Though Daniel Kinno grew up in Soviet-era Russia, he did not have the same cultural experiences as his countryman and fellow comic Yakov Smirnoff. Smirnoff, who arrived in the U.S. in 1977, famously had to have his act reviewed by the Department of Jokes when he first started doing comedy in the Soviet Union, and couldn't deviate from his government-approved set at all.
The comics Kinno grew up watching weren't under the same constraints as Smirnoff. "By the time I became aware of comedy and subversive art in general, the Soviet Union was already falling apart," Kinno says. "This was in the late '80s and early '90s. [The Soviet Union] didn't have as tight of a hold on society as it used to, so I got to see a lot of artists doing subversive things, including comedians, people making fun of the government in a very clever fashion."
[jump] Kinno quickly learned the power of good comedy, and while his interest in the subject followed him to America, it took time express his own humor.
"I was born in Ukraine, and I grew up in Russia and Belarus and sort of all over Eastern Europe," he says. "I'm not a spy, I promise." When he was 15, his family immigrated to Columbus, Ohio. "That was sort of my first exposure to American culture. I think I was lucky that we lived in a city that didn't have a large Russian population, because we were able to assimilate into American society more easily."
Interested in humor from a young age, Kinno grew up on a steady diet of Russian comedy. "I didn't hear an American comedian until I lived in Columbus." That comedian was George Carlin. "It was his album Carlin's Back in Town. It probably changed my life. Not probably," he says correcting himself. "Definitely."
"I had kept my comedy ambitions to myself, because I didn't know the language yet," he explains. "I didn't know the lay of the land. I sort of began to grow those ambitions in high school, but I didn't really do anything about it until the summer between high school and college." A few months ahead of starting college at the University of California Santa Barbara, Kinno moved out West. "I worked up the balls, and finally tried an open mic." He was hooked. Though he did attend classes, his focus was on standup. After classes each day, he would drive down to L.A., do a few open mics, drive back to Santa Barbara, wake up for class early the next day, and then do it all over again.
Eventually, he went to his parents and asked if he could leave college and try standup for a while. "That conversation went okay," he recalls. "They knew that I had always had these ambitions. We agreed I would try it for four years, and if it didn't work out, I could always go back to school. Three years later, I was working full-time as standup comedian."
At first, Kinno talked about being an immigrant. "I had a very thick Russian accent, and I talked about silly, on-the-surface things you find being an immigrant." But overall, his material had less to do with the fact that he was from another country, and more to do with his age. "I was 18 at that time, and I didn't really know anything about work or comedy." Like most young comics, he gravitated toward jokes about being young, partying, and dating.
Fifteen years later, he has more experience, and talks about things in his personal life. "My standup is very broad in terms of topics," he says. "I really want to get as personal as possible. For example, I went through a breakup recently, which was a unique experience. I learned a lot from it, and I brought that up onstage." In the old days, he would have had a completely different reaction. "I would have thought, 'I'm going through a breakup. I've got to pull it together and do a set and talk about drinking and partying. But I learned to wear it on my sleeve and take advantage of it."
After a serious discussion about comedy, Russia, and his life experiences, Kinno worries he hasn't been funny enough in the interview. "I answered all of your questions seriously. I feel I should tell some jokes." He then offers: "I watch so much porn, that once a porn star recognized me."
IF YOU GO:
Rick Bronson's House of Comedy, level four in the Mall of America
408 E. Broadway, Bloomington
7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 9:45 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 9:30 p.m. Saturday
For tickets call 952-858-8558 or visit houseofcomedy.net