There’s something about the way Kyle Kinane holds a microphone. It’s almost an afterthought, as if both he and anyone watching him perform knows that if it wasn’t a microphone, it would be the longneck of a beer bottle.
It would feel strange saying that about almost any other comedian. But in his new standup special (airing on Comedy Central, or available for direct download), sitting on a barstool onstage at Athens, Georgia’s 40 Watt Club is a nice bottle of beer. And there are stories of getting drunk in (and then falling out of) the shower, watching a bar fight between two women, and a Friday night party inadvertently broken up by the most affable cop in Chicago.
That, too, has been Kinane’s onstage demeanor from the start of his comedy career: the boozy bard with many stories to tell, the buddy that you always call up when you want to go barhopping because he’s going to keep you in stitches all night.
This also illustrates the difference between how I think the rest of the world sees Kinane and the way that the writer who profiled him for Grantland sees Kinane. Sure we enjoy hearing about the aftermath of these ribald yet philosophical tales of getting a blowjob from an underage girl with brain damage or burning his laundry but we don’t want to watch the embarrassment as it happens. We want to share in the group therapy by way of empathy that has been the centerpiece of his standup from the start.
Kinane’s new special provides some great evidence of how he is growing as a writer. Previous specials and standup appearances balanced out his look at life’s absurdities and the little moments of wonder/confusion that he stumbled upon. Here, the focus is almost entirely inward, digging out the moments of joy and sorrow and weirdness that he had a stake in.
He’s also become a master of pacing. The story about falling down in the shower, for example, starts with a prologue describing the wonders of having an in-apartment spa day—drinks on the back of the toilet, waterproof Bluetooth speaker broadcasting Motorhead and Commodores jams from an iPod in the other room—but then ever so subtly moves into a thoughtful rumination on never experiencing the kind of love that Lionel Richie is singing about. Then it takes a quick turn into his love at first sight moment with a woman in a pantsuit in a bank as well as his joy at how his date reacted to the girl fight that broke out in the bar where they were drinking (“Her reaction was to calmly turn back to me, remove her hoop earrings, and as she pushed them across the bar to me, just said, ‘I don’t know what these bitches wanna get into.’”). He spun all that out and kept us hanging on every word for 10 minutes before finally landing on the moment when he actually fell out of the shower. That’s as skillful as it gets, people.
What I do think that the Grantland writer got right, and that this special cemented, is Kinane’s blue collar aesthetic. He’s a performer, but he holds no hope or interest in getting bit parts in movies or being part of an ensemble on a sitcom. The comedy club or bar or rock club is where he punches in and plies his trade. Just watch him when he’s done with his set on this special. He doesn’t sit around and bask in the applause; he grabs his beer and gets out of there. Punch in, punch out, time for a drink.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.