“I want comedy to be taken as an art form,” Kyle Kinane says about two-thirds through his excellent special Whiskey Icarus. “I feel I put just as much heart and blood, sweat and tears into this as any musician or any sculptor, and I want it to be appreciated as such.” He then tells a short story in which he acts immaturely, eventually juxtaposing his earlier statement with “And that’s why I’m not an artist.”
Those 40 seconds capture the essence of Kinane’s comedy. The man’s a thinker. On a superficial level, the stories he tells of drunken shenanigans are just that: comedic bits with little substance beneath the words. But the personal touch he embeds into every strain of every anecdote is what gives his comedy that artistic integrity for which he strives. It’s the tone in his voice, the glances toward the floor, the pauses and the stammers in his cadence. There’s a struggle, and it’s at the heart of his act.
Kinane says at the top of the special that he believes a lot of comedy comes from “shared experiences—things that we can relate to.” His own comedy, though, is entirely rooted in his personal experiences, which points to a phenomenon of sorts: the more personal the comedy is, the more relatable it becomes.
Kinane often starts or ends a bit with an intense reflection. (“I’m trying to be more tolerant”; “I think I’m just gonna start believing in God again”; “I shouldn’t even be alive.”) These are confessions of the soul, not transparent attempts to connect. Fortunately when comedy is personal, listeners are typically more attentive. Consciously or not, they see a person taking a risk and know they are witnessing something sublime. Kinane’s comedy therefore has an effecting quality: the listener can see, hear, feel and experience the struggle with Kinane concurrently. Far from pandering, it’s the type of humor that cuts through the bullshit and, as Thoreau would put it, sucks out the marrow of life. It’s art in its purest form.
The best parts of Whiskey Icarus come when Kinane taps into this schema, seemingly without trying. At 35 years old, he finally gets his first single apartment; some people his age, Kinane remarks, are astronauts. After ordering one too many late-night pizzas, he gets one delivered that is unsliced; they know he’s going to eat it by himself. And in the shower, he discovers he can crack himself up with offhanded jokes; he knows he’s right to pursue his dreams.
Art consists in the process of channeling something inside oneself and broadcasting it outward. Inherent in the process for a comedian, though, is the struggle. And for some comedians, it’s the most important aspect of what they do. Some comedians struggle in their lives and their art more than others. The art thus resides on a spectrum, wide enough to welcome those worthy, but narrow enough to disbar the impostors. Art is not a monolith, and Kinane is no more an artist than is the musician or the sculptor. But he’s no less, either.