Reir and Crying with Andrew Kennedy

Chad White

How many comedians do you know can speak several languages? None? Here’s your first: Andrew Kennedy. Speaking in both Spanish and English, Kennedy has mastered two languages to become a hit in multiple territories. He’s done sets in Columbia, where comedy is essentially new, and killed. He deals in honest standup so nothing is off the table.

I recently had a chat with Kennedy about his truth in comedy.

I love talking to (different) comedians. And you’re different because you’re bilingual.

Which you would not expect from my appearance.

How long have you been doing comedy?

I’ve been doing comedy technically going on 20 years. I guess from the moment I did my first open mic night, amateur night thing. I’d say it’s been two decades.

And have you always been fitting in your heritage?

From the beginning, it starts out like that. It started out as only that and then it’s morphed into so much more. It was my thing. I always get different reactions from white people. That’s where it all started.

Were those reactions all good? I know if someone just threw Spanish into their everyday life, I’d have to get used to it.

The reactions are always positive. What I noticed is how people talk to me differently after they hear me speak Spanish as a native speaker. It’s almost like I become an instant non-enemy. In some places, they almost don’t like you. They’re like “Here’s this white guy going into a bodega. What’s he doing in a bodega?” And then I’m suddenly speaking Spanish and now we’re best friends. It really is amazing what happens.

Is it easy to input your Spanish into the comedy? Into the English set? Or was it kind of difficult at first?

At the beginning, it was just short phrases. Even if non-Spanish people heard it, they understood that they were listening to legitimate Spanish – even if they didn’t understand it. Pretty much the audiences have been a nice mix. There’s always been enough Hispanics in the audience that they certainly get all of it. And everybody else laughs at their reaction because it’s such an eye opening reaction at first.

It’s like a domino effect: they hear the Spanish and then [it goes down from there].

That’s exactly right. But I don’t do too much of it because if they don’t understand it, then it gets old. There’ll be a level of non-Spanish speaking people dealing with me talking in another language and then it’s not fun anymore. Then I figure out how to shut that off.

I read that you toured in Bagota, Columbia at one point. How does their crowd compare to the American crowd?

Standup is not nearly as old in Columbia as it is in the States. Standup really was non-existent about ten years ago in Columbia. The audiences react to it differently. For myself in particular, that was the first time I had done a twnety minute set in Spanish so I was feeling the pressure. I went on a television show back home where they’ll grab an artist and they’ll fly an artist to their home country to meet with other local artists to talk about whatever that’s needed there. It wasn’t really that I was on tour but I was there shooting that episode. It culminated with me doing a set at the end in Spanish to see how it would go over. And it went over really well.

I’m a storyteller in Spanish or English. Usually, when you see comedy in French, European, or South American its very slapsticky; It’s very clowny. It’s nice that they’re now accepting standup comedy in those countries for what it is – which is a commentary on life, the trends of the times and not having to be so clowny. In those countries, you can’t get into politics and you can’t get into religion or you’re going to offend the wrong people and your life can be affected. Your physical life could be affected. Once you take that away, comedy is washed down to being silly. When I went down there, I got a chance to do pretty much my act from English. I basically just translated. I did twenty minutes of it and it went great.

As a self-proclaimed story teller, do you find it easier to delve into life or do you stick with punchy jokes that are one or two lines and then move onto the next topic?

Not at all. I don’t do punchy jokes; I don’t write jokes. I tell stories that are hilarious. We as people are all the same. The particulars are different…names, genders, actual things that happened -- but we’re all the same. We’re human beings that have experienced the same emotions throughout our lives. I just connect what’s been happening throughout my life. Everybody can either understand because they’ve experienced it themselves, they know somebody that has or they’ve seen how this could happen – whether it’s marriage, parenthood, growing older, sex. Whatever. Pretty much it’s taken from my life. It’s evolved as I evolved, as my kids grow up. I’m getting a divorce – I’m talking about that. It’s pretty much in time what’s going on with my life at that moment.

It’s safe to say that you feel pretty comfortable onstage even to talk about your divorce. Every comic has it. Is it a problem with you to get scared and let your guard down? Do you feel that the audience is getting to know you too well at some point?

After doing comedy for as long as I have, that fear of exposing your true self to strangers goes away. What happens is, to be honest with you, these performances become cathartic for me. It’s almost as if I don’t even need to see a therapist to discuss what’s going on in my life. I’m talking to complete strangers about it and being brutally honest regarding many facets of my life. The reaction says it all. I’m hitting a nerve because either people are thinking about it and they’re not acting on it or there’s a connection here that’s happening. If there wasn’t, they wouldn’t laugh. The more real I become, and I have over the years…the bigger the reaction is because it might shock people that I’m being that honest. It all comes from doing for two decades.

I also see that you did a pilot for CBS and with you growing into a better comic every single day, I can assume that the pilot didn’t go through, how was doing that pilot? How did it help you evolve into a better comic?

What happened was I think I got that development deal too soon in my career emotionally. I was ready for it. The pilot was excellent. It was just poor timing. Everybody Loves Raymond had one more season to go and my pilot was similar except that it had two sets of in-laws instead of one. It was too close to that Everybody Loves Raymond type of family situation that CBS went with Jason Alexander’s Listen Up and John Goodman’s Center of the Universe, which both did not do well at all. For me, it was about timing. I never moved to LA after shooting it. I didn’t want to do that to my wife and kids – just go fishing in LA for a career. Now, I feel like given the opportunity again – which I have been putting together a beat sheet for a pilot – it would be much edgier than it was the first time around and more honest.

Who would you go for this time? Would you still go back for broadcast or, with it being more edgy, would you go and try to do it on a streaming service or deep cable?

The streaming service might be the way to go for it to be completely honest. Although the networks are starting to step up and make things edgier.

Follow purchase Andrew Kennedy's album Almost Black on iTunes.