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Jonathan Kite Doesn’t Want Art to Be Dead

The “2 Broke Girls” star talks humor, impressions, and high-buying candy from gas stations.

Jonathan Kite Doesn’t Want Art to Be Dead
Courtesy of Matt Misisco

W hen Jonathan Kite and I connect by phone, his early morning energy is lively. “I drink so much fucking coffee,” he quips, and says coffee aids his creativity. Creativity seems to be floating around the Kite family DNA: in addition to Jonathan’s successful acting career, his cousin – Jeff Kite – is a well established musician, and the two Kites actually combine forces on their popular podcast, “Kites of the Round Table.”

As we start the interview, I remind Jonathan we saw each other weeks prior at a weird private event where guests were unaware a live comedy show was to be taking place. Jonathan and the other comics had to wrangle attention from people who clearly weren’t ready to receive comedy.

Jonthan Kite: Comedy is like anal. You have to be mentally prepared to ingest both of those things. “Comedy and Anal” is going to be the name of my special.

Now streaming on PornHub.

Jonathan Kite: Dude, I’ll take it. They have way more streams than Netflix or Amazon combined.

People would be going to Pornhub expecting something else, but then…see you.

Jonathan Kite: That’s why in comedy shows, you have an MC. You need to transition people’s minds. [You need the MC to say], “You’re going to be listening to a venologist now, and he’s going to be sitting up here doing an interactive monologue.” It’s why stand-up goes at the end of a “Tonight Show” set. Because you’re already conditioned. 

Comedy is the weirdest thing.  In the “real world,” where it doesn’t need to be sustainable – like at the water cooler – you enjoy it because it’s a break from your day. But to have intentional comedy, it’s like a little fire that requires so much protection, kindling, and the right amount of oxygen. It’s really unique in that way.

At a stand-up club, the comic and the audience meet halfway. People come from wherever and I come from wherever and we meet at the comedy club. Then, the people become the audience and I become the stand-up. That’s the sort of agreed upon contract everybody signs. But if there’s too much – say – light in the room, then the audience’s brain goes, “Oh, this is not what I was expecting.”

When Jerry Seinfeld or Dave Chapelle do a set, there are expectations. Which is bizarre because comedy is about surprise. And that’s what’s such an anomaly about people who have long [comedy] careers. The more you get comfortable with a personality, the more difficult it is for a comic to do their job. And if [the comic’s] still able to do their job, that’s fucking insane. It’s like if you saw a card trick over and over again and were still impressed.

You could say the same thing arguably about music.

Jonathan Kite: It’s sort of like the idea of Dane Cook. When I would watch him as a kid, I thought he was gold. That fucking alien bit he did where he threw the water on himelf and ripped his pants off…the fights…that was so inventive. But the more successful you get, the more digestible your stuff has to be because you’re casting a larger net.

So, that’s the thing about music. People always say, “Oh, I love the old stuff.” Like, “I listen to The Stones, but I love the old stuff.” It’s because there was a newness to it. Yeah, you’ll still listen to The Stones, but like…”Voodoo Lounge”…? That’s no one’s favorite album. That’s why bands play their hits. Even if they have a new album coming out, you’ll buy tickets to the concert, but still hope they play the hits. That’s why Seinfeld is so successful, because he plays the hits. Guys like Louis C.K. and Chappelle, they retire shit and move on.

The assumption being for those guys, the new stuff will be just as good.

Jonathan Kite: Definitely. And that is impossible. You know, it’s like you die the hero or live long enough to become the villain. Comedy is super subjective, and for me, it’s always looking at the present and moving forward. Stand-up today, with the Internet and all that other crazy shit, is so different than it was five years ago. Or even ten years ago. And the way that people tell jokes, literally the cadence with which we communicate and the listenability, is just wildly different.

The chances of getting a comic who’s able to stay relevant – and who also has an ability to communicate in an ever-changing way – is going to be less, and less and less. Chapelle is the last ship of that armada. I think that there’s a lot of great comics out there, but it’s very hard to evolve. Especially since a lot of comedy right now is very Ted-Talky. A lot of these specials aren’t really funny. They definitely have a point of view, but there are no jokes.

We’re getting further away from the DNA of comedy.

