Let me give you the breakdown: After two weeks of rescheduling phone interviews (me-flu Andy-stomach virus) we finally connected this past weekend, and I enjoyed a conversation with Andy Kindler that was such a pleasure. When the interview ended, I was beyond excited to share all of it, and give you insight into who Andy is, and had such high hopes of the incredible conversation translating to the pages of SO. Then I checked my recorder. Almost an hour and half of greatness, all ruined by some feedback from some other electronic device that was near me during the interview. Technology gone bad. I ended up with an hour and a half of what sounded like old school dial-up Internet with non-stop beeps and errrrrs, and the distant voice of one of the funniest comedians in the world in the background that I couldn’t make out.
Andy will be appearing on David Letterman tonight, so make sure and watch it or DVR it as it’s a can’t miss. Read on for an interview that I can only compare to a glass vase that was dropped, shattered, then sloppily taped back together. If it was anyone else, this whole thing might have been ruined, but the good news for us is Andy makes even something gone bad seem perfectly good.
I grew up on David Letterman. He was and is my late night guy. Andy came up in the comedy boom of the late 80’s, but my first memory of him was on The Late Show. He was this funny guy that became a regular guest doing special reporting on things such as political conventions or the Super Bowl, discussing pop culture and just always doing something interesting and hilarious. I remember thinking “that guy has balls!” because he would put himself in awkward situations and not skip a beat, rolled with everything, and in turn I became a fan.
He was one of the judges on last summers “Last Comic Standing”, a contributor to “The Daily Show” in its early years, had a recurring roll on “Everybody Loves Raymond”, featured on “Comedy Central Presents”, and now voices the character Mort on Fox’s new animated show Bob’s Burgers. So you probably recognize him.
It’s interesting to compare comedians that came up in that late 80’s boom, to the alternative comedy/Internet driven boom that has been going on the past 5-10 years. In the 90’s it was traditional, mainstream comedy that would turn in to bad sitcoms. However, the alternative comedy that is so evident today was already in place with people like Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Paul F. Tompkins and others, and Andy was in the middle of it all. Most comedians weren’t able to transition from traditional to alternative; some were either one or the other. Labels aside, Andy has stayed a major influence in comedy for over 20 years. When talking with most comedians, three names are always mentioned, the guys other comics look up to: Paul F. Tompkins, Todd Barry, and Andy Kindler.
Serial Optimist: So you’re married, correct?
Andy Kindler: Yes. I’ve been married for eight years, and dating the same lady since 1992.
SO: What is your traveling schedule like? How much are you on the road? Does it ever get to you?
AK: Depending on the year, I’m on the road about two weekends every month.
When I first started comedy I would be doing clubs that were Tuesday-Sunday. I went on the road through the comedy boom of the late 80’s early 90’s, so that was insane. Now clubs are more reasonable being just Friday and Saturday.
The traveling doesn’t really get to me, there’s something about the physical aspect of it all where the next day I’m just dragging around, and going through the existential pain of it all.
SO: Do you consider yourself more of a traditional comedian, compared to the improv comedians of UCB, for example?
AK: Those categories can start to become crazy, but I guess I would consider myself an alternative comedian. I started out in mainstream comedy clubs and I feel a very strong connection to the tradition of comedy and I’m still fascinated by all that stuff, and also by alternative comedy. There’s been so many different ways of what you could call alternative comedy. In my career in the 90’s I was part of that whole movement with Janeane Garofalo, Kathy Griffin, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, and all the others. In mainstream comedy what was happening at that time was there were all these comedy clubs opening up, all this comedy on TV, and it was all so bad. So many comics that were friends of mine were squeezed out that formed this identity to go and perform these alternative shows, and then these people who try to define alternative comedy a certain way and to me that’s ridiculous because I love Brian Regan and he’s no less funny because he make mainstream audiences laugh.
SO: How much do you think the Internet has kind of democratized comedy?
AK: Well I think the Internet is kind of a double edge sword. There was just this article I think in the NYT or something about this family, there was a father who was in his 40’s and he almost missed an offer to buy his business that was sent over email, but because he had so many different emails he couldn’t distinguish what was an important email over what was not an important email, so he almost missed the sale. The point of the article was how we are adjusting to the technology, and I spend way too much time doing just that.
I have a “like” page, a Twitter, so I’m already spending way too much time setting these things up, then checking them. Someone said every time you check your email it takes you at least three minutes to get back in to what you were doing. So if you’re writing or whatever it is you’re doing all this stuff becomes a major distraction. On the other hand, with things like Twitter, I complained on something about Rachel Maddow, and then Kelly Oxford responded: “She looks at the world through Rhodes Scholar glasses.” I love that kind of bantering thing of how all of social networking comes together. And there is no question that 20 years ago I couldn’t get people out to a show like how I can now. So it works for stuff like that.
SO: A comedian recently told me that “The person who is the life of the party off stage, always center of attention, is usually the worst comedian performing that night, compared to the socially awkward person in the corner off stage, who usually kills when they go on.” Thoughts?
