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An Interview with Andy Kindler

The longtime comic talks David Letterman, inclusivity, and more

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Andy Kindler has a resume that speaks for itself.

A seasoned veteran on the comedy circuit, he’s also appeared in everything from The Daily Show to Everybody Loves Raymond. Despite many decades in the entertainment industry, however, the 62-year-old still admits he’s had to overcome his fair share of insecurities, despite what you might think.

Kindler and I chatted about David Letterman, inclusivity, and more ahead of his headlining show at Yuck Fest on Sunday, April 28 at the White Rabbit Cabaret. You can read our full conversation below.

SETH JOHNSON: With every comic I interview, I always like getting a little bit of background on how they first wound up pursuing comedy. That being said, can you tell me what it was that first piqued your interest in stand-up?

ANDY KINDLER: I went to college in the late ‘70s, and I came out to L.A. immediately. I drove across country, and I was a musician at the time. I was a singer-songwriter/guitarist, and I was in cover bands. So the next couple of years, I was kind of lost. Because if you want to become a musician, you should probably go to the places where they’re playing original music. But if I went to the places that were playing the original music, the Talking Heads were there, and things like that. So I struggled, and then I just happened to stumble into comedy.

I was working at a stereo store. I met someone at the store, and he was a friend of mine. We were playing around at a function, and I was making fun of everybody. He said, “Have you ever tried stand-up?” And if he hadn’t said it, I certainly wouldn’t have done it right then. So I just kind of stumbled into it.

Everybody in my family is really pretty funny. My dad was really hilarious. But I didn’t think of comedy career-wise. I grew up influenced by The Beatles. In the generation I came from, most young boys wanted to be rock stars. [laughs] Well, I wanted to be like Bob Dylan, so a folk star.

The time period when I got into it [comedy], which was the mid ’80s in L.A., just happened to be a good time period. When I started, I was on the road 40 weeks a year from 1987 to 1992. I came up in a time where there was tons of work all over the country. So that’s how I started.

JOHNSON: You said you wanted to be a musician for a long time. Is music still something you’re passionate about, even though you don’t do it as a career?

KINDLER: I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about it. But actually, I’ve been in therapy for the last two years. As I’ve said in my act, I’m the oldest Jewish man to get to therapy. But, I’ve learned a lot about my life. And going back over stuff, I think I was very concerned about whether I was good enough to be a musician. So all I did was think about what other people were thinking about my music and my voice. Which is interesting because I now have less fear in comedy. I was more confident about comedy because it just came more naturally through my family. But yes. I still play, and I’m actually playing a little bit more now. Just indoors though. [laughs]

JOHNSON: When did acting come into the picture for you? When did you start doing more television work?

KINDLER: Acting first started in college. I went to a school in upstate New York called Binghamton University. They had a really good music department there. But it was all based on a voice system, and I didn’t want to take all those voice classes. So I didn’t major in theater, but I was in a lot of productions.

I kind of wanted to do everything that I thought I could do when I was a kid. I just always would walk around thinking I was in a movie and pretending to be in a movie. [laughs] So I lucked out in the sense that it all came naturally through stand-up.

The thing I’m most confident about is stand-up. Again through therapy, I’ve realized that when I would go on [acting] auditions, I would be so conscious of what the people were thinking about me that it would really affect me. So I’m starting to relax with acting now. I think that’s also a matter of … the more auditions you do, the less you start worrying about it.

Everything I’ve received has all come through stand-up, I think. Early on, I was in a show called Dr. Katz. That was on Comedy Central in the ’90s with Jonathan Katz, and he was a psychiatrist on the show. And then, I used to do a weekly lunch with these guys who were writers, and the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond used to go to those.

So almost everything I’ve gotten is because people have known me. I have done well at a couple auditions, so I’ve gotten a couple of cold things. I also just did a movie [The Fiddling Horse] for the first time in my life, which I can’t even believe.

JOHNSON: You made regular appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman. Being that Letterman is from Indiana, I’m curious to hear your relationship with him and how you got involved with his show.

KINDLER: He was my comedy hero when I started. In the ‘80s, he was the man for me, so I watched his show every night. It was my dream to be on his show. I just happened to do it in ’96, and I was so nervous. I didn’t think it went well, and I really beat myself up over it. And then, I didn’t get back on the show for four years.

When I got back on the show, I said, “I was here in ’96. Now, I’m here again. I just want you to know I can’t live on this kind of money.” He laughed at that. I had a set that really went well, and it was because of Dave that I ended up doing those field pieces and going around as a correspondent. That was all Dave’s idea. Because he used to go out all the time himself and do field pieces. But he couldn’t anymore because he would get mobbed. And I clearly would not get mobbed.

When I got on his show, I was like, “If nothing else happens, I can die happy.” It really was a lifelong dream. Of course, now, I also would like to be wealthy. [laughs]

JOHNSON: Over the years, I’ve interviewed so many people that have been involved with The Daily Show in one way or another. In what ways did your work with the show benefit your career overall?

KINDLER: I was there for a brief time period as a correspondent. I did TV criticism. Just from being on it briefly, people use that credit a lot, so it obviously was a great showcase to be on in the time period.

It was kind of a little bit hard because I was doing it by satellite. It was all fun, but it was also a time period of the show where Jon Stewart had just taken over. There was a lot of stuff going on at the time, so it was a little bit hard because I was getting notes from another coast. I loved doing it though. So I wasn’t on the show for a long time. But if people want to think I was on the show for a long time, I’m happy to mislead them. [laughs]

JOHNSON: You’ve now done your “State of the Industry Address” for decades. What led you to start doing that?

KINDLER: I started going to this festival in 1993. I’ve been there every year except for one since ’93. One year, I did a one-man show type of thing. The next year, I had written an article for National Lampoon called “The Hack’s Handbook,” and it was a guide on how to be a horrible comic. And then, I had done a demonstration of “hack comedy” up in Montreal.

So the head of festival said, “Why don’t you try another speech next year?” And my manager came up with the idea of “The State of the Industry.” We did it once, and I would not have guessed it would continue on. It’s been 25 years or something like that. It’s part roast/part rant of me saying what I think is wrong with everybody else. It’s really fun, but sometimes it can get me in trouble as well.

JOHNSON: What excites you about where comedy is at right now, compared to where it was when you first got into stand-up?

KINDLER: The fact that all these barriers have been broken. When I started comedy, people didn’t talk about being gay. They were afraid to reveal all of that. Now, that whole thing has opened up. In some ways, our society has gotten so socially open.

It used to be … if someone was a woman or Black, it almost was like they had to talk about it in their act because there was so much of a lack of opportunity for women and minorities. Now, all of those things are wide open. It’s almost like a revolution. There’s so much funny stuff going on.

JOHNSON: You’re coming to Indy to headline the first-ever Yuck Fest. Do you have any experiences or memories tied to the city?

KINDLER: I played a club called Morty’s many years ago. I actually plugged my Morty’s date when I was on Letterman. I’ve been there a couple of other times. I love this festival too. These guys are great. They’re creating what used to be called “alternative comedy.” But now, most comedy is that way.

Seth Johnson, Music Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at sjohnson@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @sethvthem

Writer - Music, Comedy & Sports

An Indianapolis native, I love all things music, especially of the local variety. My other passions also include comedy, social justice, and the Indiana Pacers.