Jonathan Kite: Comedy has an edge. Not all comedy, but the majority of what we laugh at is the unexpected. With general musings, there’s no surprise. Edge has a surprise. It literally pricks you.

What makes someone like Bill Burr funny is that he puts out a point…I saw him workshopping this bit a long time ago where he’s like, “I hate Michelle Obama, she’s a bitch.” Holy crap. That is a crazy thing to say about one of – if not the greatest – First Ladies of all time. She’s so loveable and so intelligent, and when [Burr] starts off with something like that, it’s like him saying, “I don’t know your mom, but I bet she’s a cunt.” What?? Then he works backwards to convince you, “No, no – hear me out.” Not that [the edge] needs to be “our moms are cunts,” but it needs to be an opinion that not everyone agrees with.

People today are talking to the converted. It’s not your job [as a comic] to convert anyone, but it’s why comics don’t make Trump jokes anymore. Because, yeah man, we all agree: Trump’s a fucking idiot. What else you got? After a while, [comics] are just saying things we agree on. That’s called a rally, not a stand-up routine. The lines are so blurred because people are so sensitive to things, that what’s become acceptable is to not offend anyone. [A comic’s] job is not to offend, but it’s certainly not to not offend. And so what people are deciding to do, they’re not trying to offend, but they’re like, “I don’t want to not offend,” so I’m just going to speak in very broad, safe generalizations, that sort of make sense and are amusing.

And yet the specificity is what makes the jokes. That’s where the humor is.

Jonathan Kite: People just want to be liked. David Spade has a great thing where he says, “I’m not a political comedian, because my job is just to be funny.” Absolutely. Who cares what your political affiliation is as long as you’re funny.

Some people say, “I’m not going to be funny if I’m not offensive.” They aren’t the same thing. You just need to be funny. And they go, “Well, I can’t do it without being offensive.” And I go, “Well maybe you’re just not funny.” Maybe you just want the attention. A lot of people who are getting on stage just want to be heard. And that’s what social media has done, it’s validated all of our narcissism. Which is fine. I’m on social media and I’m an actor, for God sakes. I’m looking in the mirror and saying this.

A lot of my stuff right now is about what the role of the white male is in today’s society. I know I’m probably going to offend people, but I want them to listen to what I’m saying, and if they truly are offended in the end, that’s different than having a knee-jerk reaction to hearing a word that triggered them and telling me to fuck off. That’s not listening.

And the thing about comedy is, you guys willingly came to the comedy club. I didn’t come to your kid’s baptism and start shitting on God. There’s a new parasitical job where people try to make a living off recording people and releasing their set online. Like, “Oh, I got this exclusive.” No, man. Amy Schumer’s working on something right now and the fact that you’re going to put it out there is disrespectful. This is her livelihood. She makes art. You decided to see her and now you’re going to expose it and now she can’t make money off it? It feels really weird and sort of gross. She’s trying to work through things as part of the process of an artist. I don’t want art to be dead. Art needs to have a lot of angles. You wouldn’t go to a painter’s studio, film while she’s in the middle of a painting, put that up and say, “Wow, this fucking sucks.” Like, dude. The canvas isn’t even done. She’s literally putting on a primer. At the end of the day, nobody judges Lebron or the Lakers in practice, you judge them in games.

How did you initially develop an interest in comedy?

Jonathan Kite: Growing up in Illinois, I loved radio, tv and old movies. Black and white stuff. Late at night, USA channel had stand-ups, and I would watch guys like Kevin Meaney (who I got to work with later in life, God rest his soul) and I loved that they could make people laugh. I loved the idea of performing, whether it was in a group like The Marx Brothers, or in a duo like Abbott and Costello, or solo like Robin Williams. I loved all of it and I was a fan of comedy, although I pursued acting first.

So stand-up didn’t precede “2 Broke Girls”?

Jonathan Kite: No. I got into stand-up really late in life. I never do anything half-assed and at the time was balls deep in acting. I didn’t want to be one of those casual people who’s like, “Yeah, I’m a stand-up.” I think that’s so disrespectful and not true. Think about people who are stand-ups. These people are in the fucking clubs, this is their job. They’re not casual stand-ups. Which by the way, you can be a casual stand-up. I don’t care. But for me, being a stand-up is such an amazing artform.

