Need a boost? Jump on Kyle Kinane’s “Trampoline in a Ditch”
today at 3:05 pm
It started as a routine flight. It ended with Kyle Kinane booted out of Canada, escorted past curious onlookers at the Calgary airport onto a plane back to L.A. Because it was Canada, the guards who “Green Miled” him onto the flight were both burly and relentlessly polite. Because it was Kyle Kinane, it is one of the most hilarious stories on any album in memory. If 2020 has us parched and thirsty for laughter, Kyle’s new album Trampoline in a Ditch is a miraculous oasis.
Describing Trampoline in a Ditch, Kyle says, “It’s like a buffet. There’s got to be something on there you’ll like.” I say it’s like a buffet because you’ll keep coming back for more.
Kyle Kinane is one of comedy’s great storytellers. Trampoline in a Ditch is his fifth album, adding to a canon that includes three comedy specials and numerous film and television credits. He is also known for his eight-year stint as Comedy Central’s announcer and, of course, for starting out at Chicago’s legendary venues: Zanies, The Lincoln Lodge and Chicago Underground Comedy.
Although his gravelly warmth and wit are entirely his own, the Addison, Illinois native hails from the “Mitch Hedberg School of Comedy Physicists,” as I like to think of them; virtuosos who perceive molecules of comedy that we mortals would otherwise miss. Seen through the lens of Kyle Kinane’s agile mind, life is a minefield but it’s filled with comedic potential.
Trampoline in a Ditch, recorded at Comedy on State in Madison, WI, is “a collection of B-sides and rarities,” many previously unreleased. It clocks in at an hour and forty-five minutes, all of which flew by and sparked my new Kyle Kinane addiction. Listen to the album and you’ll be treated to uniquely Kinanaanite insights and shenanigans. Every story is a model of how to find comedy in this fraught, sometimes joyful thing called life.
In one of my favorite tracks, he covers the misery of an “Urgent Care” visit. Questions arose. Was the staff at “Urgent Care” appropriately concerned? Did they know what they were doing? The answers were “no” and “no.” But Kyle Kinane has the situation covered to perfection, even if your insurance doesn’t.
Another memorable bit describes how dark thoughts punctured his nature hike, leading him to perceive waterfalls in a way that is unprecedented in human history. He also reveals serious issues with the name “Kyle.” A bit later, he details an odyssey with a stuffed man that will leave you breathless with laughter and primed for Halloween. It began with an invitation from a shadowy figure in a van and ended with an epic prank on Kyle’s then-roommate, comedian Matt Braunger. There are heavier topics, too. In his fearless, thoughtful style, he also addresses what it means to be a white male comedian in 2020.
Kyle kindly gave me some behind-the-scenes insights by phone about his early years in Chicago, honing his creativity, his excellent new album and the robots who are coming for us all.
IN THE BEGINNING: HBO & PARKING TICKETS
Teme: How did your stand-up career begin?
Kyle: My very first time, not counting the fifth grade talent show at Fullerton Elementary School in Addison, was an open casting call for the big HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. It was 1999 and I was working at a gas station in Wood Dale. Funny enough, I read about that audition in the Daily Herald, which is who I just had an interview with and I didn’t tell that story. There were open auditions at Zanies. Everybody got three minutes. I had always wanted to try comedy, but I never knew how to start comedy. I didn’t know about open mics. So I went and did three minutes of material in the middle of the day. I think I got about $150 in parking tickets.
A year later at Columbia College, I recognized somebody in my class from that show. His name is Johnny Berger. A shout-out to Johnny Berger and Jake’s Pizza, his business in Franklin Park! (I love plugging my friends.) I asked him, “You did stand-up?” He told me all about open mics and about the Red Lion, which at that time was run by Mark Geary who runs the Lincoln Lodge now. That was my introduction to the world. Once I found out about that, that’s when I was hooked.
Teme: What is your favorite memory from those years?
Kyle: It was such a great time because nobody was trying to be famous. They were just trying to be good. There was really no audience for stand-up, especially in the early “oughts.” In the last ten years, there’s kind of a rock star thing around stand-up. But at the time it wasn’t popular, so you were seeing everybody only because they wanted to be good at it. Now, lo and behold, here we are with people like Pete Holmes, Cameron Esposito and Kumail Nanjiani.
