Why the Voice of Comedy Central Left Hollywood Behind

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photo by Darin Kamnetz
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photo by Darin Kamnetz

When Kyle Kinane’s clean-shaven face pops up on Zoom, it’s genuinely disorienting to see him without the signature beard that has become his comedy brand over the past 15 years or so. “God, I hate brands so much,” he says. “I love nothing more than exploding personal brands.”

In this episode of The Last Laugh podcast, Kinane opens up about his decision to leave Los Angeles for Portland after losing his coveted gig as the official voice of Comedy Central, and why he no longer feels like he needs the corporate structure that has kept so many of his fellow comedians tethered to the center of the entertainment industry. He also discusses why his comedy seems to appeal to both sides of the political aisle—for better or worse—and why he has no respect for any comedian who embellishes the truth on stage in an effort to “garner sympathy.”

Early on in his new hour-long special Dirt Nap (available now to stream or download), Kinane describes himself for the audience, saying, “He looks like a jagoff but he talks about his feelings.” That more or less sums up the contradictory persona he has developed over the past couple of decades.

“The schlubby, bearded guy with a receding hairline was the Dungeons & Dragons alt-comedy guy up until January 6th, and then it quite literally took a hard right turn,” Kinane jokes of his appearance. “Now I’m just one pair of wraparound sunglasses away from using words like tyranny in casual conversation.”

The fact that he looks like a guy who may have stormed the Capitol and deliberately fled Hollywood during the pandemic means he could be claimed by the right, but Kinane says he would “rather not be associated with any political faction,” and jokes that he may start wearing Satanic Temple T-shirts to avoid any confusion.

There’s a part of him that still misses Los Angeles, but he felt like he needed to get out in order to fully relate to the people who come to see him perform on the road. “As a comedian, you get really locked into your surroundings,” Kinane explains. “Everybody from New York has jokes about the subway. Everybody from L.A. has jokes about auditions. And you sometimes forget that there’s a whole country between those two cities.”

Unlike a lot of stand-up comics, Kinane has never chased roles in film or television. “Driving around doing auditions was never something I wanted to do,” he says. “Once in a while, something would come in and I wouldn’t take it too seriously. I wouldn’t prepare for it. I’d just be pissed that it’s across the city during rush hour, and I know I’m not gonna get it.”

So instead, he focused on being the best touring comedian he could be. “I know it’s not the path—at least it wasn’t the path—to superstardom,” he says, acknowledging how much the stand-up scene has changed since he got his start in the late ’90s. “What’s really important to me is a work-life [balance]. This whole hustle culture, like you have to sacrifice your entire existence for success? I don’t subscribe to that idea of success. Your life is yours, it doesn’t belong to an industry.”

He was at what he describes as the “first peak” of his career—“maybe there’s another one coming, I don’t know”—around 2010, right after the release of his debut hour Death of the Party, when someone from Comedy Central asked him to come in and read a few promos into a mic. Kinane says the network never gave him a contract, but just kept bringing him back week after week and year after year to be the guy who tells viewers what’s “next on Comedy Central.”

“Right away my expectations were set,” he says. He remembers thinking, “You have it, you’re not going to have it forever, but you have it for now, so be grateful.” Before Kinane, the job belonged to magician Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller fame. “I don’t want to be stealing anybody’s job, but I think he’s probably doing all right,” Kinane thought at the time. “I think he’s got like a mansion in Vegas or something.”

The gig held steady for almost a decade, until he started hearing from his comedian friends that they were booking auditions to replace him. “I lost it how I got it,” he jokes. “Good thing I wasn’t spending this money, because I knew it wasn’t gonna be forever.”

Kinane ended up being replaced in 2019 by comedian David Gborie. “At least the guy who took the job is my friend and he’s awesome,” he says, generously. “It came into my life that way, it left my life that way, I had 10 years of doing it. It was a weird, silly thing that I didn’t try for, and so I’m grateful for it. The dismount I wish was a little more graceful. Ten years and then you’re just gonna start to ignore somebody? That’s a little cold-blooded. But shit, man, if I can’t handle cold-blooded, I shouldn’t be in show business. Which I’m not really, I just do stand-up.”

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Since Kinane was kicked to the curb four years ago, Comedy Central has taken a bit of a decline in both ratings and cultural footprint—though he takes credit for neither. With the rise of Netflix (and to a lesser degree, Max, Amazon, and YouTube) as the go-to destination for stand-up specials, why exactly has Comedy Central fallen by the wayside?

“If I had answers like that, I wouldn’t be talking to you from a basement in Portland,” Kinane replies with a laugh.

In terms of his own career, Kinane has been putting out specials more or less independently in recent years. But that’s not because he’s been turning the big streamers down. “Nobody’s knocking down my door,” he admits. “Netflix isn’t like, ‘You know what we need is another guy with a beard.’”

Describing Netflix as a “tech company masquerading as an entertainment company,” Kinane says he can’t fault them for putting profits before creativity. “That’s what companies do. So I can’t be pissed about it. They’re not doing it for the love of the art.”

Realizing what he’s done, Kinane quickly adds, “Anyway, if Netflix is listening, I’ve got another hour on deck.”

Listen to the episode now and follow The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts to be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Wednesday.

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