Photo © Jenna Szabo
Kyle Dunnigan is an American comedian, also known for his role as Craig in Reno 911!. Kyle just booked a supporting role in Gus Van Sant’s new film, He Won’t Get Far on Foot and his original pilot Shit Kids just premiered at Sundance Film Festival. He was a writer and performer on all four seasons of Inside Amy Schumer and he won an Emmy for writing the song Girl You Don’t Need Makeup. He continues to be a regular contributor for The Howard Stern Show. Kyle is also a recurring cast member on Tig Notaro’s Amazon series, One Mississippi. He is launching a new website soon: kyledunnigancomedy.com
Josh Bowman recently spoke with Kyle about his upcoming tour, improv comedy, work on Inside Amy Schumer, his mother’s thoughts on his Emmy, and his dog Olive.
JB: So I just thought I’d get your plugs, what dates you’re playing, stuff about your movie, Inside Amy Schumer, anything you want to talk about first.
KD: The tour dates are the most important. The thing [Shit Kids] that went to Sundance…we’re gonna start pitching it soon but that’s about it. And the Inside Amy Schumer thing is, that show’s over now, but…I miss it. So…
JB: Is it done? Why don’t…I feel like I should’ve known that.
KD: Yeah they don’t make any big announcement, they kind of just stop doing shows. It’s a little weird. Sometimes they don’t even tell you if you’re a cast member. Your manager or agent goes “don’t go in tomorrow, it’s not there anymore.”
KD: Yeah. It is crazy. Cause it’s like a family, it’s almost like a family and you go to war together and it’s just, like, it’s over. But that’s the nature of it. Yeah.
JB: And then Professor Blastoff, that ran for a while, and then I guess Tig got too busy with touring and stuff? Because that was a really great podcast, I really liked that podcast a lot.
KD: Yeah…oh thank you. I really liked doing it, you know, Tig and David are my friends and it just felt like chatting, it didn’t really feel like a job and you know we started getting a good following. Yeah, you know it was kind of bittersweet, but we were all pretty busy, and it just wasn’t practical. But I think we may do a special. We’re talking about doing a ten-episode run here and there to kind of keep it going a little bit.
JB: Cool. Yeah, and I think I read somewhere you were thinking of doing another podcast called Brainmail, does that sound right?
KD: Yeah, I feel so bad because I was going to do it, and then Earwolf was dragging their feet and a couple months went by and I was in New York working on the Schumer show and I just got too busy to do it myself. I can go and show up somewhere if someone else has a podcast but for my own I just never really got enough time and energy to throw that way.
JB: It feels like a lot of work.
KD: It really is, and work that I’m not interested in doing. You sort of get into show business because you don’t like to do clerical stuff, and there’s so much of that, and you have to get the website up and all that stuff. Like, my website’s gone, I don’t have a website anymore because that’s how terrible I am at upkeeping.
JB: Yeah I saw that, it was like a spam site…
KD: Yeah it will just destroy your computer, my website just destroys people’s computers now.
JB: Thanks. Yeah.
KD: But I got a new website – kyledunnigancomedy.com, and that will not destroy your computer and I should have dates up there, tour dates.
JB: Great! So you won an Emmy which is amazing.
JB: Did you bring your mom? Was your mom there with you?
KD: I did. Yeah. I brought my mother to the Emmys. She’s very into award shows. It’s almost like I couldn’t not invite her, like whenever there’s an awards show she tells me who should win, even though I don’t even ask her or care she just likes to tell me.
KD: Whenever she sees a movie she goes “So-and-so I predict will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor.” She just lets me know that, and I think she gets dressed up to watch the Oscars and the Emmys, that’s just my hunch. She gets dressed up at home.
JB: So what’s her take on the Oscars thing, on the La La Land thing? Does she have like…I’d love to hear her opinion on that.
KD: Well, I didn’t talk to her too much about it. She didn’t love the movie. Which, I was surprised. It seems right up her alley. She thought it was OK, but didn’t love the dancing and the singing all that much, but when I won the Emmy, the first thing she said to me was “Can they take that away from you?” Those were the first words out of her mouth.
JB: …can they take that away…?
KD: Yeah, I mean…you can just talk to a therapist forever about that.
JB: Yeah…thanks mom.
KD: Yeah it’s always hedging…you know they mean well, they’re afraid of being disappointed so they hedge it, they just try to figure out…you know, what’s the worst thing that can happen and just shoot for that?
JB: I feel like there’s a certain level, there’s a base level where they’re like…OK, it’s OK. They have a roof over their head, you know?
KD: Yeah, and I can imagine, you know, you have a kid, you don’t want them ever to feel pain, but…if your kid doesn’t feel pain they’re gonna grow up to be a useless person.
JB: Yeah. Do you feel like that’s kind of the premise behind Shit Kids at all?
