Comedian Kyle Dunnigan Talks ‘Professor Blastoff’, ‘Reno 911!’ and Craig [Interview]
Kyle Dunnigan is a comedian whose act and talents are virtually limitless. In front of the mic he mixes a unique form of traditional stand-up comedy with an ability to improvise and write, all while being on the stage and ‘in the moment.’ On top of that, he, at times, incorporates a musical element into his act, adding a whole new level of funny to an already clever act.
When he isn’t gracing the stage, Kyle is one of the hosts of ‘Professor Blastoff’, a podcast on the Earwolf network that comprises a mixture of comedy, science, philosophy and metaphysical studies into a weekly conversation. He, along with his other hosts—Tig Notaro and David Huntsberger—deliver a show that is seemingly fun and educational due to the fact that the comedic trio have expert guests on to discuss the chosen topics.
Kyle’s wit, humor and genuine interest in people and the topics Professor Blastoff explores are only part of the reason we were so eager to speak to him. He recently gave us some of his time to speak about Professor Blastoff, his time on Reno 911! and his upcoming trip back to the east coast to perform at Foxwoods Casino on July 6 and at Caesars Atlantic City on July 7.
It’s great that we’re doing the interview today. We were able to listen to the newest episode of Professor Blastoff.
Oh good! You have some reference of what I do. [laughs]
It seems that among the three of you [himself, Tig & David] you’re the most open about the embarrassments you’ve endured in life. Though on the most recent episode David shared one his stories and seemed incredibly uncomfortable.
Yeah. [laughs] Usually it’s just me. That’s the first time he shared like that, and I don’t think he’ll ever share again.
We love your comedy and we love Professor Blastoff. How did you get started?
I was in New York doing sketch and improv but there was just no money. I had done stand up a couple of times before so I decided to try it again and just got lucky. A manager of one of the clubs took me under his wing and started giving me spots so I was able to work on my act.
Did you study at UCB?
No, I was at this weird underground thing. It was one group called ‘Some Assembly Required’. I also did some dinner theater while I was doing temp jobs. I was just trying to survive really. Then I got into the Montreal Comedy Festival in ’99 and got Conan O’Brien. From that I was able to get a manager and agent out here [Los Angeles], so that’s when I made the move here.
We remember reading that you don’t like doing the road too much. Do you still feel that way?
I like the shows but it’s just everything else. The road is not terrible but after a while the flying and hotel rooms, it gets a little old. But I kind of slowed down now so it doesn’t bother me as much. I was just going through a phase where I was on the road for a while.
We can imagine that would be difficult.
It’s all in how much you do it. It’s like if you had candy for breakfast every day you’d hate candy. I think.
So being a performer in improv and sketch, do you incorporate them both into your stand up?
I do. I talk to the audience a little bit and write a lot on stage. I’ll go up with a premise that I think could be funny and then I’ll try to riff on it and write. There’s also a little improv there.
Who were some early inspirations for your act?
Stand up-wise I really liked Dana Carvey. I remember him being the first comedian I really enjoyed. He was mainly sketch but he’d also do some stand up. Eddie Murphy was also one of the first people I heard. A friend of mine had an album of his and I just loved it. I really never thought of doing it.
I kind of drifted around and didn’t just have one influence. I like a lot of different types of comedy. Chris Rock, Steve Martin. Brian Regan is one of my favorite comedians.
The Dana Carvey influence is obvious — You also do several impressions both on stage and on your podcast.
Yeah! My act is really all over the place. I like to play music too. I like to do a bunch of stuff. A lot of it is actually what he does to a degree.
Speaking of impressions, your Bill Maher is unbelievably funny.
Oh, thank you. Part of me, when I’m doing it, doesn’t know what it’s supposed to sound like but I really like doing it.
How did you go into creating that Craig character? It seems to have become a phenomenon in itself.
Honestly, I’ve been doing an incarnation of that since I was like 10 years old, maybe even younger. I was just goofing around with my family. Then, I don’t know, it was just something I kept doing and it just worked on stage with improv. I was also in the Groundlings Sunday Company so I just kept doing Craig there. It was one of those things that I’d been doing so long and just felt comfortable doing it on stage.
So then how does Craig go from that to being on ‘Reno 911’?
I had an audition to do a one-day shoot and it went well. They kept inviting me back. I would wait to see if they were going to invite me back the next year.
What was the experience working on that show with that group of people?
