In the intro to Kyle Kinane’s new special, Loose In Chicago, the comic emerges from a bar, walks two doors down to the Chicago club Metro, and starts his set. There’s a certain amount of myth-making (or myth-maintaining) in this—Kinane’s persona, embodied by the title of his 2012 album Whiskey Icarus, is part of his allure. Endlessly self-deprecating (he compares himself to his fans, “hirsute fart factories smelling like expired mustard”), Kinane plays up the idea of himself as twinkly barfly gremlin, even as his sets flow with practiced, seamless storytelling. “Loose” is both a true and false description of Kinane’s comedy, his hoarse, rambling style in service of a nimble comic mind and unostentatiously subtle acting skills. A Kinane set is like the ideal outcome of being regaled in the bar by a guy who says he has something funny to tell you.
As ever, much of Loose In Chicago sees Kinane telling tales on himself. He gets a lot of mileage out of a recent gout diagnosis, a fact he attributes to, as he puts it, “living pleasurably and mildly recklessly.” Kinane may affect the conspiratorial delivery of a boozy blowhard, but his wordplay remains as sharp as ever, describing the eating habits that got him to where he is as getting “too may menu items with the word ‘rodeo’ in the description,” and summing up his lack of rigor with regard to his health as having been living in an alternate, much more forgiving reality. “I found out I had gout the same day my ghost-hunting equipment showed up from eBay,” he confides.
Part of any good barfly’s repertoire is calling out bullshit, but, here too, Kinane comes at political material from offbeat angles. Portraying himself as more of a prankster when it comes to such things (“I just like pokin’ holes in all of it”) Kinane’s hardly as cynical as he lets on. His segue from the moral quandary he’d face if the Westboro Baptist Church were the victims of a mass shooting to a rumination on why he misses the late WBC founder Fred Phelps, sees him launch into some stellar character work. Speaking of Phelps’ multifaceted bigotry, Kinane posits that only someone so truly villainous could bring together groups like gay rights activists and the Hell’s Angels in opposition to him. Kinane’s extended impression of a biker protestor finding reluctant common ground with a gay protestor is as accomplished as it is humorously human.
Kinane does spend a fair amount of time on guns, but, apart from the scaldingly direct “You kill one person on accident in America, they don’t even arrest you any more: They make you a cop,” his material is directed more at the odd edges of the gun control debate. Speaking about “open carry” states, Kinane’s routine about poorly dressed people with pistols at their sides (“a very dangerous accessory”) seems innocuous enough, until it doesn’t. “That joke takes a wild turn,” he concludes, after spinning the bit into the darkness. Later, teasing his audience of “liberal, open-minded” Chicagoans for their self-righteous food snobbery by claiming to like ketchup on his hot dogs (“Sounds like somebody’s tastebuds are Republican,” he taunts the booing crowd), Kinane is a grinning, garrulous bullshit detector.
But Kinane’s best subject is himself. Contrasting his decades-prolonged post-adolescence (“I’m 39 and I think I might still be a prodigy at something”) to the 39-year-old doctor who diagnoses his gout, he gets into a hilarious groove acting out her hypnotic, sandwich-based exam-room patter that’s so smooth, he can’t even recall her having checked his genitals. (He feels for his wallet afterward, just to be sure.) In this scene and others—like an impression of himself never leaving his favorite hot dog place—Kinane shows just what a good character man he is. He punches up anecdotes by slipping into and out of characters (himself and others) with deceptive skill. In his rough-hewn delivery, Kinane affects a sloppy, disinterested approach. In practice, he’s anything but.