Andy Kindler’s masterful sharp-wittedness is a divining rod for the unintentionally funny. His sway over the absurd and ridiculous is such that they can be playthings or mapped out in meticulous sequence. Kindler is widely recognized from his copious television credits like his guest set and correspondent work for the Late Show with David Letterman but he is notorious for pulling no punches when blasting fellow comedians and show business, most notably at his annual State of the Industry address at Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival. But Kindler delivers far more than calling “birthday suit” on someone’s new duds. For however candid his bits may be, Kindler’s barbs are couched in the finest joke writing and a signature delivery that is without real animus. Deep down, this Leave It to Beaver-loving kid from Queens is championing “lasting quality.”
Andy Kindler recently spoke to Comedy Moontower from his home in Southern California prior to crossing the globe to perform at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Mr. Kindler couldn’t have been more jovial or generous with his time and insight and although the transcript format doesn’t lend itself to denoting my recurrent and hearty laughter, I can foretell your cackling just from his bon mots on NBC’s Whitney, Robin Williams, a bar mitzvah and Monet. The Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival is proud to present Andy Kindler in person and here in ones and zeros.
Steve Birmingham: So it’s a real honor to talk with you. I’m a longtime fan so…
Andy Kindler: Well I appreciate that. Good to hear.
SB: Well it’s true and without just totally blowing sunshine your way, everybody is very excited to have you as part of the festival down here so it’s…
AK: Me too! I love Austin so much and I’m hoping we can knock down, destroy the SXSW festival. Take it over somehow.
SB: [Laughs] Well, you know, I think that’s the plan.
AK: Dismantle it, event by event. Maybe I’m going too far?
SB: No, no, no. Eyes on the prize.
AK: You’re with me on it then right?
SB: Exactly. I’m curious; the “Don’t Mess with Texas” slogan was originally an anti-littering campaign but was that readily apparent to you? Or did it just seem like Texas bravado?
AK: Well one of my early jokes I think was actually a misunderstanding of the …was it a bumper sticker or on the license plates?
SB: Bumper stickers for sure and perhaps plate frames.
AK: I don’t even remember the joke but the idea was like, “Oh yeah, like I’m going to start something with Texas. I’m 5’5’ and a half.” [Laughs] It wasn’t until some time later that I realized it was about littering so I didn’t change the joke because I dropped it [laughs]. The joke still kind of worked because it is an aggressive anti-littering campaign. They’re like, “Well, I’ll punch you in the face if you throw something on the highway.” That’s kind of where it’s going to.
SB: And I think it’s also been appropriated as a stand-alone kind of slogan.
AK: Yes, but then Rick Perry now stands as the image of Texas.
SB: [Deep sigh] Um, yeah. What part of New York did you grow up in?
AK: Queens. Whitestone, Queens, which is not too far from Shea Stadium. Right near Flushing, where the tennis center is.
SB: I understand you’re the youngest of three kids. Was there a lot of laughter in the Kindler household or did it seem about the same as your friend’s families?
AK: I was misled by my family because everyone in my family is either extremely funny, like my dad is extremely funny or my mom is unintentionally funny. I thought everyone was hilarious. I just thought that was a normal thing and then I realized later, no everyone isn’t hilarious. There were two reasons why it took me a while to get into stand-up. I wanted to be a musician. I was a musician when I was younger so I pursued that for a while. But then I took a sense of humor for granted (I just assumed) and I didn’t realize that not everybody has a sense of humor. Actually one of my favorite quotes from Jonathan Winters is like, “Most people don’t have a sense of humor. They think they do but they don’t.” So when I first started playing clubs, I realized everybody doesn’t necessarily have a sense of humor. Although now it’s different because I feel like comedy is in a renaissance right now.
SB: I agree.
AK: If the word “renaissance” can be used in relation. It’s not a Reformation. It’s not medieval times now.
SB: Well, a lot of women might disagree with that given the political climate, but no I totally agree. So the fact that your household was so humorous, were you drawn to any comedians on TV or as a youngster was stand-up and comedy not something that was especially on your radar given that you were pursuing music?
