Welcome to “Humor of the Beast,” a recurring series where we interview the funniest people about their favorite band, as well as the impact heavy music has had on their lives and in comedy.
Kyle Kinane is one of the most respected, relatable, and fearless comedians touring the world today. Yet he quickly confessed to being a tad nervous upon visiting Metal Injection’s website in preparation for our interview. “Oh man… they’re gonna hang me out to dry for my [favorite] bands,” Kyle admitted.
Sure, this website isn’t the first place you’d expect to hear someone rave about Tesla or profess their undying love of hair metal ballads despite relating more to punk rock. Yet hearing it from Kinane, whose affection for 80s hard rock and his deep punk roots are no secret, somehow feels right… and rather convincing …. Hmm, maybe Tesla isn’t all that bad…
Read highlights from our conversation with Kinane on why Tesla stood out from the rest, how he tried (and failed) to play guitar like Slash and Vernon Reid, what led to him embracing the Chicago punk scene, and why he holds such high regard for singers like David Lee Roth but NOT for Motley Crue.
What is it about Tesla that stands out to you?
I mean… there were very few bands that I went overboard for or went “No matter what they do, I’m going to be a fan and own the whole catalog.” But as far as metal or hard rock bands, Tesla is always the one that comes to the forefront. Tesla was never completely glammed out in the 80s, they seemed like a bar band that played good rock music.
… Everybody had to have a ballad to get on the radio, and I was a sucker for all of them. I think pretty much every ballad [had me go], “This is about real heartbreak! I’m just so heartbroken!” I didn’t know what heartbreak was – I was 12!
So, every ballad was arbitrarily very important to me, and “Love Song” was the best of those ballads. Then I got The Great Radio Controversy – just a great album that was also referencing [Serbian engineer] Nikola Tesla. While everyone else was like, “Fucking chicks and the devil!”, here’s Tesla singing about the guy who had his ideas stolen by Thomas Edison. So, I felt by osmosis or by association marginally smarter than the people still listening to Ratt.
There was an element of songwriting [with Tesla]. I mean … yeah, some of that songwriting was kinda hokey, but the music’s still great! They’d be singing about scientific espionage from 200 years ago, then they’d have a song about like, “Hey let’s just have fun guys, it’s gonna be alright!”
I was never angry as a kid, so even when I got into punk rock I never got into the “overthrow the government” kind of shit. Like, “What government? We’re all 15! We don’t know what anarchy is!”
Did you ever get to see Tesla live?
I’ve never seen them live because once I was old enough to drive, I was fully submerged into the suburban punk scene of the Greater Chicago area … It was like, “Oh, well I’m punk rock now, so can’t listen to my old music.” But I still put the ballads on because there’s nothing in punk rock that can take the place of a good, heartbroken ballad.
Is there a particular song from Tesla that brings back a very strong memory, good or bad, as soon as you hear it?
Well “Love Song” is [their] best. I remember how that would be the song in my head that would keep me going as a caddy at a golf course in Elmhurst, IL in Junior High. Also, to this day I still try to play guitar. I’m terrible at it, but I would listen to a good 80s wailing solo, and I remember being like, “Man, I’m gonna practice and learn that!” Never did. I did learn the weird classical guitar opening, but then I gave up and went “Good enough!” I’m not real ambitious with guitar.
So that song, and “Comin’ Atcha Live” … I mean, I still listen to that song today! That song just kicks ass! That song, “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour and the last half of “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses in equal parts gave me more energy than I ever thought I could have. [Those songs] were like crack to me.
I mean, do you remember when just the idea of music was relatively new [to you], like “Wait, it can sound like this? But also sound like that?!” … So when a song like Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” came on – that song blew me away on every level… and it’s still great!
Living Colour really doesn’t get enough credit in general.
Seriously not enough credit! You want to talk about a band that just blows your stereotypes out of the water… like, “Alright, well they’re playing heavy metal and crushing it. And there’s a stereotype that black people don’t like to swim… but these guys are wearing Body Glove wetsuits. They’re ready to hit the beach!” [laughs] They just made you go, “Oh wait, so anyone can do anything… well, that’s great! That should be a lesson learned well early on!”
… I mean, “Kickstart My Heart” – take out any context of what you might think about Motley Crue nowadays, however many commercials or how overused it’s been – you remember the first time you heard that song, and it’s one of those songs where you’re like, “Holy shit! Some idiots did that with instruments?! A bunch of dummies made this sound?!” That song is the fucking tops…
Sadly there still is talent [involved]. You don’t have to be smart to have talent at certain things. So, I got really frustrated because I bought a guitar thinking, “Oh, I’m gonna learn Slash’s parts in ‘Paradise City’ or Vernon Reid’s stuff in ‘Cult of Personality’!” And as soon as I started [to try], I went “No, there’s not a chance.”
