Metro-East Living

A funny thing happened to comedian Kevin Meaney on his way to the Wildey Theatre

Kevin Meaney has been doing stand-up comedy for 36 years. On Sunday, he will keep them laughing at Edwardsville’s Wildey Theatre.
Kevin Meaney has been doing stand-up comedy for 36 years. On Sunday, he will keep them laughing at Edwardsville’s Wildey Theatre. Provided

Comedian Kevin Meaney was on the road on Tuesday somewhere in Pennsylvania, heading for his next shows in Mason City and Edwardsville, Ill.

Just the place for one of his favorite map lines: “I was disappointed when I found out there are no dotted lines between the states.”

He will pull many more funny lines out of his trunk when he performs Sunday night in the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville.

“I’ve been making a living doing stand-up comedy for 36 years,” said Kevin, 59, who lives in New York. “I’m one lucky man.”

A 1986 HBO special put him on the comedy map, and led to more than a dozen appearances on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night with David Letterman,” “Regis,” “Oprah” and “Conan.” He did a comedy album, “That’s Not Right,” in 2004.

He is also an accomplished actor, with numerous guest appearances on TV comedies and dramas. He played the title character in the 1990-91 CBS sitcom “Uncle Buck,” and had a role in the Tom Hanks movie, “Big.”

“I starred in ‘Hairspray’ on Broadway,” Kevin said. “I was an understudy and got to play the lead role. I played the lead in another production of ‘Hairspray’ after that. I never thought I’d get to do stand-up, acting and singing. It’s unreal.”

Funny story

“My daughter (Kate) is 16,” Kevin said, both hands on the steering wheel and talking. “Her favorite words are ‘What?’ and ‘Uh.’ Then it’s ‘I love you, Dad. You’re so wonderful.’ She’s the greatest kid.

“When she was born, people would ask me, ‘What did you name her?’

“I’d say ‘JonBenet’ (as in the 6-year-old murdered in 1996 in Colorado).

“They’d back away and say, ‘Oh ... that’s nice.’”

Recently, Kate went to London to visit her mother. There was a problem with her passport, so she had to answer some questions.

“She called and said, ‘Dad, they want to know if I have any aliases besides Kate. Should I put down JonBenet?

“Noooooooooooooo!

“She has a great sense of humor.”

On with the show

Much of Kevin’s stand-up material draws on his family relationships, especially with his mom.

“I just stopped to see her this morning,” Kevin said. “Dad passed away, but Mom is still here and still a big part of the act. Her name is Pat and she was born on St. Patrick’s Day. She’s hilarious.

“When I was going to perform in Hong Kong, she told me, ‘You better tell them you don’t speak Chinese,’” Kevin said in his nasally Mom voice. “She didn’t get that the audience in those places is mostly expatriates, who flock to clubs just to see an American comedian.”

Lines such as “That’s not right,” “We’re Big Pants People” (“You can’t go out wearing tight pants”) and “Why did you do that to your father and I?” spawn a lot of his humor. Spoken in his Mom voice, of course.

What does Kevin have planned for Edwardsville?

“Depends. You don’t know till you get there. You have to read the audience. I’ll take a cue from my old friend, Al Canal (manager and booking agent for the Wildey).

“My show is PG-13 mostly,” said the openly gay comedian. “But I can get a little blue if the audience wants it. I want to do a show that a family can go to. That my kid could see and be proud of it.”

He doesn’t do much political humor, “because I think people are bored with it, seeing it on TV all day long.”

Al met Kevin when Al booked him at the Funny Bone comedy club at Westport Plaza in St. Louis about 30 years ago.

“He came to the Funny Bone just a couple of weeks after he was on Carson. But I had booked him before that show.

“Kevin was crazy, hilarious, off-the-wall funny,” Al said. “He is one of the funniest comedians I know. People here are in for a real treat.”

Starting at the bottom

Kevin acted in some plays during high school.

“In college, I was encouraged to do more because I was good at it. A teacher saw something in me, and I thank him for that. I also curse him for that once in a while,” Kevin quipped. “He is retired in Florida now and we keep in touch. Most of the shows were comedies. I liked to get laughs on stage.”

As he was coming of age, stand-up comedy was taking off on TV with Johnny Carson, Albert Brooks, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor. Kevin listened and learned. “They were my idols.

“I started at open-mike shows. You have to start there, at the bottom,” Kevin said. “You go in, put your name down, they call you and you do five minutes. It’s a fraternity once you get your feet wet. You keep going back for more abuse. You can’t learn this stuff in class.”

His standup career took off in San Francisco, performing with people such as Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon. “They are all heroes of mine. Little by little, I started making money at it.”

Did he have any bombs along the way?

“Oh, yeah. They still happen sometimes, but not as much.

“Stand-up is like a tightrope act. It happens to everyone from Jerry Seinfeld to open-mike stand-ups. You just have to be prepared to power through the set. Sometimes when you get booked, people are there for a different reason. They’re not there to listen to you. You can fall off the rope at any time.”

Career highlights

Of course, being on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson was one of Kevin’s career highlights.

“But that came when I had been doing this for just six or seven years. A few years ago, I did shows in Jerusalem, Haifa, Hong Kong. And I played Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall. Those were big.

“But my biggest thrill might be starring in ‘Hairspray’ on Broadway.”

Kevin has a few other irons in the show biz fire.

“I still go to auditions, but I don’t like to tell people for what. You say you auditioned for a part in a Robert De Niro movie, and later people say, ‘Kevin, whatever happened to that De Niro picture?’”

If stand-up and acting hadn’t worked out for Kevin, what would he be doing?

“I would own my own restaurant,” he said without hesitation. “I know a lot about restaurants. I started as a pot washer as a kid at a country club. At 25, they wanted me to manage the country club.”

But for now, he prefers serving up physical humor, impersonations, stylized caricatures of nightclub singers and his signature “man on the street” interviews.

But don’t expect him to do his “We’re not big pants people” routine in Edwardsville.

“I don’t go there ... unless they ask for it. And I don’t encourage that.”

At a glance

The Wildey Theatre presents “An Evening of Comedy Starring Kevin Meaney.”

  • When: 7 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: The Wildey Theatre, 252 N. Main St., Edwardsville
  • Tickets: $12-$15; call 618-307-1750 or go to www.wildeytheatre.com
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