Andy Kindler: The Comic’s Comic interview

When I met Andy Kindler in Montreal
this summer after his "State of the Industry" address, Kindler paused when he
heard I'd named my site The Comic's Comic. Because, after all, when you think
of the proverbial "comic's comic," don't you think of Kindler?

Earlier: Watch our Montreal
meeting on video

We talked again earlier this month, and Kindler pointed out
that that video shows up among the top Google hits for Kindler. Huzzah!

So I tried posing the question to him that I had posited

"Posited…what is this, some egghead Website?!" Kindler
replied. "Is this for physicists? What are you trying to pull here? You're
messing with the comedy demographic."

A full minute or two of riffing ensued before we got back to
our inquiry: How would Kindler define a comic's comic (or, if you're that kind
of person, a comedian's comedian).

"I would think that anyone who's called a comic's comic is someone
who is doing stuff, that is not, they say it's inside baseball. I have this
joke about the book 'Ball Four,' but a lot of people didn't like it because it
was too inside baseball."


Kindler and I laugh. This happens a lot.

"The other comics would, maybe because of their familiarity
with comedy might laugh more at something than the typical audience member. But
I've out comic comic'd The Comic's Comic. I'll reference a comic that nobody
remembers in the 80s but me," he said. "It's hard to put a definition on it, because different
people are called a comic's comic for different reasons," he says. "For me it's
because I deconstruct stuff, like I just do a thing like a sound effect of the
airplane pilot voice…so I take that joke, 'this is your pilot speaking if you
look out on the right side of the plane, it's 1989 and someone is doing a McNugget
joke, and if you look out at the left side of the plane it's 1984 and someone
is doing a ridiculous Jack Nicholson impression."

Tell me more about your gig as a correspondent on Late Show
with David Letterman
. How often do you get to do that?

"I've been doing, like, I want to say six, seven times a
year, but more this year, because I did three days in a row at the Republican
National Convention. We did like a live satellite remote which was really fun. That
was the first time I had done a live satellite. Nailed it! A delay doesn't
affect my comedy."

You haven't experienced satellite interviews before with
cable news?

"You know I have not as yet," he says. "I will on this
Sunday (Nov. 23) be on CNN's Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz. I met him at
the convention…so I'll be on his show. But I'm noticing now how people do it. One
guy had a monitor, which I usually don't see them have, so they have different
people in different locations and they'd show him looking to the left."

Related: Read the transcript of Kindler's CNN appearance.

How do you feel about the fact that the industry loves
hearing you roast them, so much so that they packed the room for your "State of
the Industry" address in Montreal
this summer, then cleared out and skipped out on the celebration that followed
for Judd Apatow?

"That gave me a lot of satisfaction until I got back to town
and realized that I had no money in my checking account. I felt I had one-upped
him until my landlord asked me for the rent. Until we compared bottom lines."

Do you feel as though your "State of the Industry" has
gotten bigger and more important now than before? "It's hard to say that, because it goes through different
stages. At first it was the novelty of wow, I get to do this every year? And
then that novelty wore off. It ebbs and flows. I change it up. I used to do
more stuff with the trades, but I gave that up. And the crowd changes. In the
old days, when the festival in the 90s was still generating people going up
looking for a sitcom deal, those first-line executives would come up. Now they
don't come up but they may send their representatives…Montreal
goes crazy for it. Used to be development season in the summer, people would buy
everything. Now everything is all crazy because of the strike and how TV is
these days and there's not as many sitcoms with stand-ups."

"The speech, though, has to me, been I love doing it because
it makes me focus. I'm very organized. So I write down things in the book and
date it. I do an hour of new material about the business. They're more stories
of things that are happening. They're not jokes sometimes I can use that are
jokes for Joe Six-pack, Joe the Plumber might like, that Joe Q. Public. The
Comic's Comic…you don't have to be a comic's comic to enjoy Andy Kindler's humor?"

A lot of your speeches are devoted to the evils of the
industry. Are there some things and people in comedy you enjoy? "I do say I love Colbert," Kindler says. "Over the course of
the hour, you'll see where my interests lay. I owe it all to the bad comedy…I
would say my number one person I love is Colbert. I love that show. I'm crazy
about it. It's more timeless in a way than The Daily Show, because it's not as
dependant on the story. It's his personality. So I don't think it'll suffer
with Obama in office. Now that it's back to what it was. So maybe it's even
more hilarious."