KD: Yeah, actually…yeah. Yeah, it’s almost like, coal without pressure on it, you don’t get the diamond. People who are just gorgeous and life is easy… I think they have it really tough later in life because inherently life isn’t easy. And so you get the message early on that you can just coast through on your looks or your…whatever, and you’re gonna have a rough moment somewhere. Everyone has to feel disappointment and heartbreak, it’s too bad but we all do or else, I don’t know you just come out weird.
JB: Yeah…so on that note, I thought Professor Blastoff was awesome, and part of the reason was because you were all very philosophical and very open. Do you find there’s like a balance in your stand up between going to those places in terms of pulling stuff out that you can use, and then like just doing dumb, funny bits that are just…goofy?
KD: Yeah I kinda drift back and forth. I think I like the silly stuff better to be honest. I think right now the flavour is people being really open, and I think that’s cool and interesting, but I like to be goofy, which isn’t really in right now. But I’m gonna keep doing it.
JB: It’ll come back around, right?
KD: It always does.
JB: So…what is your relationship with music, cause you’ll play the keyboard and you’ll beatbox but you also do it in a way that’s sort of jokey, like that character you did on the Schumer show [Rapper Boyfriend], but then you wrote a song that won an Emmy so you obviously play.
KD: I always played music, kind of like a hobby, therapy type of thing. I never thought that I would win an Emmy for it, it was sort of just for myself. This opportunity came up where Amy said do you want to write the music and I was like “yeah!”
JB: But it’s not just that…like you’ll have a keyboard in your set or you’ll have a loop pedal in your set…
KD: Yeah…I had a very musical uncle and I think I got some of his interest in music. I’m probably trying to live out a rock star life. Without a lot of people noticing.
JB: Secret rock star!
KD: Yeah, in my head like I’m playing for a huge crowd that thinks I’m cool.
JB: Yeah. I mean, aren’t comics like rock stars now?
KD: Yeah…some of them are, some of them have this swagger, like they walk around and they point and squat. It does feel like some of them are doing rock shows. And a lot of rock stars wanna be comedians. It’s a weird thing. Like I know some successful musicians and they kinda wanna be comedians and all comedians kind of wanna be, you know, cool…
KD: We don’t wanna be so black and white – “you can’t pigeonhole me!” So we wanna do something else…
JB: Yeah…I think you’re right, or I think maybe like that part of your brain that’s creative, there can be some parallels with musicians and with comics, right? Like maybe there’s a similarity like you’re kind of weird in high school or you always wanted to perform or you wanted to face your fear…
KD: Yeah, you’re right. There’s also a lifestyle similarity of being on the road, there’s some similar things, and I relate to people who are musicians and their life is sort of similar.
JB: Yeah. So I know that in one of your interviews you said, and I don’t know if this was tongue in cheek, but you said you might be further along if you had just focussed on stand up, but that you like working on different projects and you find that exciting.
KD: It depends on what you want. Like the lifestyle I wanted…I wanted to do different things. This is right for me to jump around, but if you wanna be like the best stand-up comedian for example, you really need to focus on it. That’s just how it is. I feel like people want you to be one thing, and I understand that. Like Dudley Moore, he was a funny actor and he actually was a really good piano player, and one time I saw him on TV playing the piano and in my head I was like, I want him to stop it! Cause I was like, you’re Dudley Moore, not a good piano player. I was confused.
KD: I kind of jump around. I mean, like right now I’m doing a lot of home improvement stuff on my house. I think I wanna be a contractor for buildings. Like every month I wanna do something different. So I might go into that. Building homes.
JB: Yeah, so this interview is kinda pointless…have fun…
KD: Well, I don’t know, a homebuilders magazine might be interested in this interview.
JB: Yeah you’re right.
KD: Like I refinished my floors last month. There’s a lot of fun stuff here.
JB: So you did improv with Groundlings and then improv in New York? Is that right?
KD: I was in a couple of improv groups in New York, yeah. One was called “Some Assembly Required”, we’d do corporate gigs, we weren’t all that great. I was in another group when I first got to New York but they were charging me, it was just kind of a scam.
JB: Right. So the Groundlings was kind of where it took off for you would you say?
KD: No…I was in New York and I sort of realized there’s no money in improv or sketch, there’s really no money unless you get on Saturday Night Live. So I had done stand up once in high school and I thought, let me do that. Once I started doing that I got some attention and then I got on Conan O’Brien. I got a few things off that, like a manager and agent in L.A., and that’s how it sort of took off for me, and then I did the Groundlings once I came out here kind of just for fun.
JB: Oh OK…interesting. So you wouldn’t say that the improv stuff was foundational for your stand up or for your career?
KD: Not really, to be honest. The Groundlings was…I met a lot of great people there and I’m really glad I did it but it was so crowded. We had 21 people, and I was in the Sunday Company, you’d have like one sketch. They’ve since pared it down, they don’t do that anymore. They keep their classes small.
JB: Interesting, OK. Yeah. So the reason I was asking about that was it feels like a lot of people who do comedy now that is their background.
KD: Oh yeah, yeah.
