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Doing Stand-Up Stoned Was the Worst Decision Kyle Kinane Ever Made

The stand-up comedian talks about being a shitty caddy, hating video games, and the unexpected benefits of suburbia.

by Kyle Kinane; as told to Larry Fitzmaurice
Oct 4 2017, 7:45pm

In Early Works, we talk to artists young and old about the jobs and life experiences that led them to their current moment. Today, it's stand-up comedian Kyle Kinane, whose 2016 special Loose in Chicago just saw a vinyl release through Comedy Central.

I grew up in the suburbs, about 20 miles out of Chicago. I hated it while I was there, but I didn't stay there a long time—only until I was 26. My childhood was pretty all-American—or maybe not. My parents are still together, so that might be a rarity. I was a bored suburban youth—just a smartass with my friends.

My younger sister was the athletic one, but we got along real well and had a tiny group of friends together—playing in bands and being dickheads, doing donuts in the strip mall parking lot, finding ways to smoke pot away from the cops. I tried all the drugs, but never did enough of them to get an interesting story out of it.

Chicago in the mid 90s was thriving when it came to punk. It was pre-internet, so you only found out about shows from flyers that you got from shows you went to. When I was 15, I went to see Screeching Weasel at the now-defunct McGregor's, which was in the back of a strip mall behind a sports bar. I wondered why I was trying to learn how to play "Paradise City" for the last three years. I was like, "I could play like that."

None of us were really musicians, but everybody had shitty instruments, so we all started playing in bands. The first band I was in was called the Grand Marquees. We made the easiest music you can make, man—three chords, "punk rock music." We had more fun at practices than we did playing shows.

In the suburbs, there's more motivation to dedicate yourself to something because the landscape's pretty bleak. The boredom eventually creeps in, you get lazy, you deaden yourselves with drugs and alcohol, and then you're like, "We gotta do something." If you're in a city, there's so many things to do and people to hang out with. You get caught up in that, and then years later you're like, "I haven't done shit except socialize." With the suburbs, you're like, "Well, Mom's gonna let us use the basement—let's get a drum set and figure this out." The suburbs can spur creativity out of desperation for something to do.

I liked high school—not the school itself, but my group of friends. I was a good student, but no one's going to accuse me of overachieving. Stuff came easier to me when I was younger when it came to the book learnin'—it eventually became a challenge, so I was like, "It's hard, so I'm not into it." I wasn't focused on the future, that's for sure. I knew I wasn't going to be a rock star or anything, so I figured I'd just get a job, work my way up to be a warehouse supervisor, and become one of those guys who have some hobbies that keep me entertained.

The first job I ever had was caddying for a couple of summers. It was like Caddyshack—they'd have a patent leather bag, you'd drag that shit around for three hours, and they'd give you $3. Fuck you! I just sit there and watched you try to dig as many free balls out of the pond, you pay $50 grand a year to do this, and you're going to give me $3? You fuckin' lout. I was so bad at that job that they made me a floor caddy, where you'd just stand at the end of the hole and tell them where the ball went. They can't fire you, so they just make it as miserable as they can for you.

The bands I was in fell apart, and I was like, "Well, I got absolutely zero else going on, so I'll go to college part-time and try stand-up." I went in secret to watch open mics and hung around the scene—I thought I would check out the poetry scene for a minute, but I was like, "Nah, this isn't fun at all," so stand-up became the obsession. It was hard, but when I failed at it, I wanted to come back and do better. Other things, I'm like, "I can't do that anymore"—like video games, which are a waste of fucking time. Sorry to everyone out there who's a professional gamer—good luck being a drone pilot.

I would get so upset when I did bad at comedy, but at least I was feeling something. I was also smoking a lot of pot at the time and sitting around watching my friends play video games—that was my life. I worked at a gas station, delivered pizzas, worked at college part-time, and got high and watched my friends play video games.

I'm 40 now, and at the end of the night, I'll still toke a little bit—and I still use words like "toke"—but not in a social setting. It doesn't work for me. I'm always curious and jealous of people who can perform while they're stoned. Once a year I'll try, and I'll have an incredibly embarrassing evening onstage that takes a whole year to forget how bad of an idea that is.

I think the stand-up bubble's going to burst soon. There are too many tourists involved—people saying, "I could get laid for this!" The charmers have gotten a hold of it. Blech. This wave started with a lot of underground comedy, and then music guys were crossing over into it. I was talking to band guys who say they listen to comedy in the van because they listen to music every night: "You don't want to have your ears ravaged in the van, too." I had no idea people were listening to comedy!

But stand-ups are talking about stuff that was much more relatable than it was in the past. They're talking to aimless 20-somethings with a mountain of student loan debt having no idea what they were going to do in life. That's where I got an audience from. Nowadays, I don't think you can even do stand-up comedy without listing what kind of mental illnesses you have—it's the new "airline food."

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Tagged:
entertainment
stand-up comedy
Comedy Central
Kyle Kinane