"And I love Ricky Gervais. He's the greatest. The Office, I
love obviously. I just think he's really funny."

"And I love Flight of the Conchords. They were on the
alternative show that I hosted (in Montreal).
I like to say I discovered them. But they were, I was among the first thousand
or two thousand to have discovered them. Or you could say I'm responsible for
their career."

Who will you take credit for next year? "I like to take credit for the denouement of Dane Cook's
career, the crashing and burning of his persona."

You know Cook was one of the big headliners again this year
at The Comedy Festival in Las Vegas,
don't you? "Entertainment Weekly, they had a fold-out with Dane's face.
You know he looks so handsome. 'I'm a complicated figure. It's not as easy as
it looks.' I will take credit next year for the reunion of Cheech and Chong.
Maybe that's what Dane Cook should have…it's complicated. Like that Facebook
joke, Todd Barry has that joke, that great Facebook joke. I'll take credit for
Cheech and Chong next year, and anything else TBS does."

"I'm a hack's hack. I will say though I love…Letterman, too.
One of his writers, his name is Joe Grossman. Someone was claiming to be the
incarnation of the Buddha, I guess that was a real story. They had him come out
and say I can't believe he's not Buddha. So even though I make fun of wordplay,
I love it." 

"I was on the 'Root of All Evil'…there is a like an obnoxious
person living right below the surface…if the NRA gets their way they'll move to
other amendments…I am the anti Andy Griffith telling a story. I get bored with
it. That's what makes me a comic's comic. I get annoyed by my own act."

Do you get to be yourself on the Root of All Evil? "They really want it to be for the comic themselves. So they're
very happy if the comic wants to write their own material," he says. "But then
they do have writers who write that brief history stuff, and those writers will
collaborate once we get a script together. Then we sit down, and they take my stuff
and punch it up. I like to over-prepare…Paul F. Tompkins, he was arguing PETA, and
I was arguing NRA. We have worked together so much that we feel we can improv…that's
what's so much fun. But it's hard sometimes, because you have a time

Looking back on your career, what would you have to say to
the Andy Kindler who was on HBO's Young Comedians? "I would have said, please if there's a god in heaven, buy
an apartment or something and try to generate more income. Don't watch so much
Hardball on MSNBC. That's a tough one, because careers are so weird. You can't
predict stuff. There's so much ebbs and flows. Now when I see myself performing
there, it seems like, I don't look at my act as it is now, it's more amped and
physical than I'd be now. It wasn't as developed. But I wouldn't have been that
developed. They had to have some basis for making me a young comedian," he
says. "In order of income levels from that show, that'd be a nice chart. I
would be below Bill Bellamy. Maybe Nick DiPaolo. It's not about income when you're
a comic's comic. It was a petty amazing roster when you look at it in
hindsight: Janeane (Garofalo), Judd (Apatow), Ray (Romano), Andy Kindler." He
giggles. "I would have said to myself: Take one thing in your act,
beat it to death and make it a sitcom, like you're the guy who complains about

Were you already a comic's comic at that point? "At that point, that definitely pre-developed. That started after that. You
know what. I'm sorry. That's not true. Because the one thing I ended the
special with is the one I do about the washed-up comedian…I got to the club. I
asked for an advance. He said how much? I said how much does an eight-ball go
for? Heheheh…that thing really is a comic's comic-y thing."

Do you ever think about the fact that your routine and your Montreal
speeches let you say things to the show-business industry that most other
comedians could never get away with saying aloud? "I don't know if they give me a complete pass," he says. "There
are repercussions for the stuff I've done. I'm sure there are things I haven't
gotten because I've alienated people…I try to keep my topics high…early on it
was more angry, and that could be more entertaining or compelling, but I
decided to change it so it has a more of a roast-type feeling. I weigh, how
funny is the joke? I don't want to go too long of just having a point. I don't
want to be preachy preacher man. The son of a preacher man." He sings…

Do you feel a difference in how your act plays in New
York City and Los Angeles
vs. clubs on the road? "It's a weird thing, it really depends on the club. I've been
in places in New York where I can
feel like I could be anywhere in the country. Not Comix, because they do a good
job of advertising for the specific show, but I've had other gigs where I felt that
way. And L.A. is different because
I don't get paid. L.A. is annoying
that way but I feel less pressure. I basically play the alternative rooms there