AK: Well when I was about eight I played a lot of corporate gigs, no. That’s my idea of a joke. Well the one thing I don’t think I said clearly was that my main influence was my dad because my dad was hilarious every minute of the day and so he was really a huge influence. I always think about this: My earliest influences were more with sitcoms. I remember watching Ed Sullivan when I was a little kid but I was so much more taken by when the Beatles came out. When Davy Jones died, I was talking about how I used to love watching The Monkees when I was a kid. I thought they were the most hilarious show. They were like the greatest comedians, but I haven’t watched it since then [laughs] so I don’t know if it holds up. But it wasn’t until I got into like high school; then I started to become aware of Richard Pryor. And then in 1975 when Saturday Night Live came out (even though I’ve never been like a sketch person), that was a huge influence on me, and Steve Martin. And then when the [Late Night with] David Letterman show came out— that was a revelation to me. But I also loved Johnny. I loved Johnny Carson too, but he wasn’t quite my generation. Comedians like Jackie Gleeson, Dick Van Dyke, and Bob Newhart; I saw Bob Newhart’s sitcom before I heard his stand-up. So it wasn’t from an early age I was like stand-up driven, you know, to watch stand-ups.
SB: Gotcha. I can certainly appreciate that with your father being hilarious. It wasn’t like there was this vacuum. So was it the violin you were playing at the time?
AK: When I was in third grade, my mom claims to have heard me say, “Oh, I like the violin,” and then within two weeks I was having lessons. And then I loved it for about another two weeks and then I hated it. Not hated it, I liked playing it, but I hated practicing more than anything else. But because I transferred my parental feelings about my mother to my violin teacher, it only took me until the second year of high school to have the courage to tell her I didn’t like it [laughs]. So I played violin way, way longer than I would have liked to but I was using it as an opportunity to deal with my emotional issues. And then I switched to guitar in high school. I broke my left arm in my sophomore year of high school. I was always pretty much the shortest in school, so the only way you could play basketball by the rules in gym is if I got to the foul line first or if I hit a foul shot then I could be the captain. So I was running so fast, I tripped over someone’s leg and broke my left arm. And so for two months I could hold, my sister played guitar, and I could hold the guitar and move my fingers and so I started playing guitar, which I fell in love with and started writing songs and stuff.
SB: Awesome. Well not that you broke your arm but…
AK: [Laughs] I’m over it. I think I’m over it now although it still cracks. It still cracks especially if I straighten my arm really fast [laughs] and keep doing that all day long. I can feel it crack.
SB: You’d mentioned Richard Pryor, and with exceptions, like say George Carlin or Bill Hicks, the history of stand-up and its finest purveyors basically seems to be the story of Jewish folks. If you search for Lutheran humorists, there’s Garrison Keillor. Period. Without researching it maybe Maria Bamford has a bit of Lutheranism in her family, but why do Jews utterly dominate this art form?
AK: And also let’s add on to that, I mean how funny is Garrison Keillor really?
SB: Yeah, that’s why I used “humorist” instead of “comedian.” But yeah, Prairie Home is kind of Yankee Hee-Haw but I do think he’s bright and writes some good articles and essays.
AK: Yeah. My favorite thing that he does is “The Writer’s Almanac.” I think that’s so sweet. When I first heard [A Prairie Home Companion], I thought it was the greatest thing and then like four weeks in, like, I don’t want to hear Guy Noir one more time [laughs]. I think what you’re saying is true about the Jewish thing. Lenny Bruce who was also a huge influence not, obviously, as a kid but later on I got semi-obsessed with listening to his stuff because I feel with the way he talks, I feel so close to him. But he has a whole thing about how black people and Jewish people learned to entertain because they were slaves, and so they learned how to get out of being a slave by being entertaining. It’s a really great bit because the slave owner is like [spot on channeling Bruce’s lilt], “Oh Jewish person come over here and be charming” [laughs]. Oh, I probably should say that one of my earliest big influences was Woody Allen but not his stand-up but all those movies. But it’s the long string of self-deprecation and also reacting to maybe thousands of years of oppression. Either you get more depressed or you react to it with comedy so that’s why I think Jewish people have always been part of that tradition. I don’t know if Jews are funnier… I used to have this joke that Jews are funny even when they don’t know they are being funny. I have two examples of that: My friend Bill Kaufman (who used to be my comedy partner when I started), like when Whitney Houston’s song first came out and we’re driving down the street and the song is like, “How will I know? How will I know?” and my friend Bill looked at the radio and goes [flatly enunciating], “You’ll know Whitney. Believe me, you’ll know.” That’s an example. He wasn’t even trying to be funny. And the other example I use is when Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reunited for this big concert in Central Park and my dad’s Jewish friend is looking at Paul Simon and he turns to me and he says, “That Paul Simon is okay. He’s not one of these jazzed up characters in a cockamamie outfit.” That was another example. To him there was nothing funny about that [laughs] but I never heard “jazzed up,” “character,” and “cockamamie” all in one sentence so beautifully used.
