According to Brendan Kelly, some musicians are simply frustrated, would-be comedians. So for this current tour, which stops at Ace of Cups on Tuesday, Nov. 22, Kelly recruited friend and comedian Kyle Kinane to serve as a warmup act. The two recently spoke with Alive in back-to-back interviews.
According to Brendan Kelly, some musicians are simply frustrated, would-be comedians.
"I want to [perform standup], but I'm afraid," said the singer and guitarist, who is joined in the Falcon by drummer Neil Hennessy (the two also play together in the Lawrence Arms) and bassist Dan Andriano of Alkaline Trio. "If I go up there and tell jokes [at a concert], which I do all the time, and it falls flat, I'm just like, 'OK, next song!' It's scary up there if you don't have a guitar."
So for this current tour, which stops at Ace of Cups on Tuesday, Nov. 22, Kelly recruited friend and comedian Kyle Kinane to serve as a warmup act. The two recently spoke with Alive in back-to-back interviews.
How are you feeling a couple days after the election?
Kelly: I feel a lot less helpless than I did two days ago when I was like, "Oh, no. We're doomed." The thing that really frightens me is the emboldening of [Donald Trump's] disciples and followers. … If there's a culture of kindness and charity, and there's a woman on your block who practices that, then you stand to benefit. If the culture is homophobia and racism, and there's a dude down the block screaming racist slogans and holding a machine gun, that also will have an impact on your existence.
Have the results brought a different dynamic to these shows?
Kelly: I do know that last night we played our first show of the tour, and I was really apprehensive about it. I didn't want to leave my family; I didn't want to go on tour; I didn't want to get out of bed. I was not looking forward to it. When we got [to the venue] it seemed like people needed it more than ever, and I needed them more than ever. It was like, "Oh my god. We can still do this." It was empowering to have a way to cope with all this in a large group.
Kinane: I was already curious how it was going to go. I'm going up in the middle between Arms Aloft … and the Falcon, so I was already nervous. "You just listened to music and danced around. How about you sit still and listen to one guy as he talks and tries to make you laugh?" That was already going to be a challenge, which is why I said yes. "It sounds like it could go really bad. I have to say yes to this." Then this [election] happens and it's like, "Do people want escapism? Do I write jokes about this? Are people going to be sick of hearing about it?"
You've touched on political and social issues in your standup before, whether it's gun violence or the Westboro Baptist Church. Did it take time to develop a comfort level with using comedy as a platform to discuss those kinds of issues?
Kinane: What happens is you do a joke about mass shootings for something like Comedy Central and they're like, "We can't put that one in the special. If a shooting occurs the day before we release this it could screw things up." What a sad thing to have to adjust. Tragedy plus time equals comedy, and the frequency of mass shootings really took the time out of that equation. Also, leading up to this, I wasn't doing jokes about Trump. There's enough out there. It's oversaturated. The guy's a joke in himself. There's nothing I could write that was going to be insightful or scathing about the idea of Donald Trump being president. And now that he really is, I don't know if that's something I want to make jokes about. It's still the protest stage.
Brendan, it almost seems like you're hardwired for disappointment, considering lines on the new Falcon record (Gather Up the Chaps) like, "Tomorrow's gonna suck, man/ Don't they all?"
Kelly: The record is really very personal. It's a personalization of the culture at large. The narrators in my songs tend to be very self-destructive and constantly searching for something maybe they'll never find. And I think in some ways, yes, that is reflective of my worldview. So, yeah, maybe that is hardwired into me. At the same time, I don't see myself as a pessimistic person overall. I've got kids, and I still have hopes they'll grow up in a better world than I did.
The record isn't without its humor. There are inside jokes and a handful of absurdist tracks.
Kelly: The fact is humanity is made up of these dark moments, and humor is just another take on darkness. The reason clowns aren't funny is there's nothing serious about clowns. The reason George Carlin is hilarious is because what he's saying is fucking dark. It's important in any medium to strike that balance between assessing the world as it is and maintaining a sense of humor.
Do music and humor feel more essential at this moment?
Kelly: Maybe a little bit. Listen, man, I make my living playing music, so it's pretty essential on a basic level. I don't know how much that we-can-beat-them-through-art vibe is going to hold up in my soul … but the nobility of that idea was very much alive [in concert] last night.
Kinane: I always think [comedy] is essential. … I can sit here and give everybody a laugh track, like, "Boy, isn't the right wing stupid? Isn't open-mindedness great?" But that's not comedy. That's getting people to agree with you. That doesn't make me a comedian; that makes me a rally leader. I've seen other comedians where they're being political and then they're taping their special in Portland, Oregon, or San Francisco. What am I learning by preaching to the choir? And how are they being entertained by saying, "Yes, we agree with you"? Read about opposing viewpoints. It might further affirm your viewpoint, or you might gain further insight.
What's the last thing you were confronted with that challenged you or gave you that kind of insight?
Kinane: Election-wise, it was reading that some people were not voting for Trump. They were just voting against eight years of the same thing. One of my best friends I grew up with ... was like, "I'm going to hold my nose and vote for Trump." He doesn't like that guy at all, but he's someone who lives in middle, rural America, in a city where the manufacturing jobs are decimated and there are so many overdoses from people who are bored and unemployed. Eight years of Obama didn't bring any jobs to that community and didn't help these smaller towns, and they're the ones who voted for Trump. And I live in Los Angeles; I'm from Chicago, and now I'm in New York. Of course these diverse, melting pot cities are like, "How could you do this?" They forgot there was this other place called the rest of America. They're not Nazis and misogynists. They're just unemployed people that saw nothing change in their life. And unfortunately the guy who was going to bring it was this piece of shit Donald Trump.
You recorded Loose in Chicago at [the legendary music venue] Metro. How many shows had you been to in that room?
Kinane: Oh, man. I started going there when I was 15 years old. [Stepping onstage the first time] I thought about every show I'd seen there. Remembering where I was standing in the crowd for different shows. "That woman groped me when I was standing down there watching Oblivion." "I remember falling asleep on that speaker box over there seeing Promise Ring." I'm familiar with that place, so to perform there was an honor.
Do you remember the first time you saw Brendan perform?
Kinane: I saw Brendan and [his former band] Slapstick just going to weekend shows in Elgin and Elmhurst in the mid-'90s. I think the first time I saw an all-ages show it was 1993. … I knew nothing about that scene, and all of a sudden I'm there with hundreds of people on a Sunday night. That kind of informed how I approach comedy. It was like, "These bands aren't on MTV or the radio, but there are hundreds of people here who know about this." It was like, "You don't need fame to make it." All these bands I was seeing made it through word-of-mouth and busting their ass playing shows.
You've joked about how all of your comedy groupies look like you. Does that change being on tour with rock bands?
Kinane: No. Not at all. [laughs]