Comedian Andy Kindler is back to tell us while the State of the Union may be precarious, the state of comedy is strong.
Known for his appearances on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and recurring role as Ray Barone’s sportswriter pal Andy on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Kindler has also established a niche as an ombudsman of sorts for the comedy industry.
Since 1996, he’s given a “State of the Industry” speech — which he describes as “part rant, part roast” — at the annual Just for Laughs festival, which is in the midst of its final and busiest week in Montreal.
Standing before fellow comics, journalists and Hollywood insiders, Kindler bashes away at comedians he feels have lost the funny. That includes everyone from Jay Leno to Ricky Gervais, with whom he’s had a years-long feud.
And Kindler looks at developments beyond comedians, which in recent years include the shadow cast by President Donald Trump on the comedy world.
“When he first got elected, everyone was depressed. But now that he’s so overtly a racist, it’s actually great for comedy,” Kindler said. “It woke up [Stephen] Colbert, ‘The Daily Show’ and so many stand-ups. I think it’s necessary [to do Trump-related jokes]. Comedy in the Reagan era, for example, pales in comparison because there is such actual danger now.
“I think it’s exciting,” he said, adding, “if we don’t die!”
Kindler, 62, is a native of Queens, N.Y. “My father was a cobbler,” he tweeted recently. “A peach cobbler.”
Actually, his father was a plumbing and heating contractor. His mom was a homemaker who became an expert in antiques. Kindler’s paternal grandparents and maternal great-grandparents were all Russian-Polish immigrants, and he grew up attending Sunday school at a Reform temple.
“I didn’t like the classes,” he said, “but I was very excited about my bar mitzvah because it was a performance, even though I didn’t know I was going to be a comic then.”
Kindler’s mother, who grew up in a New York City suburb with few Jews, became somewhat alienated from her heritage.
“Chanukah was not good in my house,” he lamented, “but Sukkot was my favorite holiday because in temple they gave us challah with honey and apples.”
The whole famiy was funny, he says, and Kindler not only enjoyed growing up in Queens (“Where everyone is disgusted with everything!”), but it was during those years he would sit down to watch stand-ups on TV like Alan King and Jackie Mason. They became his comedic role models.
In his routines over the years, Kindler has often included Holocaust references, but he takes pains not to trivialize the tragedy.
“I did an HBO special once in which I spoke about my fears of being rounded up,” he said. “I said, ‘I won’t go on a train. It’s going to Baltimore? Right, more like Baltimore-Stuttgart!’
“A Jewish comedy writer told me he was very upset with me, so I had to examine why I was doing such jokes. And the reason was my own fear of the Holocaust happening again. So I feel it’s justified to examine it.”
These days, Kindler is more scared than ever, focusing as much on the state of the country as much as the state of the industry.
“I understand that nothing compares to the Holocaust,” he said, “but I think it’s important to compare Trump to Hitler in order to wake people up. Trump is like Hitler except he’s doing it with Muslims and Mexicans. I’m not 100 percent sure all the time, but I think my stuff is bringing those memories back for a pointed reason.”
Along with his State of the Industry speech slated for Friday, July 26, Kindler will host “The Alternative Show” on four nights of Just For Laughs, described by the festival as the comedian “taking you off the beaten path of mainstream comedy and into the chaotic wilderness.”
Kindler has emceed that event since the 1990s, when “alternative” comics like Sarah Silverman, Marc Maron and David Cross were imagining possibilities for stand-up beyond the standard setup, punchline and audience work of the mainstream comedy clubs.
“The name [‘Alternative Show’] doesn’t make much sense anymore because it’s all alternative now,” he said. “I think comedy is in a better place than it’s ever been because it’s become so diverse.”
Kindler, who’s been married since 2002 to photographer Susan Maljan, shows no signs of slowing down. He’s a regular voice on the animated sitcom “Bob’s Burgers” and Comedy Central’s “Tosh.O,” along with doing stand-up throughout the country.
He doesn’t, however, deny that the aging process has had an effect on him and his craft. Holding onto a podium during a recent appearance, Kindler paused mid-joke and said, “Why am I leaning over like an old Jew?”
A brief pause, then the answer: “Because I am an old Jew!”
This article was provided by the JTA international news agency and wire service.