SB: [Laughing] That’s marvelous.
AK: I sold stereos in the ‘80s. I did all these sales jobs and I met Bill as a stereo salesman. Currently, he’s a marriage and family therapist [MFT] but he convinced me to do stand-up.
SB: Can you recall your very first open mic experience? How it went and where and when that was and what you may have talked about?
AK: So many events that I remember that are so clear and changing… like we were at a company picnic for the stereo store; it’s so funny to say “stereo store.” It sounds like the oldest word in the world. It’s like “record player.” So I was doing impressions of all the people who worked for the company and I would not say I’m the world’s greatest mimic but I can kind of get the gist of people and my friend Bill said, “Well have you ever thought about doing stand-up?” And I really hadn’t. I’d been to The Comedy Store when I first moved to Los Angeles, it’s not like something I had never thought of. But in college, I did a lot of theater and summer camp. I was always doing acting things but I was so strongly musically oriented, it never occurred to me to not do music and do something else. And so he convinced me, so my first open mic things were with him. And I have to say I don’t necessarily recommend that you comedians be in a duo but it certainly cushioned the rejection blow because I think it would have been worse. I mean it wasn’t fun— you put your name in the hat at the Improv. And we did the same thing at The Comedy Store and then there were all these different little coffee shops and stuff like that. I think the first three-minute thing we did might have actually been at this place in Lomita, California, which was an Italian restaurant called Seymour Hamm’s and it was a community theatre restaurant. Then I did that for two or three years but not performing every night but then I started to get really restless and realized it was too confining for me. A duo is just hard. I don’t know how anybody does it. And then I went out on my own and I’ve told this story before but it’s actually true that one of the first times I went on my own I bombed so badly that I was sobbing on the way home. The first time I did it on my own was Seymour Hamm’s. And it was just awful.
AK: And one of the clubs that I started out at with Bill too but also on my own was a club called Igby’s. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that?
SB: Yeah I have.
AK: It was in West Los Angeles and I don’t know if this is true but it’s the weirdest name of a club. Jan Smith was the owner of the club. He was one of the original owners of The Icehouse, which is like this venerable club in Pasadena out here that I’ve never really enjoyed that much because the crowd is trained to laugh like hyenas and you just feel uncomfortable. So he opened up his own club and the rumor (which I think it’s true) is that he called it “Igby’s” so that in the phone book it was between The Icehouse and the Improv when people were looking it up.
SB: That’s kind of clever. Now when you mentioned you cried on the way home, if my memory serves me, Jim Carrey’s first time went so horribly that he passed for another year or so before he took another crack at it.
AK: Well that’s interesting because when I saw Liar Liar, I said, “That’s it! I’m not going to see any more Jim Carey movies for several years.” One thing that is interesting is when people come up or anybody imagines himself or herself doing stand-up. You go, “How do you do it? People ask that all the time. But the thing I don’t think people realize is that it’s like anything else. When you first do it you are scared. The comedian who is not scared to do it, I think, is probably not someone funny. It’s a frightening thing but I don’t think people realize that (I don’t know if you’ve ever tried stand-up) but you just do like a minute when you start— two minutes, three minutes as awful as it is. And many, many comedians have that story, which I think I had too, which is maybe after the first couple times, and then I had a really good set. Then that’s a false sense of, “Oh okay, now I’m over the hump,” but you never really get over the hump. Ever.
SB: [I mentioned that I was an employee at The Comedy Store for a couple years in the early ‘90s.]
AK: In the early ‘90s, the thing about The Comedy Store was …[owner] Mitzi’s daughter, her name is Sandy Shore. You remember her?
SB: I do.
AK: So she had seen me at another club when I was first starting out— Sammy Shore had a little fish restaurant in Marina Del Rey [Sammy’s Comedy by the Shore] and I would play there all the time. And his daughter Sandy saw me there and so she kind of got me to audition for Mitzi. It was like there are so many things I am willing to do in life but there are a couple of things I am not willing to do, like when they said, “Okay Mitzi liked you and you can work the door.” And I was like, “You know what? I’m willing to do a lot of things but I don’t want to work the door at The Comedy Store.” It’s so weird where you draw the line sometimes. It didn’t seem appropriate to me that you have people who are doing odd jobs around The Comedy Store. “I’m a comedian but I’m also a carpenter.” Also the environment there always frightened me a little bit.