Then I heard punk band Screeching Weasel. I bought their CD and learned all of their songs within three weeks. Not to oversimply what they’re doing, but that meant a lot more to me. I never heard of them until a friend took me to see them – there was like 300 people in line on a Sunday night waiting to get into an all ages show for a band I’d never heard of, weren’t on the radio or MTV. I was like, “How can this many people know about something that’s not on these traditional channels of exposure?”
That’s how I started to get into punk rock music. Sonically that’s what I wanted to hear, I wanted fast stuff … That’s where my cousin came in, giving me older stuff he’d hear from the skate park or from guys he was riding BMX with. He gave me a compilation that had bands like Agent Orange, Fugazi, T.S.O.L., and a lot of those bands kind of skirted the metal scene a little bit.
Did you find punk more relatable while listening to metal was more about “fantasy”?
Yeah, very much so! Like I’d go to a punk show… and it all seemed very equal at a punk show. You’d find yourself going, “Oh, the guy you were in a mosh pit with at a show last week? He’s in the next band!” It made everything so accessible. YOU could be in a band… I can watch that guy play and figure it out on my guitar! Like, “Oh, I’m going to a show in a basement somewhere… I have a basement! I can have a show!” So the DIY thing is what comedy is doing now – where everybody’s like, “Oh, you don’t want me to play your club? I don’t give a shit about your club! I’ll have a show in my apartment!”
Is there a stronger connection between punk and comedy than there is between metal and comedy?
I mean, a lot of punk guys were funny anyways – they didn’t take themselves seriously, so I think that did lend itself to comedy. But bands like Tool and Clutch reference Bill Hicks, probably because of the social commentary part of it. But for the time Hicks was great, but he died early enough where he didn’t become just another insufferable libertarian like all these other older comics.
I liked the punk guys because they were already funny. Like, I’d watch this band called The Meshuggenehs… they’d get on stage, and [the guitarist] couldn’t tune his guitar right, then go, “Ah fuck it, I got your money!” and then would just start playing. That’s hilarious to me.
It’s as if there’s more self-awareness in punk and comedy than compared to hair metal.
Yeah! I remember skateboard kids would wear these t-shirts with very flat, block letter slogans, and one of them simply said, “I Love Slayer” in a very dumb way, because the kids in the Slayer shirts had all of these elaborate, death metal logos. I think in their own circles, metalhead kids were funny but outwardly they always seemed to take themselves SO seriously – like, c’mon man! You’re 16! Really, we gotta do the Satan shit? … I went to a show to have fun, not to be miserable and banging my head.
The hair metal stuff was silly… but it was never “good comedy” – it was “bad, dumb comedy.” Don’t get me wrong… I’m gonna laugh at a fart joke until the day I die. If I don’t, it means I’m already dead. But there’s a difference between intentionally doing dumb comedy – knowing that it’s stupid and being aware but still appreciating it – versus not being aware.
Like, there’s nothing more insulting as a comedian than seeing bands do terrible banter onstage, and the audience just laughs because it’s their favorite musician making a joke. It’s the same as seeing a comedian try to transfer into music, and they’re a horrible musician but people are like, “He’s expressing himself!” No, he sucks at this!
That reminds me of when I saw Motley Crue on their farewell tour at Madison Square Garden. A few songs in, Nikki Sixx tells everyone to sit down and proceeds to go into how the band formed … as if no one in MSG that night had read The Dirt.
Oh boy… and even The Dirt, I read that when it came out, and was like, “These guys are fucking idiots!” There was no moment of redemption, or awareness, or maturity. And the same thing with the NOFX autobiography [NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories]! Those guys also mostly came off like dirtbags!
I mean, if you’re dumb, you’re dumb! I can’t fault anyone for that – but some people just refuse to obtain new knowledge, and some people just aren’t capable of it. I don’t know Tommy Lee – he seems like he just wants to have fun with his big dick and his drums, and what more do you want from that guy?
Do you think comedians have more of a responsibility to “grow” or are they just as guilty as some big rockstars?
I think [it depends on] what you want to see out of a performer… With comedians, I mean you got a guy like Ron White who can tell you a story about drinking too much and getting in trouble, but he says it in a way that’s like, “Yeah, I made mistakes, but I’m trying to learn from them!” It comes off as wisdom…
I don’t think it’s cool to see a guy that’s 50 going, “Man I got fucked up last night!” Dude, you got kids! [laughs] This is more sad than it is fun! And as a performer, I wouldn’t want to look at an audience of people my age throwing up in the aisles. It happens, but I wouldn’t want the whole audience to be made up of people trying to do shots onstage.
