Ever had to stop what you’re doing to wish you had a handbook for how to “hack” your way through comedy? Well there’s good news for you! Jewish comedian Andy Kindler wrote for National Lampoon back in the early ‘90s a “Hack’s Handbook” which satirized and exposed tired comedy formulas. Since this publication, Kindler has been gracing the country with his stand up comedy, his own comedy shows, and his guest appearances on shows like “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Wizards of Waverly Place,” to name a few. Oy!Chicago got the chance to talk with this comedy troublemaker before he appears at the “TBS Presents A ‘Very Funny’ Festival: Just For Laughs Chicago” this weekend.
Oy!Chicago: So, Andy, tell me why you got into comedy.
Andy Kindler: Well I kind of stumbled into it. When I was a younger kid I played classical violin but I got frustrated with that so I switched to guitar. So I always wanted to be a musician but then I got to [Binghampton University] and I got into theater stuff there. I wasn’t a theater major, I was an English Lit major—but one of my theater teachers was moving back to LA so I went to LA right after college. I just drove across country basically, and tried to get my music career going. But then one of my friends said “Oh you’re funny, you should try stand up!” So he kind of convinced me to start, and we began as a duo.
What was the duo called?
Andy and Bill. I was Andy, he was Bill. A duo is hard, though. Especially if you like to adlib. We did ongoing two people sketches. It was really kind of cool because stand up is frightening when you first do it. It kind of makes you nauseous! So it’s nice to have someone there to absorb some of the pain. I did that for like two or three years and then when I first went out on my own it was scary. But I realized I liked that much better. I like being on my own. I work with people good, but it’s nice to do things on your own.
What is your favorite part about being a comedian?
My favorite part is that you really never master [comedy]. You hope to get better at it, but you never completely control it, so it’s exciting! That way I never get tired of it. I can go through stages where I bomb out of a club or it’s some small part of the country where they don’t get me, and it can be depressing at times. But the fact that [comedy is] always changing and that you can always get better at it is my favorite part.
What has been your riskiest career move so far?
Probably deciding to talk about other comedians, like going after other comedians. For example, I go after Jay Leno in my act, and if I don’t like a movie I go after the people in the movie, things like that. It’s like one of those unwritten rules that comics can do jokes about Lindsey Lohan all day but if you start talking about another comic it’s taboo. So I think talking about other comics and talking about the business in general is tough. I do this speech every year in Montreal at the comedy festival called “The State of the Industry” where I basically say what I think is wrong in comedy and show business. So that would be the risky side.
So tell me some more about your comedic style.
My goal in comedy is to say that I’m the same offstage that I am onstage…except that I’m trying to be funny more onstage. One thing that I do is that I like to talk about what comedy is. So I will do the joke, then I’ll talk about the joke, and then I’ll talk about me talking about the joke…I actually have a joke about it! I’ll say that before I was in the comedy business I was in the “deconstruction” business. I never built a house, I just commented while other people were doing it. “Dry wall? Looks more like WET wall!” So that’s my style. You can call it deconstruction, maybe, but I’m not always deconstructing because I do say actual jokes. People don’t know it but I have actual jokes. It’s debatable. But they’re jokes!
Now I have to ask, why did you decide to guest star on the Disney Channel show, Wizards of Waverly Place? It seems like a random career move for a stand up comedian.
That was a show that I was asked to do because I know a lot of people who write for it. There was a time period where there weren’t as many sitcoms out there and a lot of really funny comedy writers and creators moved to more kid type shows since there were more opportunities there. A friend of mine who worked on the show, Peter Murietta, requested me. So that was cool, but I didn’t realize what a sensation the show was! Now kids who watch the show are all of a sudden noticing me. It’s a new demographic for me! I told my mom, “Watch the show, but remember that it’s a kids show.” And after I do it she goes “Was…was that a show for KIDS?!” She just couldn’t get the concept.
And how did you land your recurring guest role, “Andy,” on Everybody Loves Raymond?
Raymond was exciting because it was such a hit show, so it was just fun to be able to eat all the food that would be supplied for a hit show. And I love those coffee machines you put the plastic thing in and it makes ONE cup of coffee. Unbelievable! The way I got the role “Andy” was all these writers and comedians meet with me every Sunday at this deli out in LA called Victor’s and we all hang around. I got to know all these writers, so when Raymond got picked up they wrote the role for me. The main thing was I didn’t have to audition. And when I audition, that’s when things can go sour.
Sour in what way?
Well that part was written for me, it was my name, it was easy. But when I go out and audition, it’s rough because I don’t really like auditioning that much. I don’t mind it, but I don’t like it. I’ve noticed that when you go in on these auditions, sometimes you can try and be yourself…they don’t want you to do that. They want you to launch into the role. Me, I like to kibbitz. However, I would like to try to do movies. More serious roles. Not too serious though. I’m not like a wannabe male version of Meryl Streep, I don’t want to do different languages. Though I love doing comedic roles too, so I’ll take anything.
Now you are often thought to have portrayed a character in the World Wrestling Federation, but you claim that it wasn’t you. Can you clear up this whole “Jamison” conflict?
It’s so funny to me because first of all, if I was that guy, I don’t think I would deny it. Why would I deny it? I’m clearly not him, and no one seems to know what the answer is. I can’t seem to get an answer. All I can say is that there is footage of the guy who plays Jamison and there are pictures of him and unless you really believe that all Jews look alike, there’s no way that I’m him. So I would say that this is a theory that is mostly being perpetrated by Christians.
Christians. But I always thought that Jamison was really played by someone named Andy Kindler, a different Andy Kindler. But now people are thinking that maybe that name was given to him, I don’t know. It’s something that is a mystery but not one that a huge amount of people are interested in solving. What do you think?
I’ve seen pictures of him and he doesn’t look like you at all!
I know! And I love that on Wikipedia anyone can go on there and start changing information. For a long while I would go on there and my wife would go on there and change it and it would be changed back! The more I deny it, the more they think I am Jamison! It’s just crazy.
And how does being Jewish affect you in the comedy industry?
I think being Jewish is so much a part of who I am. I actually have more of a personal spirituality view, like I don’t go to temple right now but growing up I went to temple and I was bar mitzvah-ed. And I just feel like Jewish people are the funniest out there. It’s not like we’re the only people who are funny, but I used to make the argument that we’re funny even when we’re not trying to be funny. Like once I was driving in the car with my friend Bill, who is also a comedian, and he wasn’t trying to be funny. The Whitney Houston song “How Will I Know” came on the radio and he said “You’ll know, Whitney. You’ll know.” So humor’s built into our DNA because of all the thousands of years of getting oppressed. That’s how we react to it.
Any last comments for the Oy!sters out there?
My message to the Jewish people is “Enough already with the—” no I’m just kidding. “Keep reaching for the stars?” Is that Casey Kasem? You know what the problem with this question is? I’ve always had a weak closer for my act. Not weak, but you know how most people end their acts with a big ZAZOOM? Not me.
How do you end your acts?
I end it with a joke that goes over reasonably well. And then I talk a little too long about it and then I uncomfortably make my way to the exit. Midsentence.
You can catch Kindler at the “TBS Presents A ‘Very Funny’ Festival: Just For Laughs Chicago,” today through Saturday, June 19. Andy will be hosting the ALT COMEDY shows at the VIC Saturday, June 19, at 7:00 and 9:30 p.m. and also participating in the Best of Fest show Friday, June 18, at 11:00 p.m. at the Mayne Stage.