Kyle Kinane is a gifted storyteller with an innate sense of rhythm and timing, but what separates him from other comedians with similar styles is his optimistic worldview. On the surface, Kinane’s stand-up consists of self-deprecating stories about casually fucking up—taking a shit in a Chicago dive bar, drunken cab rides to Wendy’s, accidentally throwing out laundry money in a 7/11—but Kinane never wallows in self-pity or uses his life purely as a punchline. Instead, he takes what would otherwise be cranky, articulate rants and turns them into redemptive tales. By putting a positive spin on daily disappointments and minor setbacks, he implicitly asks the audience to find the silver lining in their mistakes and regrets.
In fact, Kinane’s first bit in his new special, I Liked His Old Stuff Better, concerns just that type of heartwarming optimism in the face of futile despair. Kinane talks about how one of the keys to happiness is to “redefine what a miracle is to yourself,” and then proceeds to tell a story about how he burned his laundry. Instead of getting angry or depressed, he was overjoyed because he had no idea such a turn of events was even possible. In the hands of a lesser comedian, this story would have opened a window into bitterness, but with Kyle Kinane, it becomes a funny, yet subtly powerful yarn about looking at life with a fresh set of eyes.
I Liked His Old Stuff Better has fewer “scumbag stories” (his words not mine, as described in this flattering Grantland profile) than Death Of The Party or Whiskey Icarus, but that’s to be expected. Kinane has experienced a certain amount of success, and it’s only natural for a comedian’s perspective to evolve over time, but it hasn’t made his stand-up any less funny or insightful. In I Liked His Old Stuff Better, Kinane tells a story about his parents trying to buy an issue of Hustler magazine that contained an interview with their son and relates his internal struggles with saying “God bless you” to a sneezing cat. There’s also a Proustian recollection about finding love in unexpected places, prompted by a Lionel Richie tune he heard while drinking in the shower. Though he peppers in stories from his youth, including an uproarious bit about his interaction with a “party cop,” Kinane is still capable of finding the strange beauty in the mundane, with material that describes how menial tasks can become feats of strength with the right attitude.
Though a lot of the comedy comes from Kinane’s vivid, detailed writing, it’s his folksy Midwestern delivery that really sells the material. Kinane never comes off like someone on a stage telling jokes, but rather like a good friend sitting with you at a bar talking about his day. He sounds wise beyond his years—like an old soul with a knowing world-weariness—but he never sounds tired. He has a youthful energy that can’t be contained by years of banging his head against the wall. Kinane rides that line between enthused and defeated, romantic and cynical, settling into a comfortable middle ground that allows for both childlike wonder and seasoned jadedness. It’s a testament to Kinane and his comedy that he never tips over into either side of that divide.
At the beginning of I Liked His Old Stuff Better, Kyle Kinane describes himself as “happy.” He readily admits it’s a weird stance for a comedian to take, but it’s actually refreshing to hear someone in Kinane’s line of work talk about his life without affected despair. It’s comforting to hear a comedian discuss the daily grind of being in this world without adopting a false sense of superiority to it all. Kinane’s natural, open-minded approach allows for sharper insights and funnier anecdotes because it comes from such an honest, compelling place. Listen to how he talks about watching a woman in line at the bank take the time to place a chained pen back in its holder and you’ll hear someone who takes a certain kind of joy in living. Watch him use the breadth of the stage and command the crowd with his voice and you’ll see someone who’s happy to be doing what he does for a living. It doesn’t matter if he’s contemplating his choices or reveling in questionable decisions, Kinane captivates his audiences because of his relaxed, genuine perspective. Despite the title of this special, Kinane’s new stuff is just as good as his old stuff, and it can only get better from here.