"I was just in Cedar Rapids.
Some of the shows were really fun. But it's different. I do feel there's less
of a difference. I do the same act everywhere. There are some things that won't
go over as well outside of New York
and L.A., it's too industry-centric.
But I'm surprised at stuff that does translate. I never know where my act is
going to go. I did this joke about staying at a Holiday Inn Express. Walking
around telling people, what's the rush? Can't we just enjoy the Holiday Inn

"I think that the one thing I'd say, I'm restless in
general, which is good for a comedian. I don't want to be the hotel guy or this
crazy thing happened to me on the road guy…I do find it to be an unending
delight when things turn out horribly in popular culture."

Such as this: "You're not allowed to yell fire in a crowded theater. Which,
of course, makes you want to yell out fire in a crowded theater. Actually you
can yell out 'fire in a crowded theater' the complete phrase. Because that's
just confusing. But you can yell out 'Fire!' at any screening of Paris Hilton's
'Repo! The Genetic Opera' because the theater will not be crowded. The theater
will be empty."

Did they get that joke in Cedar Rapids?

"No, they didn't like that joke. But I blame myself in a
way. Because I hadn't developed it. I just added the whole phrase is confusing
right now, that should be funnier. But I still didn't get any laugh at any
screening of Paris Hilton's 'Repo! The Genetic Opera.' Because I don't think it's
gotten any buzz. People don't know its out. Even Rotten Tomatoes doesn't want
to waste its fruit."

Kindler starts thinking about the recession and wondering how the economy will impact live comedy and comedy clubs.

"I'm starting to think all the terms will be out of date,
because alternative comedy will be more mainstream," Kindler says. "Because it
used to be when I started, all comedy was alternative comedy. It was in the mid
1980s, after the afterglow of comedy in the 1970s. There would have been no
reason to have the term alt comedy until the 90s because that was when
mainstream comedy clubs became so terrible, that that's why the other venues
opened up. I loved comedy when I got involved."

And then everything went awry and hacky.

"I wrote that article in National Lampoon, The Hack's
, in 1991, that's what gave me the impetus for State of the Industry,"
he says. "In 1995 I put on a demonstration at the Just For Laughs festival,
with the comics who were there that year, including Patton Oswalt and Blaine
Capatch. The next year I started delivering the State of the Industry address."

Is it possible for something hack to become unhack over time?
I ask this because I see comedians in New York
and elsewhere telling airplane jokes that I thought had been determined long
ago to be no-no territory. Made me wonder if some comedians feel as though
audiences haven't heard the jokes in long enough that it's safe to start
telling them again.

"I think it just depends on what you do with it. Bill Hicks,
he'd do stuff about airplanes or anything he wanted because he didn't care if it
was popular or not, he was doing his own thing. You could tell him people have
done jokes about airplanes, but it didn't matter because he was doing his own
take on it," Kindler says. "I know I can get laughs if I go into certain topics. Like Cialis.
As a comic, you just know that. But some of those things you learn and get out
of your system really fast. Like sexual stuff, it's just too easy. But then
some people go very blue."

You know even Jerry Seinfeld does a Cialis joke or two in
his act. "He's in his own…I think it's very hard for someone like him,
because he's so big, you can't just go out and do sets…it's always part of a
curse. Eddie Murphy said something about that, not wanting to go out and perform,
because he didn't know if people were laughing at his jokes or if they were
laughing because he's Eddie Murphy."

What else is on your mind? "I'm trying to start a Department of Humor in the Obama
Administration," he says. "I want to be the Secretary of Funny. I think if we
come up and regulate comedy, we can avoid future Larry the Cable Guys. Deregulation
is what brought about Larry the Cable Guy and the Blue Collar Tour."

Whom would benefit under your leadership as Secretary of Funny?

"Zach (Galifianakis) calls me first before doing anything. I'm
responsible for Zach. I'm responsible for Eugene Mirman. I'm responsible for
John Mulaney,. I created John Mulaney in a lab years ago. I was trying to come
up with a comedy machine. When I was his age, I could not form a sentence. This
guy is boom-bang-boom-bang-boom! I used to have a Law & Order bit, but it
was so horrible compared to his…it sticks in my craw when kids that young are
so good. I like late bloomers."

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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