JB: And it’s interesting for you to say “I did it, it was fine, but it wasn’t really my…”
KD: Yeah it didn’t really help me career wise at all, like I did a sketch show before I did The Groundlings, it was called Cedric the Entertainer, it was on Fox, and that was the only real sketch, you know, thing I made money doing and that was before the Groundlings.
JB: So a lot of your characters, you choose weird-looking people that you do impressions of. Is that physicality a big part of the comedy for you?
KD: I guess…yeah that Craig character on Reno I’ve been doing since I was very young. I have pictures of myself like at 9 years old doing that character. I don’t know, I just deform my face and that character kind of came out of that, making that face.
JB: Right. So then when you do Caitlyn Jenner and Donald Trump…
KD: It’s kind of funny, like Caitlyn Jenner talks like that…she’s kind of like “Oh yeah!” Her voice goes right up high, she has kind of a lisp on her ‘s’s and stuff.
KD: You know what I mean, like… “yeah baby!” It’s her catchphrase…yeah baby.
JB: Right. Is that her catchphrase?
KD: Yeah kind of…doesn’t it feel like it? I don’t know if she’s ever said it, but it kind of feels like it.
JB: It feels like she says it in like her, in just the way she is.
KD: Yeah. And Trump is like “terrific,” “believe me,” that’s his phrase. “Believe me.”
JB: Yeah yeah…oh God he’s…yeah. This is a weird time.
KD: I know it’s…it’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.
JB: It’s exhausting, right?
KD: When I do the impression in my stand up now, I can feel people just like…they don’t even want to hear the impression, they’re just so mad. Sometimes it’s hard to lampoon him because he’s such a cartoon of himself. You usually go a little bit further than what the person does and that’s what’s funny, but he goes there for you, and there’s almost nothing to say other than what he actually says.
JB: Like Tina Fey did with Sarah Palin but it’s somehow different now.
KD: Yeah. But we’ll get through it, we’ll live.
JB: I mean I’ll be fine. I’m doing great.
KD: You’ll be fine. You’re in Canada.
JB: I’m in Canada, I’m white, I’m male. I’m really….
KD: Yeah, you’re all set.
JB: Do you find writing partners like Tig, or Amy Schumer…is it like if that dynamic clicks you say I wanna work with you, I wanna write with you…is that kind of how it happens?
KD: Different ways…I mean with Tig, I just…you know I just loved her right away, we just immediately clicked, we had the same sense of humour pretty much. You know it was obvious, we just had so much fun together.
KD: I’m writing with somebody now, and that happened a little differently. He’s a funny comic and he just had an idea for a movie and I thought it was a good idea, so that’s how we started writing together.
JB: Do you think you could write with anyone?
KD: Pretty much…some people will be more helpful than other people. I think I couldn’t write with somebody who was very strong-headed and had a different sense of humour, that would be impossible. If you didn’t agree that something was funny and weren’t willing to compromise, like…that won’t work.
JB: Let’s suppose there’s a big network comedy that stinks but pays good money. Do you feel like you could write for it but it wouldn’t be great, or have fun with it…?
KD: I would like to think I would have fun, but I wouldn’t do it unless I needed some money. There was something I turned down recently that was good money but just not something I wanted to be involved in.
KD: I liked writing on Amy’s show because it’s nice being with a group. In stand up a lot of what I write is alone. And having a schedule’s nice.
JB: Yeah yeah…it’s not just you in a room in your pajamas like at 3 a.m., right?
KD: Yeah, like a crazy person.
JB: …collecting your fingernails…
KD: Like a raving lunatic.
JB: Yeah…yeah, I feel like there’s a fine line between successful comedian and raving lunatic.
KD: There’s no line. Same thing.
JB: The only other thing I wanted to say, because it seems to keep coming up that you like Billy Joel.
KD: Oh yeah, I love Billy Joel!
JB: So there’s a soca song called Go Down Low and Wine, and it’s like a parody I guess, or like a version of For The Longest Time?
KD: Oh OK.
JB: And I just really think you should listen to it because it’s really weird.
KD: I would love to.
JB: Yeah, it’s pretty great. Anything you wanted to add?
KD: No…I’d love people to come to my shows, because I do these little rock clubs now, and they’re fun shows and I used to get like a lot of Professor Blastoff people, those are the best fans…they just bring me things. This is my first tour without Professor Blastoff, but I hope they still come because I would get like little gifts and stuff. It’s nice.
Catch Kyle on tour in the following cities:
March 24-25th – Arlington, VA
March 28th – St. Paul, MN
March 30th– April1st – Madison, WI
April 2nd – Iowa City
April 3rd – Kansas City
April 4th – Omaha
May 11-14th – New York Cit
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Josh Bowman is a professional fundraiser, story-teller, comedian, and blogger. He has worked and consulted in Vancouver, New York, and now Toronto for almost a decade. Josh also runs and writes for tenthingsivelearned.com, writes for The Huffington Post, sings and improvises.