Like, I love basketball. I played in high school and I played in a lot of league ball in Los Angeles. I would never be like, “Yo, I play basketball.” Respect the athletes. Until you play, you don’t play. That’s how I look at life. I respect the people who do it too much to be like, “Oh yeah man, I’m a brain surgeon.” It’s like dude, you played the game “Operation” once.

That’s such a unique path of where acting then leads to stand-up. Usually it’s the reverse. When did you decide to go all-in?

Jonathan Kite: I was at The Improv with Taylor Williamson and Ian Edwards, two friends I’ve known from life. We were having a drink or a burger or something, and one of them suggested I try stand-up. It was the summer off between seasons one and two of “2 Broke Girls” and I couldn’t take another job. Ian was like, you have all those impressions, there’s no impressionist out there right now. So I was like, “Okay, cool.” And then Taylor helped me get my first job.

A lot of my friends from life are comics and were so supportive when I started. Guys like Eric Andre, Adam Ray, Andrew Santino. They thought it was awesome and were not competitive at all. I really credit my friend group for vouching for me. But then, I also had to do the jokes. If I wasn’t funny, it wouldn’t have worked out. I also wanted to work my ass off and make good on my friends’ recommendations. I wrote every day that summer and got up every single night.

What’s cool is how everyone in your circle was so supportive of you. It sounds like none of your stand-up friends were looking at you like, “Why is Kite doing this?”

Jonathan Kite: I think they saw that I worked my ass off. I’d held my own in other worlds as a series regular on multiple tv shows, so I think they thought me getting into [standup] was cool. It also helped in the beginning that no one was really doing impressions at the time. Melissa Villasenor – obviously a legend – was on the road a lot. You had Craig Gas and Jeff Richards, but no one was doing them the same way I was. I was my own thing, and I think it read that way, and I think that’s why I got put up on lineups.

How did you start doing impressions?

Jonathan Kite: Jamie Foxx – one of my idols on “In Living Color” – needed a guy for a project, but [the actor] had to be able to do impressions. I had never done impressions before but always wanted to, and viewed the opportunity as a gift from the universe. I literally sat in my room, wrote down who I looked like and sounded like, and just started. This was before standup, so the only place [the impressions] were tested was alone in my room. And I was super pumped about it. Every fiber in me was like, “Yes! Let’s do this!”

You have to take chances. I’ve failed far more than I’ve succeeded, but I let those failures be learning experiences. I didn’t get the [Jamie Foxx] show initially, so I went out and got hammered. I was disappointed. But the next day, I woke up genuinely fine. I don’t know that I can say that about any other [less-than-ideal experience] in my life. It was a job, and I didnt’ get it, so I went on about my day. I felt so weird saying to myself, “It wasn’t meant to be,” and being okay with that.

But sure enough, they called me back and asked if I could do a Steven Segal impression. I lied and said I could one and learned it that night. Next day, I went to the audition and booked the show. I think if I had been broken up over [the initial “no”], I wouldn’t have learned the impression so quickly.

People say for relationships, “Release it and it will come back to you if it’s meant for you.” But you did that for an audition.

Jonathan Kite: Oddly enough, that’s what I would compare it to. A relationship. 100 percent. I wouldn’t have been ready for [the role] if I was still trying to get over the last one. You can’t trick the universe. If I wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t have been ready. I got on that show and it was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. At the same time, it was one of the most rewarding things, but holy schnikes was it hard.

What’s your relationship with cannabis?

Jonathan Kite: I used to smoke a lot. I would go to parties, get higher than anyone in the world, then go to the gas station and buy 20 dollars worth of candy. Then, I’d go back to the party and eat the candy in front of everyone. It was awesome. As I got older, I still loved [weed] but I realized it was affecting my voice. So I stopped smoking because I just wasn’t as strong as I needed to be.

If I wasn’t involved in an [occupation that requires my voice] I’d probably be smoking today. But I don’t do it simply for that reason, and I wish it wasn’t the case. So I drink.

With the explosion of edibles, vapes, and oils, have you thought about going back?

Jonathan Kite: I have. I’ve thought about it a lot. I get gifted a ton of free weed all the time, which I think is super cool. The cooler thing is, there’s no longer a stigma about it. But man do I love booze.

Follow @jonathankite and check out www.officialjonathankite.com/ for tickets and tour dates.

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