Everyone knew what hack comedy was. They wanted to avoid it. We saw Kumail right after September 11th, being from Pakistan with an accent, going up and not addressing 9/11 and just being this great comedian. Watching, every other comic understood, “Look at that guy just writing great jokes while we’re relying on easy punchlines. Maybe we should be better.” So it was that kind of stuff and the experimentation that people like Nick Vatterott and Brady Novak would employ just because there wasn’t a talent scout watching or anything like that.
Teme: How did you know when it was time to leave and move to L.A.?
Kyle: Well, I still don’t know if I did that one right. I left in 2003. Matt Braunger was going at the same time. So I figured, alright, I got a friend that’s going out there. In New York there’s more stage time, I knew more people, and it was a better option. But as far as I was concerned, if I was going to leave Chicago, I wasn’t going to see snow ever again. I’m going west. It’s harder to be sad underneath palm trees. I’m going to go struggle somewhere near a beach. I wasn’t ready. I could have used a couple more years of getting my chops. But you got to take a plunge in life. If you wait until you’re ready on most things, you’re never going to do it.
Teme: Did you and Matt drive out to L.A. together?
Kyle: No. He went to Oregon first where his family was and wound up sticking around there for a bit. That bought me time. I was working at a warehouse. I got a couple of extra months of saving up money, which I was appreciative for. I’m not built like, “I only moved there with $20 in my pocket.” I don’t have that kind of faith in myself. I’m like, “No, let’s have some money saved up. Try and do it with a little common sense for once in my life.”
A DOCTORATE IN COMEDY PHYSICS
Teme: You’re one of the comedians I think of as a comedian-physicist because you see things that are invisible to most people’s eyes.
Kyle: Ohhh? Go on!
Teme: There are so many things like that on your new album Trampoline in a Ditch. Like you describe a waterfall in two opposite ways that are both devastating and hilarious. Is a person born with the ability to see things in extremely creative, original ways or is it possible to develop that ability?
Kyle: Blushing in my car here doing this interview. I went to Columbia College for creative writing. I learned how to dissect everything and explore every corner of the imagination when describing something. I put that into comedy. But definitely the comedians that I had always admired do that, like Mitch Hedberg. That was my guy.
Teme: Yes, he’s one of my favorite physicists! As I listened to your album, I was thinking that you and he have that ability in common.
Kyle: At open mics, you can tell the [comic’s] influence that got them into stand-up. Like you can see where the Attell guys are. Wendy Liebman is a comic who I don’t think gets enough credit for her influence. Once you watch Wendy Liebman you’ll hear her influence on so many other comics.
Teme: I love her! Also a great physicist! So how do you learn to see the world in imaginative, truthful, hilarious ways?
Kyle: Man, I hate to give away all the tricks and give myself up! The whole waterfall joke was centered around a waterfall being like water jumping off a cliff trying to commit suicide. Then I reverse engineered it from a story about how I saw waterfalls because I like to get away from all the nonsense of the world. That’s how it became the joke. I think everybody has a thought during the day, a weirdo observation that they just keep to themselves or don’t write down.
It’s a bit of a mental illness that I have to write down all these thoughts that aren’t jokes yet. That’s what crazy people do. Somebody sitting under an underpass with a stack of notebooks feverishly scrawling is doing the same thing I’m doing. Like, “Here’s all the thoughts! I can’t forget ‘em!” If I forget them, I’m out of a job. So, for every “waterfall is a river committing suicide,” there’s about ten pages of utter garbage. It’s not clever. It’s a numbers game.
TRAMPOLINE IN A DITCH
Teme: Of course I want to ask you about Trampoline in a Ditch which I loved! How did you come up with the title Trampoline in a Ditch? I thought, wow, has anyone ever described my life as well as those four words?
Kyle: It’s from a Twitter account called “Sheboygan Scanner” which transcribes the police scanner in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. There’s no editorializing. It’s all just like, “There’s a cow in the road.” “Drunk man stumbling in front of a grocery store.” One of them was “Trampoline in a ditch.” I thought, “That’s beautiful.” There’s so much more to it than that literal report. I heard it three or four years ago and wrote it down. There’s so much poetry that I thought, “I got to employ this somewhere.” I’m glad you saw it for the poetry that it is, too.
Teme: It really struck a chord with me. It should be the name of my autobiography. How did it resonate with you?