SB: [I had back-tracked for a clarification on Seymour Hamm’s in Lomita.]
AK: It’s right near Torrance and it’s funny, well not that funny when I think of my early jokes— I said, “The chef here…” because I don’t remember it being a great restaurant but, “The chef here, [sounding green but selling it] Chef Boyardee [laughing], told me the secret ingredient in the Italian sauce is ketchup.” That’s just the grade of joke I was doing back then. This was like a little club where all these people who did community theatre in Torrance would hang out at this club but I never saw the theatre itself around there.
SB: I believe you attended Binghamton University, if I’m saying that correctly?
AK: Exactly, the State University of New York at Binghamton does not roll off the tongue.
SB: And I guess you went during the Ford and Carter administrations. I was wondering if you could describe what the prevailing zeitgeist seemed to be on campus during your time there?
AK: As you could well imagine, we were all excited about Ford [laughs]. I partied during, well let’s say this, the character of Andy Kindler may have done a lot of partying at school and it was fantastic! I loved college. First of all, I was a Grateful Deadhead, I was in a band, I was in kind of a popular band at school, and I was an English literature major (which I actually loved), and there was all this partying going on. But my senior year, I’ll never forget people in the spring saying, “We’re done, we’re done, we’re finished! Can you believe it?” I was like [exasperatedly], “What are you excited about? Why would you want this to end?” So I just loved it because it was beautiful in upstate New York and after college I went right to Los Angeles and that was quite a slap in the face because I thought I’d get out to L.A., I would audition for a play, then I would go and find if my name was on the bulletin board, but it didn’t work out that way.
SB: You know I’m just curious, how did your bar mitzvah go and did that involve a certain amount of pressure or stage fright or not?
AK: Well it’s kind of sad; it’s not sad but I was part of the baby boom generation so there were so many kids getting bar mitzvahed that I actually had to have a double bar mitzvah which was very emotionally crushing to me at the time. And then I wanted to sing my Haftorah portion. Not that I had the greatest voice but the other guy didn’t want to sing. So I felt limited that way but I actually loved doing it. Well I was a reformed Jew, so one of my jokes is; “I’m a reformed Jew so my rabbi was Catholic.” You got to write your own speech and that was my first example of censorship because I wrote this little original speech and at the end of the speech it said, “It doesn’t matter whether you are black or white, rich or poor, male or female, just as long as you’re Jewish.” That’s what I wrote [emphatically] as a joke and the rabbi changed it to “just as long as you’re a good person.”
SB: Wow, so the moment you’re officially becoming a man you get the brutal beat down of how the world…
AK: By the man! I’m becoming a man but the man won’t let me be a man. But one of my early jokes was that I don’t remember much about my bar mitzvah [with Yiddish inflection] but I do remember that I killed! The rabbi couldn’t follow me! I got six applause breaks during my Haftorah reading.
SB: This is a little random but I’m just curious if you had any thoughts about Hogan’s Heroes?
AK: I remember when it came out. Gilbert Gottfried actually has a really hilarious bit about Hogan’s Heroes. I don’t remember all of it, but the idea of them pitching it, [in Gottfried’s voice] “I have a great idea: Concentration camps! No not concentration camps, prisoner of war camp.” I don’t where it’s available but it’s so funny. He has a couple of really funny ones like, “How did Henry Winkler get The Fonz? [à la Gottfried] “I got a great idea for you, for The Fonz. A young Jewish kid, Henry Winkler, he’ll be perfect!” I know I didn’t do any of those bits [laughing] justice. But I thought that Hogan’s Heroes was like the greatest sitcom. I didn’t even think about it in relation to…
SB: The Third Reich [laughs].
AK: …being inappropriate [laughs] or that it was wrong. Of course, I don’t think I could watch one episode now but I was so sitcom-crazy. I mean I watched shows like Donna Reed. I loved Leave It To Beaver, which I actually think is a great show. I love Andy Griffith, so I think I projected my own childhood desire. To me there’s something about sitcoms where you would disappear in the world. I just loved the idea: These guys snuck out at night and they were having such a great time during [laughing] World War II and Shultz was hilarious and I’m sure there were so many loveable Nazis like Schultz and Klink. So yeah but it is an awful, awful, terrible, terrible show.
