Comedian and voice actor Andy Kindler is a regular correspondent on The Late Show with David Letterman, he plays the voice of Mort the Mortician on Fox's Bob's Burgers, a fictionalized version of himself on IFC's Maron, and he's appeared seemingly everywhere else, from Everybody Loves Raymond to The Daily Show.
For nearly 20 years, Andy's "State of the Industry" speech has been the most anticipated event at Montreal's Just For Laughs comedy festival, the largest comedy festival in the world. He's earned the reputation of being the comedy industry's conscience, most recently roasting comics like Louie CK, Ricky Gervais, Chelsea Handler, Jay Leno, and Adam Carolla for not trying hard enough, losing their edge, resorting to "hacky" material, or just being plain, old-fashioned racist.
I recently spoke with Kindler about the backlash from comparing Adam Carolla to Hitler, all female comedy fests, the cast of Bob’s Burgers, and former Portland comics (hello, Ron Funches and Ian Karmel).
Culturephile: Every year you do a state of the industry address at Montreal's "Just For Laughs" fest. How did that start and what were you hoping to accomplish?
Andy Kindler: I had written an article for the National Lampoon in 1991, called the “Hack Comic Handbook,” where I demonstrated how you can make money being a very bad comedian, which most of the comedians were at the time: very bad and making money. The head of the fest said, “why don't you try something like that next year.” My manager came up with the name. The whole premise is: “what's terrible in show business and comedy, and how can I get laughs and vent anger at executives and all the people who are stopping the world from being funnier.”
I guess I was a "save comedy" superhero... A short, diminutive superhero who could punch comedy low... in the groin.
My hypothesis is joke + bathroom reference or extreme reference = hilarity.
How has the industry changed over the time you've been giving the address?
When it first happened, the fest was used for a lot of sitcom deals. That time period, in the 90s, there was a factory of people who just thought like: “Well, Tim Allen and Rosanne had a show, how can we give more standups shows and everybody get rich?” It became very predictable. Its cliché to say it, but there were a lot of comics who didn't love standup but wanted to have a series.
When I started, it was a very 'summer camp' feel where I could make fun of execs in the room. I could say the name of a development person and everyone would know who it was. There isn't one person to focus on anymore, except Leno. Every year I probably have 17 jokes about Leno. I just dislike Leno. The speech changes every year.
How’s that? You should call this “Andy Kindler: Long-Winded.” He’ll tell you everything you wanted to know about the question except what you really wanted!
How do other comics, particularly the ones you criticize, respond? I found some reactions about your statements about Adam Carolla in this year’s “State of the Industry.” What's been the most outrageous response?
The most outrageous was the simplest: “Kindler calls Carolla Hitler, Doesn't Seem to be Kidding.” The big problem was when I first gave the speech, it was reported by industry publications, the LA Times, Variety, or Canadian papers, but now, online, I’ve been slammed on GQ.com, on a list on GQ called “Make It Stop,” where they list me next to ARIEL CASTRO. These aren't journalistic entities anymore. There used to be oversight. What's worse is a lot of the reporting is based on them never having seen what they're reporting on.
What I had said was, “Carolla is like Hitler, if Hitler wasn't funny.” He’s not literally Hitler. The point I’m making is that I think this guy is making hate speech. He's an angry guy to the point of stirring up these obviously racist people. I think he's hiding behind being a comedian to make these points.
We just had a comedy fest called All Jane No Dick, which had an all-female lineup. It's grown in part out of the criticism that even though there are talented female comics, they're rarely given the attention and accolades of male comics. What's the state of sexism in the industry?
There’s no question that there's an inherent racism and sexism in the industry, more black/white than male/female. Truth is, there's institutional racism and sexism in EVERY field. There’s tons of club owners who have a weird opinion of women or black people—people somehow factor that into why they suck. Nobody says, “oh that comic sucks for a white comic.” Also it’s a numbers thing.
When I hear that name I would think it's all sexual material. I think to poke fun at a terrible situation, it’s a funny name. In the future I hope we overcome this thing.
You're a regular correspondent on the Late Show with David Letterman. What's been your wildest interview experience?
Most entertaining: the Republican National Convention. Being in the belly of the beast! Karl Rove was two feet from you. The guy from Pennsylvania, what’s his name? The guy Dan Savage is always making fun of.
Rick Santorum, the people from the Blaze, Glenn Beck's right-wing website. You see all these people who would normally enrage me and they're in my eye line. I was there in 2008 when they decided on Palin. For being a fish out of water, stuck in the Republican enclave, those were the most entertaining and frightening.
Who's more fun to work with, Letterman or Stewart?
Stewart I worked with for years and years. That was not the most fun. I was on the West Coast doing them via satellite. Let’s blame the satellite hookup.
Letterman—my dream was to be on his show. For my generation, he's the king. The fact that its turned into this recurring thing, it's all because of him. Again, sounds like cliché, but that theater is just so historic. I remember when the Beatles came on TV, you see pictures of Stiller and Meara… nothing more exciting than playing that theater.
You play Mort, the Mortician, on Bob's Burgers. What’s the cast like to work with and who’s your favorite character on Bob's Burgers?
It’s hard to say who's my favorite. Kristen Schall, who plays Louise, she's so funny as a person. John Roberts, who plays Linda—years ago he was an Internet sensation, when he did an impression of his mother on YouTube and something about a Christmas tree. There’s just something funny about a man doing that voice. H. Jon Benjamin, pound for pound, there's no funnier voice in the history of television—it's like a magical potion or pact with the devil. It's a talent-studded cast. “Star-studded,” because I’m part of it. And they just got picked up for another season. I also like that I’m wearing two toupees. Or a toupee that doesn’t match my hair. Not sure. It’ll be solved in a two-part episode called “Mort's Plugs.” I dunno… that's why they don't ask me for ideas…
My favorite episode was “Weekend at Mort’s.” I got to play with Amy Sedaris. She's like a comedy hero to me.
Are you familiar with any of the comics who've come out of Portland?
I know Ron Funches very very well. The last time at Helium, he opened. I was stunned by how funny he was because of how long he's been doing it. I don't know if he's a wunderkind or a prodigy. He comes up with so much new material all the time. And Ian I interact with on twitter all the time. He's hilarious on twitter. I’ve never worked with him but I’ve heard great things about his act.
What do you do when you come to Portland?
I’ve been coming to Portland since 1989. I used to love a place called the Original Pancake House. Now a friend of mine's brother has a deli place called, and I’m not trying to make a plug here, Kenny & Zuke’s, so I have incredible pastrami, and I’m a third-wave coffee addict, so if I could spend all day trying different coffee. I also love Portlandia, which I know is not an accurate portrayal, but I love how a caricature of Portland can make me love Portland more. And you can find examples of those people anywhere. I hope people in Portland get that.
Although my job is to make fun of comedy, now is the best time. Acts and audiences are 1000-times better. You can see clips of people before you go see them. It’s great that it’s happening there.