyers, and Bob Newhart. He voiced a character in the pilot for TripTank, an animated series for Comedy Central. He also wrote and pitched a short web series for FOX. “I have a lot of stuff floating around like jellyfish,” Kinane says, “and I don’t really know where it’s going.”
But for now, the live stage remains his focus. “Write new jokes, tell new jokes,” Kinane says. “That’s what I started with in the beginning. That’s the bread and butter.”
Follow Kinane on Twitter for updates and a few laughs.