AK: In someway maybe that can be true. For me, if comics are all hanging around, I will be somebody who’s constantly joking and in that way I might kind of be the class clown or whatever you want to call it. But I’m always sensitive. You have to keep an eye on it. Like Robin Williams who becomes so insecure and uncomfortable within his own skin, you constantly have to go for the joke. So I can see how the class clown can be the least funny person.
SO: Right now who are your favorite comedians?
AK: Well I would put Zach Galifianakis at the top because I just feel that he is so funny in so many different ways, where I also think he really is an amazing actor, and I say that as someone who feels can act. But I’ll watch him and think: “Wow. He’s very much able to be himself onscreen as the way he is off-screen.” I’m always incredibly impressed with people who are able to commit humor without talking. And he’s really one of those W.C. Fields, or whatever you want to call it where you just look at him and you’re laughing. So he’s always at the top of my list.
SO: Todd Barry, Paul F. Tompkins, and you are really the comic’s comic, like the guys that ‘ARE THE GUYS’ at the upper echelon that other comics look up to.
AK: It’s really cool to hear that. I think the person I most feel similar to although our acts are way different would be Paul F. Tompkins. I don’t know why but I just feel like he’s my comedic brother because he makes me laugh all the time, and I also feel like, not that we look at things the exact same, but I kind of really see similarities between us.
SO: Paul was one of my first comedian interviews, and it went SO bad! I just wasn’t prepared for how whip sharp, and super smart all comedians are. He called me out on what was just a horrible question, and I remember thinking: “I can interview the most famous person in the world, any actor, ANYONE, but nothing is as intimidating as interviewing a comedian.”
AK: I can see that. Paul is just at the top of that. And Kelly Oxford is the one who made the Rhodes Scholar comment on the Rachel Maddow thing I tweeted.
SO: So, was that a joke?
AK: Oh yeah, yeah. Maddow is a Rhodes Scholar, so that was the joke.
SO: See that’s what I’m saying! You all are so much smarter than me! Of course this would happen right after I mention being intimidated my comedians!
AK: Don’t feel bad. I’m a political junky, so that’s why I would know she’s a Rhodes Scholar.
SO: Let me steer away from anything else that might make me sound bad. Your DVD, “I Wish I Was Bitter”, tell me about that, and is it available on your website?
AK: Yes, available on my website. It’s the only DVD I’ve put out myself, and I’m really proud of it. It’s from 2003, and we made a special collectors edition with a 2003 glossary included.
SO: It was interesting for me to learn you started playing the violin at age four, then after a broken arm started playing guitar at 15, and your initial love was music. The opening music on this DVD and the closing song are by you and a friend right? I love that.
AK: Yes, that is correct. Not very many people would know that fact.
SO: How can you describe your style of comedy on stage?
AK: I would describe my style, as hopefully the person you see on stage, is the person I am off stage.
Something that has developed over the last couple years is that I will say anything that just comes to my head on stage. I used to feel I was doing that, but now if a joke doesn’t work, I’ll talk about the joke, I’ll explain the joke.
SO: How did that develop?
AK: That comes from being a big fan and attracted to the self-deprecation school of comedy: Woody Allen, Richard Lewis, Letterman, and Carson.
There are some comics who feel the need to talk about sex, and other stuff like that, but I want to keep parts of myself private. I’m not like the guy, who is it, Jim Norton, that tells the stories about getting with strippers and stuff like that, which I might not find funny. But then someone like Mike Destefano, who talks about heroin addiction, in a genuine way, is something I find more compelling. So I’m kind of old school in that I try to be considerate about those kinds of things.
SO: What little things in life make you happy? What makes you smile on a daily basis?
AK: Well I’ve gotten addicted to high-end coffee. And I’m just obsessed with it. And it’s these independent roasters like Stumptown and Counter Culture, and then the whole idea is that they’re all basically light roast coffees that you consume very quickly after they’re roasted. I’ve gotten this whole ritual where I have a carafe and I boil water, I flush all the grounds and so that makes me smile every morning when I’m home. I love it.
SO: My parents have been on the same kick, they LOVE exotic beans, and grinding different kinds of not your basic coffee.
AK: I’ve also got a Virtuoso Preciso, which is one of the top end grinders, and I LOVE it. I grind the beans right before the coffee, and it’s great, so make sure and tell them about that. Actually, I should change my stage name to Virtuoso Preciso.
SO: Strong name! But see, then I would expect a magician.
AK: Yep, that’s what I do! I’m a magician with words!
SO: Thanks so much Andy!
SO Note: Make sure and check out Andy’s website andykindler.com for touring info and his DVD, he is a must follow on Twitter @KindlerAndy, and watch the new series Bob’s Burgers on Fox Sun 8:30/7:30 CST.
*Photos taken by photographer, and Andy’s wife Susan Maljan, check out her wonderful website.