Andy Kindler (photo ©Maljan)
Actor, writer and comedian Andy Kindler is one of several Jewish community members on the Just for Laughs NorthWest roster for Vancouver. He’ll host The Alternative Show at Yuk Yuk’s Feb. 21-23.
Kindler spoke with the Independent from Montreal, while on a shoot for the dark comedy feature film The Fiddling Horse, in which he co-stars as Barry Bitterman.
“I’m a bitter ex-jockey and it’s perfect for me,” said Kindler. “I’m five, five-and-a-half, so I almost look like an ex-jockey, I’m not too tall, and it’s just fun.”
Kindler has a ton of acting credits, including Bob’s Burgers, I’m Dying Up Here and Portlandia, as well as Everybody Loves Raymond, Maron and But I’m Chris Jericho! But standup came first, he said, “although I did acting in college and in summer camp – I played Elwood P. Dowd, the lead in Harvey, when I was 12. But, any acting that was filmed to be seen by others, that happened after standup. Standup, if you’re doing it right, is a good rehearsal for acting; it is just being yourself.”
Before standup, Kindler was a musician. It was his pursuit of a music career that took him to Los Angeles “many, many, many years ago,” but he “couldn’t make a living.”
“I was in my 20s,” he said. “I was very insecure, I kind of hated myself, like many kids that age, unless you have a tremendous amount of confidence. So, I just happened to stumble into standup comedy. A friend of mine – we were working at the same stereo store together – he said, you’re funny, let’s try it, so I actually was in a duo for a couple years and that was really a good way to start.”
Kindler played guitar. “I played classical violin when I was a kid, but I didn’t play very well … and I still took it for another 12 years, even hating it, because I had issues…. I started playing guitar in high school, which was the greatest. When I grew up, people wanted to be the Beatles. We didn’t want to be necessarily [comedian] Shecky Greene. Now I want to be Shecky Greene but, back then, all my heroes were musicians, except for Richard Pryor. But, I didn’t know much about comedy.”
While he learned to do comedy in Los Angeles, he said he wouldn’t recommend that people follow his example, “because it’s kind of a frightening thing. But I lived in L.A., so the only way I wouldn’t have been able to not start in L.A., I would have had to have moved out of town.
“I put my name in the hat, did all the open mic things, and that’s how I started and it just, I don’t want to say, took off, but I’ve been making a living since ’87.”
Despite his long career, Kindler has spoken in interviews about only recently becoming comfortable with doing standup.
“A lot of people, they see comedians and they say, how can you do it? Well, when you start comedy – unless you’re a person who really has no fear – you’re scared for a long time because you can be funny off-stage, but you still can’t do it under pressure or it’s not necessarily that you can produce it at anytime. That’s where the technique comes in,” he explained. “The technique basically for standup comes from doing it over and over and over again, until you either hate it or it becomes something you love. So, I felt like, after 10 years, oh, I’m really good at this but I wasn’t…. There are still nights I don’t feel comfortable, but it gets better.”
Kindler faces challenges that most comedians don’t: he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. When he was younger and just starting out, he said, “At that time, you didn’t hear a lot about OCD and so I thought I was losing my mind, because I never got help until a couple of years ago for it…. And when I was first starting comedy, it was like a whole year where I would say to myself onstage, I am holding the mic in my right hand, I am gesturing to the crowd with my left hand, I am walking two steps – I couldn’t get out of my head and I didn’t even know I was officially OCD.”
While knowing that he has OCD and ADHD hasn’t changed his act, which he describes as “so stream of consciousness,” it has helped him in other ways. “I feel better about myself now,” he said. “I’m more calm.” And he has learned ways of coping, he said, recommending the book Delivered from Distraction. “I don’t make any money on the sales of the book,” he said, “but they give you tools for dealing with OCD.”
Kindler has been to Vancouver often, including with JFL’s The Alternative Show.
“The Alternative Show started in Montreal at that festival,” explained Kindler, “and it started in the late ’90s when you actually needed to have a show called The Alternative Show. A lot of people probably don’t remember there was a big comedy boom, comedy got very generic and everybody was like, what’s the deal with this thing? It started to be very homogenized and so there was kind of a movement in L.A. and New York in the mid to late ’90s, or even earlier, for the core of alternative comedy. And now, the good news is, that comedy is better than it ever was, everybody is doing interesting things. So, I don’t really need to have a show because almost the whole festival you could call alternative, but one thing I do like to do is have people working on new stuff and hopefully taking chances, so it’s not like them doing their honed five minutes.”
Generally, Kindler brings five or six comedians onstage during the night. “It’s usually a combination of two things: other people in the festival and local people,” he said.
Kindler has been coming up to Canada in one form or another since the late 1980s. He worked Yuk Yuk’s in the west, he said. “So, I know a lot of the comedians and the comedians in Canada are hilarious. I think Canada has the best comedians per capita in the world. What I’m doing in my act, which is commenting culture, all Canadians do that naturally because you’re next to American culture, but you can comment on it and feel separate from it.”
Being Jewish is a large part of Kindler’s routine. While he sometimes thinks that, in his act, he’ll just do a few Jewish jokes and move on to other material, he said, “I just can’t stop it because I feel so Jewish. It’s so much a part of me. I used to make a joke about how Jewish people are funny even when they’re not trying to be funny. Like, when the Whitney Houston song ‘How Will I Know?’ came out, I was with this Jewish friend of mine, and she’s singing, ‘How will I know?’ and my friend yells at the radio, ‘You’ll know, Whitney, you’ll know. Believe me, you’ll know.’
“And this is just how all Jews are, even when they’re not trying to be funny. So, I feel very, very Jewish, but it also could be a member of any oppressed group that responds to being oppressed with humour and self-deprecation. I love to make fun of the fact that I’m Jewish.”
While he doesn’t have any topics that he won’t talk about in his act, Kindler does shy away from certain words and thinks about whether his material is unnecessarily offensive.
“I get very angry when comics say they never apologize, because everybody makes mistakes,” he said, giving the example of having used, early in his career, a joke that referenced the Holocaust. Two audience members approached him afterward, upset because they felt he was “gratuitously making fun of the Holocaust, and I decided that I wasn’t in that particular case, but also decided it’s important for comics to think about what they’re saying because, when you’re onstage, you can say something in the moment and then you have the right to not want to say it later. There’s no specific red lines, but I do think about why I’m doing the joke and whether it’s worth doing it and who’s the subject of the joke.”
Kindler said being a comic is a “kind of a miracle, or a magic thing” and “like a dream come true because I really, really, really love standup and a lot of people get sick of it after awhile. I just haven’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t get sick of it temporarily, but it’s still the thing I most love doing, it’s the thing I feel most natural about doing and it’s just I feel it is a dream come true.”
The Alternative Show is at Yuk Yuk’s Feb. 21, 10 p.m.; and Feb. 22 and 23, 11 p.m. For tickets and the full JFL NorthWest lineup, visit jflnorthwest.com.