Born in Soviet Russia, 32-year-old standup comedian Daniel Kinno immigrated to the United States when he was 15 years old. Today, he works in Los Angeles as both a comedian and a comedy writer for Hollywood, selling jokes to movie-makers behind hits like 50/50 and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. He will perform May 8 at Pontoon Club.
How did you get into comedy?
I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. Even when I was a kid in Russia watching Russian comedians, I wanted to do standup. They had a lot of good comedy in Russia. It could be clever, and if you wanted it to be subversive, it had to be really clever. A lot of them would come on stage and read from a notebook. You didn’t have to be as much as a performer back then as you did in America.
I think it all started when I was little when I realised I could make adults laugh. And I don’t just mean the way adults laugh at cute kids. I mean really laugh.
What really lit the fire is when I heard my first George Carlin album. That blew my mind. That you could be edgy and political and at the same time dirty and mean, and still be liked. That did something for me.
How was performing in Afghanistan for the US military?
That was an eye-opening experience, and by eye-opening I mean pants-s—ing. There were a couple of scary moments. One time a forward operating base I was at was attacked; another time the Black Hawk I was in was shot at. It gave me a real appreciation for how things work. Particularly in LA as a liberal writer, you tend to have opinions on these things, and you’re sure that you’re right. But once you meet the people involved and see the daily grind all around you, you feel foolish for having any sort of opinion.
What inspires your material?
I just talk about stuff that is relevant to me. I don’t really look at the outside world and think, What can I make fun of? I’ll see something and I’ll write about it. Sometimes, someone will do something that annoys me.
Instead of seeking a confrontation, I’ll take it on stage. If I can make people see something I see, that’s really the best.
For example, I have this joke about people who don’t finish a bottle of soda and walk around all day with it as it goes flat. That really annoys me.
Some comedians have spoken out about their struggle with depression. Do you get tired of having to be funny all the time?
The short answer is yes. This job leaves no room for personal emotions. You can't say I feel like s--- so I'm not going to be funny tonight. You bottle it and move on. I think that has to have a negative effect on how you deal with stuff. I'm not a depressed person, but I struggle with it from time to time.
What is it like to have your jokes used in famous movies?
It's always cool to see your words performed. And yes, hopefully soon one of my works will get made. That would be a lot of fun to see.
What brings you to Southeast Asia?
Truth be told, it’s because of a girl. I met this girl I liked a lot, and she lives in Kuala Lumpur. So last year I came to visit her on a vacation for a couple weeks, and while I was here, I found this comedy scene that I didn’t know existed. So I hopped on stage for just 10 minutes, and that’s how it began.
This has been a very eye-opening experience. Jakarta had a lot of expats, but Kuala Lumpur and Singapore had a lot of locals come out, which is the coolest part of performing here. I already know I can make white people laugh.
I like performing abroad because it’s one thing to see how Americans are perceived around the world, but it’s another thing to see how the audience perceives an American comedian. And it’s very ironic to see comedians come up and bash America in the most purely American art form.
Does anti-Americanism in comedy ever bother you?
As long as the jokes are funny, it’s funny to watch. But sometimes I’ll see a false stereotype on stage, and I’ll call it out. Like when people say Americans are stupid. Americans aren’t stupid. Americans are arrogant. There’s a big difference. We didn’t become a superpower by being stupid.