Among comedy nerds, Kyle Kinane is already a modern deity of sorts. Since 2010, the suburban Chicago native’s popularity has seen a significant uptick, largely due to his hilarious debut album Death Of The Party and his outstanding 2012 special Whiskey Icarus. With a new hour special in the works, Kinane’s unashamed and self-effacing musings find him teetering on the cusp of mainstream appeal and commercial success. As anybody in the standing-room-only crowd at Shank Hall Tuesday—the first show in the comic’s seven-gig run of Wisconsin shows this week—could attest, that will happen. Ironically, Kinane’s material has become stronger than ever, just as said jokes seem to be almost exclusively fixated on his various perceived shortcomings.
After homegrown opener Jake Kornely performed admirably in a 15-minute window, Kinane—schlubby as ever, High Life in hand—ambled on stage. “Most of you probably know me from my TED Talks…” he started, setting the tone for an evening of inward-facing punchlines. Early on, though, Kinane didn’t pick on himself and, instead, delivered an underhanded eulogy for Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps, whose death no longer gives gay rights activists and pro-military bikers a unifying source of hatred. He took another uproariously funny route around the polarizing topic of gun control before withholding a punchline about mass shootings because “comedy equals tragedy plus time, and not enough time passes between mass shootings in this country.” He also took on the growing cast of white people enraged about gentrification, calling them “Dances With Puerto Ricans” and “Hipster Columbus.”
Soon, Kinane’s focus moved to himself—where, fortunately, it would remain for more than half of his 75-minute set. Lamenting turning 37 years old, Kinane relived a recent fall he’d endured…in the shower. When he spoke of the growing need to “take a lover” because living alone so long had caused him to go feral, he reminisced about being given a jar of pickled eggs by a girl on the second date. “You’re pulling this ‘You went to Jared!’ shit on me already?!” he rasped in his distinct gruff timbre. The age-related bits progressed, with no discernible boundaries set. “I stopped getting diarrhea, which should be a good result. Except I didn’t change any part of my behavior for that to happen,” he said, before following it with a comparison to a check engine light going off on its own for no reason at all.
As his set continued, so did the rib-tickling revelations, with unabashed admissions of once burning his laundry in the dryer, locking himself out of microwave, and killing a cactus with neglect—the latter experience leading him to realize he couldn’t care for a pet. A rare groan arose from the otherwise-captivated Shank when Kinane compared looking at pet adoption websites to a woman with a dead womb in a maternity ward. “Ooo! Found a sour ball in the candy dish, didn’t we?” Kinane said. He backed off to reprise the age motif with satisfying meanderings about reading billboards aloud (his brain running a diagnostic check), and writing “et cetera” in his on-stage notes. “Blah, blah, blah! You know, comedy!” he audibly scolded his brain. After a hilarious-but-verbose tale of an especially affable cop (there’s no way it doesn’t make the next special), the Midwestern ex-pat, again, pushed the limits at the finish line, while explaining how he eventually came to terms with seeing a therapist in hopes of repressing memories of killing a frog with a brick when he was a kid and getting a blow job from an underage girl (who’d recently sustained brain damage) when he was 22.
“I’m willing to lose most of you to win over a few of you,” Kinane rationalized part way through the shameful 22-year-old tribulation. As noble as that was, few-if-any strayed from a single word of the intellectual everyman’s endearingly self-deprecating tales. Kyle Kinane is like your offensive friend; he’s the resident funny guy from your shitty job; and the crazy out of state cousin you never miss a chance to see. Except, unlike any of those people, Kinane is on the short list of the funniest people in stand-up comedy today.