Andy Kindler interview

In the shark-infested waters of Hollywood, networking, schmoozing and, crucially, brown-nosing to executives is the only way to get on.

At least that’s the traditional view of things. But one comedian, Andy Kindler, has cut a niche telling studio chiefs what everyone else knows, but only dare whisper. That the comedy they produce is almost exclusively garbage.

His annual State Of The Industry Address has become one of the highlights of Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival, when he tells the assembled TV suits exactly what he thinks of them. Some of the shows and stars might be unfamiliar to Britons, but the sentiment behind them certainly isn’t:

‘If you’re stupid enough to believe Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, you’re stupid enough to think According To Jim will get another series.’

‘I don't know how they come up with this stuff at CBS... besides putting it through a photocopier."

‘If the co-stars of the sitcom Still Standing Mark Addy and Jami Gertz were on the science channel hosting a show on chemists, there would still be no chemistry between them.’

‘Jay Leno testified at the Michael Jackson trial, but the defence weren’t satisfied. What a shock to see Leno give a disappointing performance.’

‘The State Of The Industry Address came about because I wrote an article called The Hacks’ Handbook for National Lampoon magazine,’ Kindler says from his home in California

‘It was in the mid-Nineties as the comedy boom was beginning to bust and was about the same stock material all the comics used to use – that anything was funny with an attitude and exposing the teary-eyed closer lots of acts used to do.’

He was invited to the Montreal festival in 1995 where he used that article for the basis of a show demonstrating all the tricks of the bad stand-up. ‘Lots of comics saw it and the festival suggested I come back next year.’

He’s been back every year since, and this month he is bringing his solo show Misery Loves Comedy – incorporating some of the industry bitching that would translate across the Atlantic – to London’s Soho Theatre. Just a shame most of Britain’s comedy bigwigs will be at the Edinburgh festival at the time.

‘I feel like there’s never been a more dire time for comedy,’ he says. ‘The whole industry is in a walking coma.’

And it’s not just TV. Kindler hasn’t much time for the few mainstream comedy clubs that still survive following America’s incredible boom and bust in the stand-up industry that resulted in a glut of substandard venues nad performers before its collapse.

‘I have this line with my agent when I go on the road, “Comedy in a comedy club? Sounds a bit dicey.”

‘The alternative comedy scene here and in New York – away from big clubs like the Improv, The Comedy Store and The Laugh Factory – is thriving. But nothing’s getting through to TV.

‘They have a show here called Situation Comedy, where they try to go out of the system to try to find a new sort of sitcom. But it’s still full of mainstream show runners – it’s the same sitcom guys giving out advice. ’

If pressed, there ARE some shows he admits to liking: The Larry Sanders Show, The Sopranos ‘it has more comedy than most sitcoms’ and, essentially for any American comedy congnoscente, the original Office. But, true to form, he hates the US remake.

‘The think they don’t get is that you shouldn’t just try to recreate things. The lesson is that Ricky Gervais made the show he wanted to make.’

Kidler reckons that every good show has become so because the networks don’t interfere, as witnessed by the success of prestigious cable station HBO, which largely left shows to develop unhindered, and a few notable network exceptions.

‘The reason early Seinfeld was good is because it started off under the radar. It was so small it was outside the system.

And the bottom line? ‘Nothing is going to save network TV.’

Could Kindler be the man to save it? Unlikely, given the number of highly-paid noses he’s put out joint with his annual Montreal tirade. ‘I’ve burned a lot of bridges,’ he concedes. ‘I’ve written my autobiography. It’s called Everything Seems To Fall Through.’ It is – I think – a joke.

But then if the American sitcom is dead, then Kindler’s not one to be heartbroken about it – after all, its desperate state is what is providing him with his livelihood.

August 2, 2005

Published: 6 Sep 2006

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