SB: Let’s talk about sitcoms today, tabling the fact that there are some wonderful shows like 30 Rock or Louie and some really interesting television like Mad Men. ABC made a show called Work It and then rightly cancelled it after two episodes. And I guess the producers did Friends. So do you think it was a matter of like, “Hey these guys have made so much money. We’ll just kind of let them do their thing,” or is there, not to ape Gottfried, a pitch meeting where they go, “How about a charmless and degenerate Bosom Buddies?” This show had two guys dress up like women to get a jobs but it…
AK: Oh, I know that one. I missed that one. That sounds like it would have exactly been up my alley of terrible entertainment like watching the Celebrity Apprentice.
SB: FOX finally pulled the plug on a show called I Hate My Teenage Daughter and I was just so struck by how much time and energy and money they spent on just promotion alone…
SB: …ahead of its release. Then you think that it probably costs about the same amount of money to make a pretty good show versus a horrible one (as long as you have quality writers). These two shows were sub-lowest common denominator. There are always going to be some things scraping the barrel that will be big…
AK: Yeah you can’t always have all great stuff, but how does it get to this level? Well, on a very simple level, I think the way shows are pitched are like this, “Okay, there’s this guy named Earl and he has a list of things that he has to make amends for and that’s the show!” And then an executive will be like, “Oh that sounds good. That sounds like something I can pitch to the people above me and it makes sense.” So many times you’ll see a show where you go, “Why is the premise of this show so ridiculous?” Well that’s kind of the way it was sold because things that are good aren’t usually things that you can sum up in one logline or one saying. They usually think that if you just watch you’ll get it, you know? So I think it’s always this idea of (I didn’t see Work It), “We’ll get these guys to dress up like women and then it’ll be great!” And somehow they get convinced and they get into this world where they think it could work and then the other part is that it’ll be someone like Whitney Cummings. For some reason, all the sudden they decide it’s got to be Whitney Cummings. “She’s going to be the one.” Or it’s like Chelsea Handler. “Ooh she’s got that show that kids love on “E!” Let’s give her the reigns.” I mean I don’t even understand the difference between 2 Broke Girls and Are You There, Chelsea? I don’t understand. I tweeted that they should merge those shows. There’s no operating philosophy. It’s like Kramer on Seinfeld was funny not because he had long hair…
AK: But then if you look at these sitcoms, there’s always one person they try and make the crazy Kramer type. And I think a lot of it has to do with the multinational corporatization of these networks. So they’re run more and more by faceless people interested in the bottom line. And that’s why reality shows are so popular. “If we can get people’s attention to watch Snookie or The Voice or The X Factor,” it’s like this constant race to the bottom to get these eyeballs but there’s very few people doing it the real way which is like, “Oh this resonates with me. This is funny. Let’s put it on the air.” It’s almost always some kind of angle. And again, anything that you could describe in one sentence probably isn’t going to be good.
SB: Do you think we’re just past the regular occurrence of scripted shows like M.A.S.H. (how old am I?) and such because they’re more expensive or…?
AK: I don’t think so. I love Modern Family. I think Modern Family couldn’t be more of a traditional show in terms of the setup. The setup is like a traditional multi…well it’s not multi camera. It’s single camera but it is like a regular sitcom but I think it’s just great. To me, the most encouraging signs right now are all the different cable channels. I love IFC. I love Portlandia. And so I think that what’s encouraging for someone like me is in the older days (like in the ‘90s), they would look at someone like me and they would go, “What is he?” I don’t have that Tim Allen appeal or I don’t have the…
SB: Congratulations on that by the way.
AK: [Laughs] … the old broad-based appeal. They were so concerned back then about having that but now something like Mad Men, which someone was saying it gets half the audience of some other show whatever, but look at the cultural [impact]. I mean I love Mad Men. And actually, the wife and me were watching the last three episodes of Season 4 right now to get ready for Sunday [the premiere of Season 5]. The one thing that used to drive me crazy when I had these meetings with HBO years and years ago and I would say, “I love Larry Sanders,” (back then) and their response was, “Well, a lot of people don’t watch Larry Sanders.” So that’s what their executive response was. This was back in the ‘90s. The truth is the fact that The Larry Sanders Show came out was what attracted David Chase to HBO. It’s like you can never go wrong doing something great. AMC was floundering before Mad Men came along. But then the thing too is there is also still the copying thing like FX. I don’t watch that show It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The mistake (well the head of FX has a really good reputation, I forget his name now, sorry, but [John Landgraf] really did take chances) but then I think there’s this thing like, “Okay, well then let’s have other shows like this Sunny in Philadelphia show.”
