Since a major streaming platform didn't pick up Kyle Kinane's latest work, his fans get an added bonus from his new album. Instead of an hour, Trampoline in a Ditch clocks in at an hour and forty-two minutes. Kinane recorded the special over five or six shows in Madison, Wisconsin, able to exceed the usual 2 shows for a taping since it is audio-only. The new release marks his first new album since the 2016 special, Loose in Chicago. In Trampoline in a Ditch, the former voice of Comedy Central addresses a number of topics that resonate right now. Kinane describes what it's like to have shitty healthcare, offers an unconventional explanation of white privilege, and talks about the challenges of being a moderate, aging partier.
In partnership with Meister, a Portland-based design studio, and 800 Pound Gorilla Records, Kinane's album is coupled with a brief animation of several bits from Trampoline in a Ditch. Kinane told VICE he gave Meister "little to no art direction," aside from a request to not animate Kinane himself performing, as "nobody needs to see another middle-aged unshaven white dude." The result is an odd and visually stimulating clip packed with small callbacks to Kinane's older jokes.
VICE spoke to Kinane about his new album, his current time in isolation, and his 2014 Trader Joe's bit that's suddenly become timely.
If you reflect on pretty much anything during a pandemic, you can find something jarring. Listening back to one part in “Trampoline in a Ditch,” there's a joke about finding a very sick person to spit in your mouth.
[laughs] Yeah. It's a time capsule of what a year ago was like versus now. There's also the bit about white privilege. I would love for those bits to get dated because the world has progressed. But unfortunately our healthcare is still a joke, people still don't understand the concept of white privilege. I'm not going to flog myself for being a straight white male, that's who I am, but it's for people who would refuse the idea that something like that exists. 'Here's an example that maybe you didn't think about.' Yeah man. Cool times. What a great, fun time to be alive.
You have a pretty consistent way of packaging these albums and then the titles for each bit.
It's just me being an asshole. I'm just going to be honest about it. The first couple albums, I was just taking tracks from other famous albums. All the jokes can't be outwards, some of them gotta be inwards. I gotta enjoy them, too. All the art is done by my friend Dominic Gianneschi, he's done all my albums. There's zero art direction, I just know he's a great designer and artist. I say, 'I got a new album, here's the title of it. Whatever you've got.' Visually, comedy albums have either the wackiest cover, which you know it's a comedy album already, or it's like they're philosophers. Why can't they just be cool?
The track titles, the first album I think was Live at Budokan from Cheap Trick, we took all those tracks. Eventually the legal department at Comedy Central caught up on what I was doing. Because I was gonna do Straight Outta Compton for my second special, but Comedy Central was like, 'You can't do that.' I'm like, 'I did it on the last one.' Loose in Chicago is just all ingredients from an all-beef hot dog, and this one is the Myers-Briggs personality test. It makes it more difficult for people to find a joke because of the titles. I know that I've made it more difficult. I think it's playful. Other people find it frustrating. But tough shit. What do you want?
You appreciate art more than search engine optimization.
It's fun, and also, oh darn, now you've gotta listen to a lot more of my comedy.
Can you explain what "Trampoline in a Ditch" means?
It can mean anything you want it to. I thought it was a beautiful phrase that I saw on a Twitter account called Sheboygan Scan, which is just a police scanner feed that I've followed for years. They don't editorialize it, they're just straightforward about what information they're presenting. One day, one the tweets three or four years ago was just an address and it said, "trampoline in a ditch." I wrote it down, thinking I don't know if it's going to be a joke, or something, but that phrase: it's too good. I needed to use it somewhere.
In the special you said you took a couple months off to travel. Was that in 2019?
