As comedians go, Kyle Kinane is a bit hard to pin down: somewhere between rising star and beloved cult hero, bummer-trip self-examiner and observational surrealist, earthy everyman and standup artisan. His Tuesday night kickoff show for his week-long stand at Acme debuted to a packed house. He barreled through a set where every single bit and story was emphatically show-stopping enough that any one of them could've been a great set-closer, and left the general impression of a performer who has his shit together when it comes to looking like he doesn't entirely have his shit together.
Last year's album, Death of the Party, was Kinane's breakthrough, but this set didn't draw much from that previous material. Instead, it simply piled more escalating ridiculousness onto an already impressive repertoire of dazed, goofball raggedness.
[jump] There's no real shortage of standups who rely almost entirely on their defective selves as the butt of their own jokes, and the bearded, disheveled, beer-nursing Kinane has that particular approach down to a science. But instead of simply wandering around in "I smell bad"/"I'm lonely"/"I'm kind of a dirtbag" turf and punching some pity-laff buttons, he hits the kind of angles that emphasize just how those qualities get him into janky, often bizarre situations.
Thanks to Kinane's set, I've now formulated a rule where one can easily measure a comedian's creativity by how capable they are of making a trip to the grocery store seem hilarious. Kinane ran with a few stray observations that rang both true and weird, self-identifying as the type of broken person who leaves unwanted frozen dinners in the beer aisle, and threw in a great jab at half-assed buzzword branding -- an Old Spice scent called "Showtime" -- that eventually fishtailed into a nice bit of visualized physical comedy depicting the pathetic sight of a man attempting to uncap a deodorant stick to check the scent of whatever it is "Showtime" is supposed to smell like while still cradling a 12-pack of beer and a frozen pizza to his chest.
Getting burdened with awkward money-exchanging transactions seemed to be a recurring thread in the set, starting with an early joke about being at the level of drunkenness that somehow results in taking a taxi to the Wendy's drive-through and extending to riffs on getting caught in a dignity-eroding Wal-Mart trip and buying a weird stuffed man figure from a creepy dude in a van. It's refreshing that Kinane can take something as well-worn and fraught with potential condescension as the Wal-Mart experience and turn it into an empathetic look at the supposedly pathetic big-box shoppers, even if the road to get to that empathy involved a case of full-body poison oak so severe it spooks the Nam-vet store greeter.
The creepy-van-guy story quickly unfurled into the funniest bit of the night, as Kinane related the tale of how he decided to use this life-sized plush humanoid he bought for $1.36 as a prop to startle his roommate -- the catch being that the roomie wouldn't be home for another couple days, during which time Kinane decided to smoke enough weed to get him nice and paranoid about just what the chances were of this thing coming to life and menacing him. It's the best kind of self-effacement, the sort of stuff that comes from a fine-tuned ability to make your dumbest, sorriest moments into strengths. In a funny yet reverent nod to the recently-deceased Randy Savage, Kinane talked about taking the sadness that eats you up inside and wearing it like a WWF Championship belt, just straight-up owning it to the point where you're shaking your fringy jacket through all the hardship and stupidity.
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