But it depends [on the act]. There’s some people you don’t want to see grow up. You don’t want to see Emo Philips [grow up] – you want to see him be the best, weird, wacky joke writer in comedy… AC/DC’s songs are still the same, you know they’re gonna sing metaphors for rock n’ roll or tits n’ ass, but you know it’s AC/DC and you’re grateful that they’re still doing it! But I wouldn’t want to see Vince Neil out of breath singing “Kickstart My Heart” when that’s literally what they might have to do half way through the show. That’s depressing!
… You know, Tesla never seemed corny [to me]. I mean, [Jeff Keith’s] voice is a little rougher nowadays, and I’m not sure what the current lineup is, but they always seemed like a working-class band [playing music] because they loved doing it.
What if you were in the middle of a set, and suddenly you see Tesla in the crowd watching you perform – what would you do or say?
It’s funny, I’d be hard pressed to recognize Tesla right now. But you know what – if they came to my show randomly, then I’d just try to put on the best show I could for some aging rockers. And if they came to my show on purpose because they were like, “Hey this guy likes us, let’s show up!” then I’d be a little bit more nervous. But I wouldn’t know what Tesla’s sensibilities are…
But if Tesla was there being cool, and not looking around going like, “Oh I hope people know we’re in Tesla,” I would absolutely be stoked and hopefully not get thrown off my tracks, and then afterwards I would go, “Hey Tesla, you guys are great! You guys still wear the same clothes from the 80s because you weren’t cheese-dicking around with teased hair and leather pants – you guys can still wear jeans! That says a lot!”
Now on the flipside of that – what if I could do comedy on one of these Monsters of Rock cruises? I don’t think I would do very well. I don’t think a regular audience of 80s rock fans would like my comedy [laughs].
Well I know you’ve toured with punk bands before, so I was curious if the idea of opening for a hair metal band would appeal to you.
I would try anything. I just don’t think it would go well [laughs].
Did you find it more difficult to perform standup in front of a concert crowd?
No, because a lot of people who were coming out [to the tour I did with The Falcon and Arms Aloft] knew who both me and the bands were at the time. So that helped… It’s never the greatest, but it was definitely something I wanted to try. The only time it was tough was in Montreal, where it was a non-English speaking crowd and people just thought I was a roadie testing the mic for an hour. They were like, “The mic works! Get off stage!” but in French.
But I was never more psyched than when I heard bands would listen to comedy in their van because they were sick of listening to music every night on tour. That made me so excited, regardless of what comedy they were listening to. That’s cool that they would entertain [giving it a listen] and not think it was cheesy, because I always thought standup was kind of hokey in the late 90s / early 00s. Now it’s cool! Before I would be embarrassed to tell people I was doing comedy, especially when I was playing in punk bands – I wouldn’t say anything… like, “Oh, you’re going to be funny on purpose? Just talk between songs like everybody else!”
We talked about how sad it is to see certain bands still doing the same, tired schtick onstage. But was there a band you grew up with, maybe someone you were initially skeptical about seeing live, who ended up impressing you onstage?
I saw Van Halen four years ago, and I’ve seen Guns N’ Roses twice on [the “Not In This Lifetime Tour”]. To see Guns N’ Roses, who were always know for being a temperamental act, not only start on time but also put on such a great show… people don’t realize the effort it takes just to be a lead singer – not even the skill of singing, but to run around for an hour and a half and maintain your breath to be able to sing. And Axl did that! Yeah, maybe he’s not hitting the high notes or the screeches, but he knows that he can’t and he’ll hit them with another octave! Seeing a performer that’s aware of their capabilities and their age but still put on a great show… that’s the kind of maturing and self-awareness [I respect].
Same with Van Halen! David Lee Roth is just a lunatic alien that lives amongst us… I think David Lee Roth should be on our money. He did Marc Maron’s podcast recently, and he is a fascinating individual. Everybody should read “Crazy From The Heat” [Roth’s autobiography]. Him being a mountain climber and then also being a paramedic AFTER Van Halen. Not even out of necessity! Someone called a paramedic in NYC, and they got Diamond Dave hovering over them going “Zipadee Bop! Life goes on without cha!”
And Van Halen is awesome… no slight to Sammy, but Diamond Dave puts on a show because the guy wants to put on a show. And it was great! So that’s where I was like, “I’ll go see what it’s like,” and I left being more of a fan than I was going in.
I don’t believe in idolizing anybody … [but] I just always wondered when Slash starts his day, what does his medicine cabinet look like? I still wonder what kind of medicine does a guy, who stylistically is the coolest looking dude in the world, have to take to maintain his physique at 50 years old?
I want to know the human moment of all these guys. I’m fascinated by the fact that Mick Jagger is a 75 plus-year-old man that [performs] on a nightly basis. What is the secret health care that top tier musicians get to keep them doing that versus what we get? That’s what I want to find out about! … How do you be Mick Jagger, and not Vince Neil?!
I’m sure Vince Neil would like to know that too.
[Laughs] Oh, poor Vince.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.