Once, as a fully-grown man, after shamefully eating a half-frozen bag of Totino's pizza rolls, Kyle Kinane pooped his pants.
"We all do. The great unifier," he says proudly.
I'm confident in saying Kinane isn't the first comic to tell a pants-shitting story onstage. In fact, at first glance, you might have trouble differentiating the Chicago native from the rest of the white, straight, bearded dudes telling humiliating tales of failed bodily functions in front of strangers for laughs. But scratch beneath the gruff exterior, the gravelly timbre of a chain-smoking whisky drinker, the long, lonely yarns about talking to a judgmental cat or losing his virginity to a stripper in a gas station, and you find something rare in today's comedy scene: a sense of optimism.
"What's the landscape of stand-up comedy right now, especially the landscape of straight, white males doing comedy? Well, there are chubby bearded dudes that are sad about everything. Alright, so how am I going to stand out against that?" Kinane says. "Also, it's disingenuous (for me to be sad). I'm not sad about everything."
This is what makes Kinane and his "dum-dum stories" so compelling: On the surface, he traffics in self-deprecation, that well-worn comedic trope, but underneath it all is a deep sense of wonder at the world around him. Take one of his most well-known bits about a guy on a plane he watched eat a stack of dry pancakes out of a Foot Locker bag. Lesser comics would get a disparaging punchline or two out of the premise. Kinane stretches it into a masterful nine-minute bit that delves into every aspect of his seatmate's psychology. "If you're on an airplane, you're on there with purpose. You're fighting gravity to travel through the sky to land on another part of the Earth's crust," he says in his 2012 special Whiskey Icarus. "Nobody's waking up casually like Amelia Earhart, like, 'I think I'll take to the skies today.' You have purpose, you have reason to fight nature to go somewhere else. How do you have that purpose in your life but still do it with hastily packed hobo snacks in your midst?"
It's that keen eye for detail, that profound curiosity that makes Kinane such a natural raconteur, one who mines the mundaneness of everyday life for gold.
"Well, I'm not smart enough to pick apart anything larger than that. I'm not going to sit here and weigh in on sociological issues or politics. I love it when everybody's like, 'Them comedians sure write about politics.' No, they oversimplified it into a completely palatable version. That's not a wise take on things. That's why I'm not going to talk about politics."
Not even a certain Cheeto-hued, allegedly toupeed billionaire?
"Is there a joke about Trump that you haven't heard yet?" he asks.
"You want me to talk about politicians? I think they're all lizards run by an alien puppeteer — that's what I think about politics. But that's not funny and it just makes me look crazier than I already am. So I'm going to stay away from that. But when it's a human experience of what someone is doing next to you, yeah, I can overthink that no problem."
Kinane performs at the Pemberton Music Festival on July 16.
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