AK: But that’s not the way you do it. Your brand, I’ve always hated the word “brand” except when you refer to smoking a Marlboro and that’s your brand. But okay, “Our brand is this,” Then they try and copy that or it’s like when they try to make something subversive. To me, Saturday Night Live was subversive when it came out. Not because they were trying to be, they just happen to be. To me, David Letterman is subversive but not because he’s trying to be. He’s from that long line of making fun of the comedy he’s doing. So there is a constant attempt to replicate the last thing that was popular. And that’s even true with artists. Like I don’t know if you’ve seen Ricky Gervais’ new show, Life’s Too Short?
SB: I have HBO but I have yet to take it in.
AK: You know I love the original Office and when he starts to drive me crazy is when he’s been hosting the Golden Globes. Something has become egomaniacal about the guy. He’s still one of my favorites but Life’s Too Short seems to me like re-churning out The Office. It’s the same documentary crew thing. It’s a very mean spirit, so even an artist who can be extremely creative can get into the trap of trying to reproduce what he’s done before or maybe even know what to do again. And I think on the network level, there is this constant chasing of the tail— of your own tail. I always tell people if you took anybody of normal intelligence off the street and just said, “For the next six months watch comedy. Don’t prejudge. Have your mind open.” After six months, you would be familiar with comedians and you would understand them. But mostly at the network level they don’t know what’s going on. Someone’s telling them what’s going on so it’s this constant race to the bottom in terms of copying and trying to redo what’s been done before and it almost never works.
SB: My understanding is that shows like Cheers and The Dick Van Dyke Show didn’t have very good ratings for quite a while but the networks stuck behind them. And I also recall 30 Rock came out around the same time as Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60: Live On The Sunset Strip, And I just remember this glut of articles and ghoulish speculation after 30 Rock had barely started, “Oh the ratings are only this. Can the show survive?” Have network shows lost the chance to find an audience?
AK: A lot of times networks will give lip service. My theory has been a great show should never be taken off the air, ever, because you’re just going to replace it with something and there’s always going to be shows that don’t get amazing ratings anyway— so why don’t you have something good on that brings respect? Because then we have, “Well we know CBS is going to be great,” but so they always give lip service to it but they’re in such a business where they are worried about their own job and they’re worried about their own company. There’s always this panic that ensues in terms of whether we should keep it on the air or not. But almost every successful show has been under the radar. Seinfeld is the classic show business story where it had terrible focus group results and nobody at the network got it but they kind of let it find its way. Same thing: Everybody Loves Raymond was on Friday night but to Les Moonves’ credit, he got that it was really good. I did this DVD called I Wish I Was Bitter and the concept was that I’m not bitter. If I was bitter I would just give up but I’m always optimistic that things are going to work out. So I always feel like the cream does rise to the top but then there’s always going to be a whole bunch of mediocre stuff that rises to the top like the whole reality show craze. Sometimes I watch Extra, whatever the show is, [and have] the idea that if you put an alien in the world from twenty years ago and now they wouldn’t even understand why people are so crazy over The Bachelor (laughs) or that part of society where people just love celebrity. There’s no lasting quality to that.
SB: I’m kind of at the point where if folks like a lip-synching band or it’s more about choreography than music— if that brings someone enjoyment (something I may view without any artistic merit); it’s fine. But yet… wow I just completely brain-froze where that was going…
AK: Well I know where you’re going with that. The degree to which I get upset about what’s on TV or things like that, the other side of it is, it is where I get almost all of my comedy from so I hope terrible things don’t go away because I won’t have anything to make fun of and you know most comedy to me doesn’t come from anger necessarily but some kind of reaction to how ridiculous things are. So the argument, which is that we kind of live and let live, I definitely agree with that. People say, “You really don’t like Carrot Top?” or whatever the thing was. I don’t even know half the people that I’m making fun of; it’s nothing personal. Actually I do know Carrot Top. I’ve met him a few times. He’s very sweet but it’s nothing personal about these things. It’s not like life or death. It’s more like, “I just think it’s funny.” I have a joke that NBC has bought out my peripheral vision so every time I look to my left or my right it says, “Watch Whitney, Thursdays at Eight!” NBC made a deal with the people who flash your life before your eyes before you die and they’re going to promote Whitney. To me, there’s a funny ethic. And then sometimes, not so much now, but sometimes on Twitter rage will be coming out of but I get way more upset about Republicans using racism to get elected. Like Donald Trump, I find him to be a despicable human being and the fact that he would be a birther and all that stuff. And I still watch Celebrity Apprentice (no, I can’t watch that much of it) but it’s so, so horrible that I still enjoy how horrible it is. And the other thing I was talking to my wife about is that the reason why there are so many reality shows is that every once in a while there’s like a real moment, an actual moment on the reality show. It’s almost as if they had a car accident every week at Nine on TV. Look at the car accident.