It was really fun. They’re so in charge of the show too, which make a big difference because it has an atmosphere that you’re just friends making something as opposed to a high-pressured network thing. There’s no rehearsal too. I was a little uncomfortable at first. They’d say, “Okay, it’s your birthday today. Then we’re going to bring in a cake. Okay, action!” It was literally that fast. I was like, ‘oh, okay.’ [laughs]
Wow, talk about pressure. Though obviously it worked because they kept you on for quite a bit.
KD: Yeah, that worked out well. College kids love that show so I benefitted from that. I was able to get a lot of college gigs and such. That job really paid off. Not all of them do. [laughs]
That idea of friends running the show, that’s exactly how it seems with Professor Blastoff. It’s not a TV show but the idea of friends getting together to do something they love is similar. It seems very strong on your podcast.
Yeah, people have said that. I really like that. We love each other and genuinely have a good time. We also make each other laugh. It’s just so fun. I’m really happy with how that’s turned out.
How did Professor Blastoff come about?
Tig was asked by Earwolf to put a podcast together. She knew that David and I love science. We’d talk about boring space stuff all of the time, so she thought it’d be funny to mix in comedy with a little bit of education.
You guys (and girls) have experts on too.
Yeah, we still haven’t perfected that. [laughs] Sometimes it’s like an extra job to try and get an expert in. We’ve had some great ones and then some that don’t quite work because the topic won’t be right. It’s a weird balance that we’re trying to figure out.
You have comedians on as well. Do you prefer to have experts or comedians?
I prefer experts because if it’s going to be someone that will teach something I feel it’s good for the audience. That way they can laugh and think ‘oh, I learned something really cool.’ I like that aspect of the show. I think it’s unique and sort of separates it from other podcasts.
Even some comedians can act as experts. For example, having Myq Kaplan on the other week with the topic of perception. That was great.
Oh yeah! That’s like the perfect guest, someone who’s funny and who has knowledge that we don’t.
So how did you meet Tig and David?
I met Tig years ago. Comedy Central had a nationwide contest and we both were new to stand up. This was back in the ‘90s. We got into the final 44 and they flew everybody out to LA. Me and Tig were in the final five and I barely talked to her. We remember each other from that and then we met in comedy clubs a couple of times. We always had a good time together. Then in 2005, I think, we were both booked on an NBC pilot. It was so terrible, but we laughed the entire time and just decided to write together. And David, I met him through Tig.
Surely this is a popular question, but have you guys discussed doing a live Professor Blastoff?
Yeah, we are thinking about doing that. We’re just trying to find the right place to do it. We’ve thought about possibly doing a tour and setting something up online where we let people know we’ll come to their house and do it. [laughs] But we’re in the beginning stages of that. Though we’re definitely planning something.
How do you go about picking the topics for the show?
We just email back and forth honestly. It’s really random. Sometimes we fight about what would be a good topic. There have been times where we get five minutes into a topic and just know it’s not interesting because we don’t have information about it. Plus we all agree on the information we do have, so it’s just a dead topic. I think we had one about Sasquatch or Big Foot and we all were like ‘no, we don’t believe in Big Foot.’ Then it was just over. [laughs] It’s like ‘what else is going on?’ We thought we had someone who was an expert but no. It was Doug Benson. David thought that he was really into Big Foot and it turns out he wasn’t. That was an error.
Occasionally on Professor Blastoff you’ll have listeners on the show. That’s very different.
I love it. In the studio, when they’re there, they bring such a good energy. They’re really happy to be there. We have really smart and creative listeners. They make art for us. Every week we’re getting some kind of present. It’s really cool. They show up to shows a lot and bring us a lot of stuff. It’s really great to have listeners who are smarter than you. [laughs]
You’ve also been known to perform these ridiculous yet hysterical riddles. Where did those form?
I just one day did it. I don’t remember why. I think I thought the episode was getting boring. [laughs] I had done the riddles with friends as a joke. I’d just freestyle something horribly and I think that might be how it came about. I love how people write it. Somebody made a great video of the whole thing and put it up online.
You also seem to be a fan of voices. Do you do much voice acting?
You know, I really don’t. I rarely go out for it. I would like to but I just don’t know. I guess my agent isn’t really a voiceover guy because I don’t really go out for them that much. [laughs] Though now I’m doing a cartoon for Nickelodeon. They’re taking the Craig character and animating it.
What do you enjoy most about doing the show?
Laughing. We did one episode where I just couldn’t stop laughing. It’s very therapeutic to laugh that hard.
It’s also very therapeutic to us as well.
Good! I remember one where I was talking about when I went to a locker room and there were grown men showering so I saw grown men’s’ penises…
The innocent adult penises?
[laughs] Yeah, adult penises. They [Tig & David] just hammered me like I had been violated. I just felt so alone that I had to laugh. It was hilarious.