Toward the end of an entertaining, hour-long chat with comedian Kyle Dunnigan—one in which we’ve discussed his upcoming tour, body rapping, winning an Emmy, podcasting, a not-so-slight Billy Joel obsession, Craig, his famous Donald Trump impression, and working with some of today’s top female comedians—a woman approaches our table outside a Starbucks in Studio City, Calif. She’s maybe in her 50s and says, “I’m so sorry to interrupt,” with a slight accent, possibly Russian. Although she doesn’t look like she fits into Dunnigan’s fan demographic, who are we to judge? We just wait for the latter half of the sentence to drop: Autograph and/or picture seekers come with the territory here in L.A. “Is there any way I could borrow your pen?” she asks. “I have to deposit a check and I didn’t sign it. I only have a marker.”
Ok. That’s not exactly what we expected. “It’s a tease,” Dunnigan says as she heads for the ATM. “It happens twice a year, by the way.” We clarify: The autograph thing? “It’s pretty sweet. It’s enough…gets me through six months.” He continues riffing: “I was like, ‘Here we go again,’” feigning annoyance. “What if I just signed her check and handed it back to her without even looking at it?”
Dunnigan—who’s probably best known for his stint as serial killer Craig on Reno 911!, writing and acting on Inside Amy Schumer and co-hosting the popular (but now-defunct) podcast Professor Blastoff with Tig Notaro and David Huntsberger—is constantly self-deprecating. From our all-encompassing conversation, we learn that he takes his work seriously, but doesn’t buy too much into the Hollywood hype. It’s telling that instead of the hundreds of swanky bars, restaurants, hotel lobbies or hipster-populated coffee shops to choose from throughout L.A., he picks a Starbucks that’s walkable from his home and then rolls up in a gray Nets hoodie and New Balances.
Dunnigan says he doesn’t mind being that “other guy,” especially when hanging out or performing with some of his more famous comedian friends and collaborators like Schumer, Notaro and former girlfriend Sarah Silverman. “I can take a picture with any camera. I’m the picture guy,” he says. “I like when people like to see Sarah and see people happy. Or when they see Amy—they get happy, and it’s totally good.” Remember last summer when Schumer and pal Jennifer Lawrence jumped atop Billy Joel’s piano and danced onstage at a Wrigley Field concert in Chicago? Well, Dunnigan was also there, dancing onstage to “Uptown Girl.” Nobody noticed. Except maybe Redeye Chicago who wrote: “(Comedian Kyle Dunnigan was onstage too but no one really talks about it.)”
Dunnigan had the best reply on Twitter:
“Honestly, I’m surprised they [Redeye] even mentioned my name. They’re such huge stars,” he adds. “I’m pretty behind the scenes.” Dunnigan also confirms the story that it wasn’t the first time he made it onstage at a Billy Joel concert. As an undergrad at UConn, where he studied theater, he managed into sneak to the front rows and then eventually onstage at Yankee Stadium. Of course, security quickly came and escorted him out. “I was a weird kid,” he says.
But that weird kid—who obsessed over piano musicians like Joel and Elton John, perfecting his golf game and playing a broken piano in his parents’ Weston, Conn., basement—won himself an Emmy last year (with Jim Roach). They won for the boy band parody tune, “Girl You Don’t Need Make Up,” from the Inside Amy Schumer episode, “Cool with It.” He’s been writing and performing on Schumer’s show for the past four years, and both have come a long way since the beginning of their careers. They initially met when Schumer opened for Dunnigan at a Bryn Mawr University gig. “She tells this story of how I blew her off so hard. It’s not true. I had to get up at 4 a.m. and catch a plane [to Philadelphia] and I had to fly out the next morning, so I wasn’t going to hang out. But she took offense. But years later we hung out and laughed a lot, and then she invited me and Tig to a couple of her roasts.”
“Powerful women. That’s all I’ll collaborate with,” he jokes. Dunnigan recounts that he met Notaro years ago at the finals of a national Comedy Central comedy contest, and their friendship coalesced after doing a pilot together. He credits Notaro with helping him develop some of his mad skills—particularly his gift of body rapping and beatboxing. “It’s just a total joke. I’m just terrible at it. It started on the [Professor Blastoff] podcast, and Tig’s really good a mining things out of me. She’ll see something and say, ‘Wait, do that again…’”
Although Dunnigan’s started another science-related podcast called Brain Mail (Professor Blastoffostensibly ended last summer because of Notaro’s schedule), he’s also been too busy to post the new recorded episodes and keep the show going in a way that he’d like. “I feel that I have too many interests. I’m spread so thin. If I only did stand-up, I’d probably be further along.”
In addition to his short tour, which began last night in Pontiac, Mich., Dunnigan rattles off his current projects. The list is exhausting: “I’m immersed in this pilot [called Shit Kids for Jash], and have a script deal with Comedy Central for a pilot and doing something with Sarah Silverman. We’re developing a show for Audible,” he says. “But it’s not a podcast, it’s a show like an old-time radio show…I also do stuff for Howard Stern all the time.” One of those Stern bits is Dunnigan’s popular, spot-on Donald Trump impression. Seeing Trump become the presumptive Republican nominee for president stirs up mixed emotions for the comedian: “I do think he could start World War III, but I’m happy to get more work. It’s a toss-up.”
Based on his present schedule, Dunnigan’s dance card is pretty full, and he needn’t worry about getting work in the foreseeable future. During the time of this interview, he was in the middle of a Shit Kids video editing session. “[Jash] gave me some money to make a video, and instead of making a video for $2,000 and putting $18,000 in my pocket, I decided to make an entire pilot—and lose money.”
“Right now I’m cramming to finish the edit. I wrote, directed, acted in it. I’m doing the music. I’m editing. The only reason I can do it for 22 grand is because I didn’t pay five of the main jobs.” He’s not complaining though. “I like that. I like to do different stuff.” Shit Kids focuses on self-obsessed millennial kids. “The combination of no boundaries and growing up with Twitter and self-obsession, these kids are like the worst.” Dunnigan admits he has trouble keeping up with his own social media accounts. “When I went from MySpace to Facebook, I had a nervous breakdown,” he says. “I’m getting anxious talking about it.”
He’ll wrap up the pilot project before he leaves on tour, which features new material. “There’s going to be piano and impressions and stories.” Craig will probably make an appearance, too. Although Dunnigan’s played big 15,000-person shows with Schumer, he’s says it’s just as fun to play the smaller venues where the audience is there to see him specifically, and not just as the opening act to sit through before the headliner. “Those [arena shows] are fun in a different way, but I prefer performing for people who kind of know me and hopefully enjoy what I bring.”
See for yourself what Dunnigan has to offer when hits the road this week.
June 1: Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids, Mich.
June 2: Woodlands Tavern, Columbus, OH
June 3: Altar, Pittsburgh, PA
June 9: The Dead Crow, Wilmington, NC
June 10: King’s Barcade, Raleigh, NC
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.