SB: Yeah, it’s called The Kardashians. You mentioned your DVD and I see that you’re selling a special collector’s edition with a 2003 glossary. I was wondering if you might be able to share a couple of entries from way back in the early Aughts?
AK: Yeah yeah, I’m very proud of the glossary [laughs], it explains what’s happened in 2003. So one would be George Lopez, but this is recorded in 2003, George Lopez hadn’t reemerged as the talk show guy again so I was assuming that when people read this glossary that you would not ever have heard from him again. But he reemerged so I write, “George Lopez: This television magician was able to produce laughs without the use of humor. His long running, barely-watched show was cancelled in the year 2007 but sputters on in syndication somewhere. Check your local listings with a magnifying glass. If a tree falls in the forest, chances are that George Lopez will not have anything funny to say about it.” Then this is one that people do not even remember. I do a thing about the ABC Miners. Remember when the miners were caught in the mine and they got out of the mine and ABC made a movie about it [The Pennsylvania Miner’s Story]? So ABC Miners: “Remember the trapped coalminers who were rescued in Pennsylvania and then ABC cheapened it by making it into a TV movie.” “Crank Yankers: Puppets and phony phone calls have never been funny. Combining them was a stroke of genius. Denis Miller: You wouldn’t truly believe it. Before he became a shill for the right wing, Dennis Miller was a stand-up comic. In fact there was a brief time when he was hilarious then he decided to suck forever.”
SB: I’ve read that Dave largely just speaks with his guests while on camera, but I’m just wondering if from your many appearances and correspondent work for Late Show with David Letterman, if there is one kind of standout memory or thing you may have discussed that is something that really sticks with you?
AK: The thing, which I actually think is a great thing, that he does is like whatever kind of relationship we are going to have— let’s leave that for when the cameras are on because I think it works. I think Johnny Carson was also like that. And sometimes I get to talk to him when he’s showing the video of whatever piece we’ve done. So we talk a little bit. But I guess my favorite moment, there are so many favorite moments, but my favorite moment was once where I was saying the movie King Kong came out. You know the remake? Where I think Jack Black was in there, right?
AK: I said, “Yeah and they go to this island where these large flying pterodactyls come at them and all these terrible bugs and they have to go through all these terrible things on the island. At one point Robin Williams jumps out from behind a bush and does ten minutes, just awful things.” And I was looking at him [laughing] and I just saw this little gleam in his eye. I could see that that joke made him happy, and that made me really happy because he really is the guy who is my comedy hero. So when I’m on that show, I’m never going to not be awestruck by it.
SB: I’ve heard a few comedians say that if a joke doesn’t work three times in front of an audience they’ll ditch it from their act. I’m not a comic but I think I would have a tough time letting go of something I thought was funny.
SB: Now to great effect, you often provide onstage commentary on a bit’s success or underperformance. Is there any correlation between that and keeping something in your act that you’re fond of or is it mainly just part of the style that you know works for you and for audiences?
AK: Well I was actually going to write this, I was working on this tweet or joke that… Louis C.K. does this whole thing where he does all this material and then after a year he doesn’t do it again. Once he does the material after a year he won’t ever repeat it and so I’m kind of like in the opposite school. Obviously if you get booked back to a club you don’t want to be doing the same material but I always feel like if I want to go back to the vaults or if I want to add on to a joke, I always feel the license to do it. But in the same manner of Louis C.K.’s getting rid of your material after a year, I now will be promising to start dropping bits that I thought were hilarious for years but that no one laughed at. I’m going to start dropping them now. Because my thing is like, I never drop something if I think it’s funny and I definitely don’t do the three-joke thing (you said someone said after three times they do it) because the thing is that either the joke is only meant for a few people to like it. Like I have a joke that says, “The great artist Monet before he would start a painting, he would yell out to no one in particular, ‘Do you people like Impressionism?’” and depending on the reaction he would paint more realistically.” Now a lot of people get it and a lot of people don’t but to me, I know that that joke is funny so I’m never going to drop it. But I have dropped things that after long, long times, months and months and months are getting no reaction because I feel like maybe there could be something I’m missing about the construction of the joke that I just don’t get. But if I really do know that the joke is written well and it’s funny I’ll keep it even if two people like it.
