Source – theguardian.com
- “…Comedy and sin, one ought to say, because the latter was an equal speciality of Kinison’s. Even in Los Angeles in the 80s, his feats of drinking, promiscuity and cocaine consumption were talked about like miracles of loaves and fishes”
Sam Kinison’s Breaking the Rules
He came from a family of Pentecostal preachers and performed comedy with righteous, thrilling fervour
‘I’m attracted to heartbreakers’ … Sam Kinison.
Photograph: Kevin Winter/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image Leo Benedictus
Title: Breaking the Rules
The setup: Sam Kinison died young, aged 38, ironically as a result of someone else’s drunk driving, yet his name lives on. He grew up in a family of midwestern Pentecostal preachers. He had the zeal for the profession himself, but perhaps not the tact, and experienced whatever the opposite of a Damascene conversion is in the mid-1970s when he began watching Richard Pryor and realised that comedy was his real calling.
Comedy and sin, one ought to say, because the latter was an equal speciality of Kinison’s. Even in Los Angeles in the 80s, his feats of drinking, promiscuity and cocaine consumption were talked about like miracles of loaves and fishes. With his distinctive cloth cap or beret, he looked like Angus Young, and with his screaming delivery, he sounded like Axl Rose. Hellfire preacher turned epic carouser: that’s how he’s always talked about today.
Yet this misses something. Watch his performances now, especially this one made before decline set in, and while the distinctive rawness and the rudeness and the confessional anguish are all there, it’s hard to feel as though he ever did turn his back on Jesus. Rather, you get a picture of a man who started as a faithful sinner trying to be good, but has now stopped trying. Though thwarted, the idealism lingered, making him just the type of trenchant misanthrope – like George Carlin or Bill Hicks – that is the template for many great comedians.
Funny, how? Bear in mind that Kinison, in his early 30s, already had two failed marriages to look back on when this show was filmed. “I’m attracted to heartbreakers,” he says, and sets out to show us the result, raging on and on about his allegedly diabolical ex-wives. (Who, he acknowledges, had their own complaints.)
That raging, though, the energy and slickness of it, is really something. There’s a technique that Kinison has (it’s also very Hicksian) of beginning a point calmly and reasonably and then, when he reaches the punchline, TURNING UP THE VOLUME TO 11! It would be formulaic if it were done on anything below full throttle, and if it weren’t for the provocativeness of his ideas.Advertisement
Kinison was a Christian comedian. He shunned pious conduct in his personal life, and showed no Christian sensitivity in his generalisations about women, gay men and starving people (always admitting they were generalisations). Yet he was at his best on scripture. He blasphemes merrily. He describes Jesus, as he faced death, suggesting that his disciples might as well just “blow” him. On the Bible, he has this to say: “A ladder and a pair of pliers and it could have been a different book, folks.” He even scoffs at the idea of a second coming: “I don’t want to dampen anybody’s optimism here, but it’s been 2,000 years …”
Yet there is not a word of mockery for faith itself, and even several moments of real tenderness for Christ’s suffering – just about the most unlikely thing imaginable in a standup comedy routine. The real reason Jesus won’t come back, Kinison explains, is because he was so cruelly treated last time. “Thanks a lot!” Christ says, in this version of events. “Let me know if you could use a saviour who can use his hands as a fucking whistle!” This is preaching, but it’s preaching the bad news.
Comic cousins: Bill Hicks, Doug Stanhope, Lenny Bruce, Chris Rock, George Carlin.
Steal this: “Pat Robertson says the Lord told him to run for president. I bet He did. He wants to make him look like a complete ass.”