Kyle: Well, the idea is that a trampoline is a fun thing in the yard and you use it to get a new perspective by jumping as high as you can to see things that you wouldn’t normally see from the ground. But if it’s in a ditch, you try your hardest and you still just get to see the same thing that everybody else gets to see. It’s like expectations cut short. Unrequited effort. There’s so much to it. I’m glad it resonates with people other than just me.[embedded content]
THE COMEDIC PROCESS
Teme: When you have an experience like getting thrown out of Canada or being underwhelmed at “Urgent Care,” is your mind at the time speaking to you in a comedic way or does the comedy come later as you reflect?
Kyle: Everything’s kind of funny all the time. Not that I make light of situations, but I thought the failing of the healthcare system is going to speak to anybody in America. To go to urgent care and realize that everyone in there is kicking back real relaxed, like the guy not being able to figure out my blood pressure. The whole thing just seemed silly, so [the comedy process is] like, “Alright, let’s get some bullet points down and throw a little more flourish, a little more color on the details, and you got a story.” Nothing epic happened. It was just, “Oh, this place isn’t anywhere close to being a hospital. I don’t know why we’re here thinking we’re going to get better. Because they’re not really doing much here!”
THE SECRET BEHIND THOSE TRACK NAMES
Teme: The way you name your album tracks is very unconventional. I’d love to hear more about it!
Kyle: That’s where I shoot myself in the foot for my own enjoyment. A little masochism. In earlier albums, I was taking track names from other albums. My first album’s [tracks were named from] Cheap Trick Live at Budokan, and then the next one was KISS Live.
Then some legal department caught wind of what I was doing and they were like, “You can’t do that!” and I’m like, “Well, I’ve been doing it, so really you’re just showing that you were bad at your job.” Then the last special that came out, the tracks were named for all the ingredients of all beef hot dogs. This one, the tracks are just a Myers-Briggs personality test. There’s nothing to do with the jokes and it’s frustrating for people trying to find it online. I don’t know why that makes me laugh. I’m just being a brat. That’s all it is.
“YOU GOT TO LIVE WITH NO REGRETS”
Teme: Do you have a favorite track on the album?
Kyle: The story about buying the “stuffed guy” out of a van. I’m glad I got that one down. That was just a funny story. I liked my own stupidity throughout it.
Teme: That’s a great story. The guy in the van offered you an opportunity that was impossible to turn down.
Kyle: You got to live life with no regrets. It doesn’t mean you need to go parachuting or swimming with sharks. Sometimes it’s little things like saying “yes” to a weirdo in a van trying to sell you some trash. Another bit that I liked that actually didn’t get all the laughs that I wanted to was the idea that people who play the lottery aren’t afraid of lightning. I thought that was very uniquely Midwest.
Teme: Have you made any surprise pandemic purchases?
Kyle: The purchasing thing has gotten a little bit nuts. Well, I didn’t even buy a telescope. I just had enough credit card points saved up. I love the idea of paying off credit cards and the idea that a bank gets no money out of me. So I had enough points to get a nice telescope from Capital One. Thanks, suckers! So yeah, I got a giant telescope.
You know what I hate admitting more than anything? How much targeted ads on Facebook figure me out. Everybody wants to feel that they’re better than artificial intelligence. Like, “You’re not going to get me, robot!” And I’m wearing a belt made out of a climbing rope right now to prove myself wrong. The robot figured me out and I bought a $25 piece of rope that’s a belt.
CREEPY ROBOTS KNOW THINGS ABOUT YOU
Teme: What was the most recent thing that that made you laugh?
Kyle: What caught me really off guard was the other night. I’ve been watching a show with the missus here called Alone. It’s a survival show. They drop contestants off and they have to survive in the wilderness by themselves.
We have an Apple TV and she used the little remote to say “Alone” into it to search for it. So she just went, “Alone,” and Siri, Apple TV, responded, “Are you?” We got freaked out and laughed real hard at that. I said “Alone” and the robot’s asking me if I am? That’s real creepy. Robots. Oh, they’re not even kidding anymore. They’re in your house. They’re watching you. They’re taking stock of everything you’re watching and eating and it’s getting a little weird. The algorithm is going to get every one of us sooner or later.
WHEN CAN I SEE KYLE IN PERSON?
Teme: Absolutely anything else that you would like to include about this wonderful album, upcoming tour dates, or where people can find you?
Kyle: Upcoming tour dates. I would love to have some permanence on those, but they seem to keep moving and I don’t want to put anybody in jeopardy for the sake of my selfish need to perform. So tour dates are when they happen. That’s all I can say right now. I got some set up for next April now. If there’s a real world left in April, then hey, I’ll see you out there.
Visit Kylekinane.com to listen to Trampoline in a Ditch and more.
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