At a recent performance of their live talk show/podcast, Sorry, Please Continue, hosts Jeremy Hellwig and Kenny Kinds, along with guest host Emily Hickner, descended, over the course of about two hours, into the kind of humor that only comes through a collective buzz being experienced by everyone in the room. From the folks on stage to the 30 or so audience members, the back theatre of the Heavy Anchor was a freewheeling, boozy affair. As Kinds says after the gig, "Mistakes were made."
Yet despite that self-deprecating assessment — typical of Kinds — it all worked out. Four people told stories, the three hosts interrupted them with unceasing wisecracks, and the rest of us were left to pick up on the approximately 957 amusing comments made on stage. Even with the light summer turnout of this particular episode, it is easy to see why the creators are able to take the show on the road, as they did recently on a multi-city Midwest tour.
For the past six years, Kinds, 42, has been working in comedy in St. Louis, as a standup, yes — in recent years he's even opened locally for such masters of the form as Dave Chappelle and Maria Bamford — but also in contexts like Sorry, Please Continue and his YouTube movie-trailer review series "Trill Ass Trailers." He's also the former longtime host of the most potentially soul-crushing open mic in town, at Nick's Pub. He's built a reputation as an individual with a ridiculous level of curiosity about a crazy number of topics, though in person he says he still maintains a weird indifference to the experience of sharing his brain with the world.
"I don't really get nervous," he says. "Even at clubs, in front of a larger audience. I wouldn't call it nerves. It's just sort of an, 'Uh, I don't want to be here right now.' I've never come up with a name for that, but it's very hard to get out of my head until you get going. If those first five minutes go alright, good. If not, oh boy. It's an uphill climb. If a joke doesn't go well, I can get out of it, but if it's early and the joke doesn't go well, every joke is going to be garbage. I've been trying to figure what that is... there should be a name for it. It's very wearying, very tiring."
He adds, "Right before I leave the house, like Gilbert Gottfried used to say, I wouldn't mind if they called and said there was a fire at the club, but to still come by for the check."
Though Kinds' standard mode of operation is self-deprecation, his peers are more than happy to sing his praises.
"Kenny is probably the funniest person in St. Louis," Hellwig says. "He's always been one of my favorites, but the last couple years he's gotten even better. He's one of those people that started standup a little later in life, but he'd done so much other comedy writing and had such great life experience that he was able to progress way faster than normal. Everyone sucks for a while at first, but when I met him he'd only been doing it a year or so and had already gotten past that stage."
Kinds admits that he started out with something of a "Dave Chappelle problem," unconsciously modeling sets in that comedian's style, from cadence to topics. In time, his own voice came to the fore — and it's quite a voice at that. His ability to read a room — and call out that room's lameness — finds him at his most hilarious.
Of late, he says, he's "moved into storytelling comedy," rather than the absurdist stuff that often comes out of his head unfiltered. Recently, that storytelling approach has had him telling an epic about a night in which he was stopped in a warrant sweep. Without ruining the gist of the material, it details a series of tragically comic moments that saw Kinds transferred to five separate municipal jails. Kinds has been able to weave an insanely good tale out of a situation that would be a textbook example of why the region needs to streamline policing and, for that matter, simple governance. That the story includes a moment of his dad having to bail him out, only for him to report to another jail, only adds to the surrealism.
"I walked home in shame," he says. "It's funny as a story, but there's a deeper systemic problem that needs to be addressed. That's why I'm for the consolidation of the county systems. When you go to these courts, you see a line of people standing outside, mostly minorities. These people aren't there for major offenses; it's just how these towns get 30 to 40 percent of their budget. And you can drive through about 20 to 30 cities on the way to St. Charles. It's made me a social justice warrior, inadvertently."
As quickly as Kinds can segue into a talk about systemic issues of injustice, though, he'll loop back into his desire to create a set about "nothing but kettlebells and IT." (He works in IT and works out with kettlebells, so: natch.) With Kinds, the conversation can go anywhere.
"I don't know if some of it's a curiosity or fatalism," he says. "I mean, I ask a lot of questions and a lot of things seem absurd to me. I go in for a lot of details that people don't think about in the way I do; that's why I enjoy Sorry so much, because I get to ask a lot of questions that wouldn't make sense in the conversation we're having. But it's fun to me to keep prodding. I don't know if it's a curiosity about all of life; what I'm interested in can be very specific."
Those thoughts, whether written material or spontaneous riffage, are delivered on stage in his trademark clipped, slightly exasperated manner. There they come off as routinely hilarious — even if he's the one person in the room who'd argue that point.
"I'm slowly trying to get a confident 45 minutes down. I enjoy it, or I do my best to enjoy it, but that's a lot of material to cover," he says. "I'm super scatterbrained a lot of the time, so I'll forget things. Even when I write them down, they're hard for me to remember, so this is probably not the best industry for someone like me to get into, because I have such procrastination problems."
He adds, "Maybe that makes it more exciting for me, or more exciting for them, or more exciting for the butterflies. I don't know."