Kyle Kinane on Home, Hot Dogs and Chicago Punk Rock

Chicago’s favorite bearded funny man returns home for Thanksgiving

Kyle Kinane
Kyle Kinane talks about comedy, his background in punk rock and his Chicago favorites
Callie Biggerstaff

Kyle Kinane is still at the top of his game. The comedian in his third decade of stand-up recently released Shocks & Struts, his sixth special. It has all of the staples that made him an alt-comedy darling at the start of the 2010s whilst leaning into aging and van life. 

We spoke to Kinane before his Thalia Hall “Kinanesgiving” homecoming shows. 

InsideHook: Will you be driving your RV to Chicago? Wait a second, is it a van or an RV?

Kyle Kinane: It’s like a converted transit van. I bought it off a guy at the beginning of the pandemic. It was kind of a freak-out purchase. I’m not some van life guy. It’s more or less an RV. It makes no sense to drive through a snowy part of the country just to do a couple of shows and drive back. If I can go and stop and see cool places and fun places to ride my bike, it makes more sense to take it out for a stretch of time. 

How long have you been gone from Chicago? Have you lived outside the Chicagoland area longer than you did?

About that. Yeah, I mean, I was 26 years old when I split from Addison. I’m 46 now, so I’ve been going for 20 years.

What feels like home: Portland, Oregon; Addison, Illinois; or somewhere else? 

I can get settled in pretty much anywhere. I think I think when you move to a New York or Los Angeles and you’re trying to have a pursuit of entertainment and you’re already apartment-hopping so many times in a city, trying to look for a better financial situation, you get used to figuring out how to bed down and in a multitude of places. Right now, Oregon is my home. If I’ve lived there for a while and made nice with that environment, then that’s one of my homes.

When you do go back to Chicago, where are the places that you have to hit?

If I have a night off and I’m in the city, I’ll go by The Lincoln Lodge just to see if Mark Geary is hanging out or seeing what pals are hanging around there. If I’m in the suburbs, I’ll go to Portillo’s. I know that’s not the neighborhood-friendly hot dog place, but it’s the one that’s near my folks’ house. When I visit, I usually just kick it at friends’ houses. It’s a lot more of a mature kinda journey home these days. A lot of backyards and decks. 

Now You Can Make Some of Chicago’s Best Wings at Home
It’s not too late for one more dinner at the grill

Got a preferred backyard beer?

The cheaper, the better. Oregon has forced me to start trying to drink nicer beers, and it’s not without a fight. It’s not really taking. I want to be able to see my hands through the glass. If the beer has the same consistency as hot tub water, I’m probably not going to have more than two.

Since you started, Chicago stand-up is now viewed through these wonderful, nostalgia-tinted lenses. Looking back, do you think that there actually was a boom time in Chicago stand-up, or is it just the people who happen to be writing the books happen to have been from Chicago?

It’s a little bit of both. Every generation wants to look back and say, like, boy, when we were doing it, it was either like, wow, we were special or boy, we didn’t have the opportunities that you younger generations have, and that’s like such an easy trap to fall into.

There wasn’t a lot of club support and you had a lot of independent support from Mark Geary and Lincoln Lodge and independent promoters. I’ve said it before, nobody was planning on getting famous out of Chicago. There was a lot of experimental kinds of comedy and people just trying to be funny, just for the sake of like, just wanting to do it, just wanting to be good at stand-up. And so I think that created a lot more purity with the stand-up scene. I think there was a moment there where we all kind of fed off each other and built each other up. And just for the sake of trying to be better at comedy, not for being famous, not for any shortcuts. So yeah, there was a boom to it. Now Chicago is great. Now there’s, I don’t even know how many shows are in Chicago right now. Every night of the week, there’s gonna be like five, six, seven shows. 

Comedy is definitely much more prevalent as an entertainment choice these days. It’s not just like, here’s music, here’s theater, here’s movies or we go to the comedy club. A lot of those comedy clubs, I think because they were kind of constrictive in their ways, lead to comics being like, “Well, I don’t want to play at the novelty-themed purple drink place. I would like to play somewhere where it’s a little more intimate.” You do work for a restaurant when you work at a comedy club. 

Do you think you took that ethos from your background as a punk rock kid or do you think that’s just the nature of evolving as a performer, finding your lane and figuring out what’s best for you?

I was definitely from the music world and seeing how people had to make the situation themselves. I’m not saying you know, it’s DIY, do it yourself. The word “yourself” has a lot of facets when it’s not just myself. I still had, you know, an agent, but I’m telling an agent, I don’t want to play the comedy club in this town, I want to play at a venue that’s 200, 300 seats and this and that. So they would call and put the effort in there. I’m not going to act like I sat there on the phone all day. I would look at routes and be like, okay, I can connect these cities. I’m in Atlanta and I’m in New Orleans. What are the cities between Atlanta and New Orleans that don’t have a comedy club I wouldn’t play? I’d find something in Pensacola, find something in Mississippi, and that’s how I would book my tours for a long time. 

Who are some of the bands that you were listening to when you started that you’re still listening to?

Oh, man, I just went to see Pegboy in New York a couple of weeks ago. It was marvelous. The Haggerty brothers [Joe on drums, John on guitar] never looked like they’re having a good time. And they have Herb from Liar’s Club playing bass. And then just let just Larry [Damore] be Larry, which is everything I wanted, just smiling, being psycho, running around being excited. The guy just is happy to be playing shows, it sincerely seems like he’s surprised to be allowed to still do it. And that’s how I feel about comedy. 

If you’re the comedy version of Pegboy, who’s the Naked Raygun [the band John Haggerty was in before Pegboy]?

Dwayne Kennedy. Kennedy is the reason most people of my era are probably still doing comedy because he was the one that was the best comic. And the coolest comic and the one who had some success. Even still being from Chicago, he was recognized by the industry but also didn’t really seem to give a shit that he was recognized by the industry because he still just wanted to be good at comedy.

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