Usually around the holidays I dip out of doing any kind of comedy from Thanksgiving to the middle of January. I can't do standup every weekend of the year. Eventually you find yourself going on autopilot on these shows, there's no emotional gold standard for the material anymore, you're just putting it out there because people bought tickets for the show, and you're thinking about what you're going to be doing after the show. I don't think that's fair to anybody paying to see the show. It's very detectable to the audience when somebody's phoning it in. And I need repeat customers who want to come back the next time I'm coming through town.
I'll always take chunks of time off just to get my head straight. It's not like I'm depressed or anything. You've got to live your life, and the comedy is reporting back. If you're just doing comedy, what are the jokes about? Checking into hotels?
How has this forced break from comedy been going?
I don't want to write COVID-specific material, you want stuff to have an evergreen feeling to it. Weirdly enough, I'm on the side of people that are joking, like, 'oh I've been fine this whole time.' I'm an introvert by nature, so being by myself, not forced to do stuff? Ey, no problem. [laughs] I'm living with my girlfriend but not socializing, not being out in the world. I think that's an interesting filter, what does isolation do to somebody? That's obviously been a subject of art and writing for plenty of time, everybody's forced into their own Walden reflection on isolation right now.
In the special you say you're a 42 year-old named Kyle; you must have sympathy with how "Karen" has been treated.
I did put a post out there, like, "Dear Karen: this too, shall pass. Love, a middle-aged Kyle." I'll laugh at a meme, but a meme is essentially just hack comedy that's celebrated. Like, 'Get a load of this Karen!' If you saw one comedian do that, and then you saw another comedian say that, you'd be like, 'This is a hack bit. We should not do that, as comedians, anymore.' It's tired. Whereas the internet is like, 'You know what we should do is, beat the everloving fuck out of this.' Because the general public is not good at comedy. [laughs] That's a little frustrating. Maybe if we all wanted to be just slightly more creative, we can get out of this echo chamber loop.
It's funny because there's "consumer comedy," which is memes, created and shared, but then it bleeds over sometimes to comics. We're sharing this high fructose joke concentrate that's just a reference to a reference to a reference, but then you go out and see it around a comic's mouth, and you're like, 'You're not supposed to have that!' Any self-respecting standup wouldn't use Karen as a bit, unless they're making fun of the idea. If there's anything more evident now, what's popular isn't what's good all the time. It's like a familiar song, people share it and like it because it's familiar. They don't like it because it's original, they like it because it's an easily shareable thing and something familiar. I'm not going to break down the psychology of why memes work. Just as a comedian, we could all do a little bit better, can't we?
It must be weird for Trader Joe's to take your bit literally.
The joke I was making was, yeah, these racist names about Trader Joe's calling Italian food Trader Giotto's, and calling Mexican food Trader Jose's, I'm gonna guess that Joe wasn't actually a trader, either. I don't think he was traveling the land, co-opting these foods from his journey. Like man, you're going to be upset when you find out who owns Taco Bell. Who owns Fazoli's. Who owns P.F. Changs. Guess what, those ethnicities aren't going up the corporate ladder. Long John Silver's isn't owned by pirates. Dairy Queen and Burger King aren't owned by the British Royal Family. You'll get real angry if you start going down this road.
But shit, man. If a Mexican person's bothered by the Mexican food being called Trader Jose, it's not my place to tell that person not to be offended. If it was called 'Kyle's Energy Drink' I could have a right to be like, 'Hey, man, not all Kyles are like that. We don't all punch holes in walls.' But if the kid wants to start the petition, start the petition. If people want to sign the petition, sign the petition. I don't give a shit. I think it's silly. You are free to do so. It's an easy distraction from what's really happening. What's your take on it?
It sometimes feels like we're focusing on the window dressing and then feel like we've changed something. I'm cynical about it.
There's minivans of unmarked goons in military garb kidnapping people off the street. I'm gonna let Trader Jose's taco shells slide. I would love for that to be a large issue because there's no real problems.
Trampoline in a Ditch is currently streaming on Pandora, available on all streaming platforms July 24.
Follow Ashwin Rodrigues on Twitter.