SB: Well good for you. Because I mean you’re the author of everything else they’re laughing at. Wrapping up, I’m just curious if you sometimes get jealous or angry when you hear another comedian deliver a really great new bit? Like, “Oh I wish I had thought of that”?
AK: I never really do. I probably pride myself on being able to laugh at other people, so no. Obviously when you hear something and go, “Oh I wish I’d thought of that,” that’s more like, “Aw, he got to something that I may have at one point gotten to.” I have this line if I make fun of Leno or whoever where I say, “70% of the reason why I say these things is bitterness and jealousy and envy and the other 30% are just cheap shots.” So most of my envy and jealousy and whatever (I don’t consider myself bitter) is more about based on, “Why is this person so successful, why are they rich?” But not jealousy based on not wanting someone else to be funny. The weird thing about stand-up is there’s a competitive nature to every art form or business or whatever. I worked with this comic which I’m not going to say his name because I really don’t want to repeat his name but I worked with this comic a few weeks ago who tried to blow me off the stage and I just have never understood that kind of concept of comedy. It’s not that kind of competition.
SB: Andy in closing, I always love hearing if someone has a nightmare road story or an audience from hell. I was wondering if something sticks out from you from all your years of performing?
AK: One time, years and years ago, someone at The Laugh Factory just stood up and started to say, [dripping with sarcasm] “Oh you’re very funny.” I said, “Oh you have a problem sir?” “Nooo why would I have a problem when you are so hilarious?” “Well sir, you sound sarcastic.” “Nooo, why would there be sarcasm involved when you’re such an amazing…” and this went on for about three minutes where I thought maybe he was going to rush the stage and kill me. So that was one, and another gig I remember was a one-nighter in Canada. I used to do all these gigs in Canada. I remember flying into some obscure airport, driving on a road, and then going what seemed like off-road for another hour and then getting to this club, like a bar, where there was an infestation of this kind of flying moth and it just seemed like I was inhaling flies while I was doing my act and they also hated me. So that was like a night where I thought maybe it’s going to all end. Also one time on a one-nighter— I used do these gigs in the ‘80s or ‘90s where you’d have a comic and there would be music afterwards— and I was dancing with this girl. I looked to my right and there was a guy dancing next to me with a girl and I smiled at him and then the next second I think he dropped dead. I don’t know that he died, but it didn’t look good. It did not look good, and the ambulance came and so…and I still completed the tour. I didn’t get the omen.
SB: Well that speaks to your professionalism.
AK: [Laughs] Exactly.
AK: Yeah, it was in 1991. It was right before the comedy boom from the ‘80s was about to implode and go away. And so Chris Marcil, there was another guy too (they’re now sitcom writers) they were editors at the Lampoon and I forget how the contact happened. But by that time I had already been known for making comments on other comedians and it was just this real, cathartic type of experience where I went through all the different things because there were so many hacky premises at that time. It just was one of those things, like it just came together. I was so proud of it. My friend Joe Madison, who’s a writer and a stand-up, contributed. One of my favorite things was “Anything’s funny with an attitude and then it’s even funnier on steroids.” That was going around. So then my friend Joe Madison came up with “Steroids are just vitamins with an attitude.” So it was all that kind of stuff and people kind of suggested things to me, and the editors at National Lampoon were amazing. I just had no idea that it would have such like a lasting impression. I’m so proud of it because people keep referring to it and they keep reading it and some people have even told me they’ve actually used it to try to do well at the club (like over the years) to see if the horrible jokes still work— and many times they do.
THE ANDY KINDLER SHOW
Hosted by Bil Dwyer with special guest Mary Lynn Rajskub
Thursday, April 26th
Doors @ 7:30pm | Show @ 8:30pm
Stateside at the Paramount
Purchase Tickets Here. You can also get them at the Paramount Theatre box office or by calling 512-474-1221. The box office is open Monday – Saturday 12pm – 5:30pm and is closed on Sundays. Stay tuned for other appearances and announcements.
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