This is my interview with Kivi Rogers in Erie, PA on November 5th, 2011. He is an incredibly nice and funny guy and it was a great pleasure to be able to meet with him. You can catch clips of his stand-up here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK1i6E8g8_Q and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TtSUzTJCQA.
Check out this interview on our NEW SITE: http://www.jbrinlinginterviews.com/
How are you?
I’m great, man. It’s good to be back here. I haven’t been here since like ’06. It’ still the same, I always come when it’s cold.
Enjoying the cold weather?
No, not when you come…I’m in the Caribbean like every month. The temperature change is a bit drastic.
When did you decide to go into comedy?
What was it? It was 1990. I got a degree in electronics and I was always clowning at work and it was my co-workers that I was always clowning with and they would always try to goat me in saying ‘hey, have you ever tried stand-up?’ and I’d be like ‘no, man, I can’t get on stage in front of people.’ They kept doing it and it was like over a period of six years but they would do it almost jokingly. ‘Ah, man, you gotta do comedy,’ and stuff like that. One time, one of my co-workers came up and said that he had seen a comedy show the previous night and there was an amateur contest afterwards. He said, ‘you would have blown those guys off the stage,’ and he went, ‘you gotta go.’ It was serious, not joking this time, and I could feel it. The following week, I went, entered the competition, and won. I did that three weeks in a row and that was all; that was all she wrote.
So you’ve been doing comedy for twenty years?
Almost, yeah, you can count the amateur times because you don’t get the stage time; you try to find it as much as you can. But when I really got into it and was just comedy dedicated was August of ’93. I got laid off and I bit the bullet. I said that if I took another job, it’s going to be a crutch and I won’t work as hard, which is hard. So, I gave up the electronics career and just got out there and it worked out.
If you were giving yourself advice 15 years ago, what would you say?
At that time, I would have said…God, if I knew then what I know now…and you can never ever second guess because things have their own reason, you know, take their direction for whatever reason. I got into colleges and the money was a trap and I got into colleges in ’95. So, if I would have gone back to that point, I would have said ‘don’t get caught up in that.’ Because I’ve done a lot of acting and the colleges took me away from really focusing and refining my act more because it becomes a situation where you are just going from gig to gig and there’s no time in between. I mean, you’re getting up, traveling, getting there, rest for awhile, do the show, eat, go back to bed, and wake up. It’s basically just going to pick up a check, it’s good and all but you have no time to sit down and write and it got to where I wasn’t enjoying stand-up so I would say ‘if it’s your passion to do stand-up comedy and become the best at it, don’t get trapped and don’t get caught up in the money aspect.’ Because the money comes, it truly comes. If you give yourself no other choice, there are no other choices out there, and this is the direction you go in, you’ll be successful at it.
Now you’ve been spending a few days in Erie, have you been seeing the sights?
The sight? (Laughs) Yeah, I was at the mall. I’ve been here like four times or something like that; I’ve driven through because I’ve done a bunch of colleges all over Pennsylvania. Uh…no, to answer your question. I am familiar…I just kind of stay in, especially with the cold. I don’t want to be out in that. You guys dress very scantily for it and I’m like ‘oh my goodness.’ I’m not ready for it.
It said in your bio that you and a friend once derailed a train. What were the consequences of that?
Nobody knew. Plenty of people saw us roll it up there on the tracks, and me, I was always thinking, I wanted massive destruction and right…you know. We rolled this thing, they chopped down a eucalyptus tree in my neighborhood, and we rolled it up on the tracks. It was my idea, so I’ll take the blame; I said ‘let’s get it over there and on the tracks.’ I needed some help so he helped me roll it up on there and then we tied it down there on the middle of the tracks. We decided, ‘oh, we gotta kick out some of these rocks, cause I want it have to butt against this tie down. As soon as the train hit, I wanted it to impact and I wanted it to stick. But I’m thinking this thing; big train, they have the shorter engines and the longer engines, this was one of the short ones that carried empty box cars from one point to another, back to the yard. It was always every night that this guy would come through. I just knew that it was going to shave this thing to bits. It did but holy crap. That’s when I realized how strong wood is because it hit it and you could just see this thing twirling under the train and suddenly it caught the perfect angle and just locked in the train ‘boom!’ And he and I were on the phone together, we were watching out of our front windows at home, and it just got silent. (Laughs) This thing came down in a shower of sparks and it hit the ground ‘boom!’ the loudest sound. Scared to death and I said ‘did you see that?’ and he said ‘yeah’ he says ‘I’m going to bed.’ (Laughs) When you go to sleep and nobody’s knocking at the door, you’re okay. I stayed there for a minute and kept getting back up to go look out there and then all of these cars are…the train had skipped off the side of the track and it just dug up probably a good 60 yards of track. I was just like ‘holy crap.’ They brought a crane out to lift up the train to lift it up and they had to replace all of this track.
Me: So was the news trying to figure out who did it?
You know what, they had investigators out and all the neighbors and everything, they all saw me do it but nobody paid attention and nobody said anything.
Me: Pretty lucky then.
Yeah, this was back in Sometown, USA (Laughs) I don’t know if there’s a statue of limitations on that kind of stuff but nobody was hurt and I went back the next morning and looked at the damage. It was…that wood was shredded, they took most of it but it did some serious damage. The train, the track was a little damaged, and the tie downs. I was like ‘phew,’ go to school, stay in school.
Who are your heroes?
If I go with stand-up, I always grew up with Richard Pryor and I didn’t really appreciate what he…I knew it was funny but I was laughing basically because I was a kid listening to a guy say a lot of cuss words on the album, I wasn’t all that familiar with the story. The stories were funny and all, but I didn’t know what the true meanings behind them were. It wasn’t until I was older when I realized ‘wow,’ he’s just amazing. Richard Pryor; Cosby, very little Cosby when I was growing up but mostly Richard Pryor when I was growing up and then when I got older and got into comedy, I started studying different people. I went back to Lenny Bruce, Robin Williams, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy came out and I thought the dude was just brilliant, and then Chris Rock. Those are the guys that are on my list.
Have you ever told a joke, the audience didn’t get?
Oh absolutely, it happens. What’s funny about that is you could write a joke and it’s funny in your head and you can even figure out how to deliver it and everything, you know if it’s going to work or not, typically. Sometimes, you might try something that’s funny to you and you think ‘ah, I can make this work.’ You go out there and you hit it and the audience just lets out a little laugh and you just go ‘okay,’ didn’t work out that way now did it. (Laughs) So they might not of thought it was funny but you give it a try, and hopefully you’ve recorded it so you can hear how you delivered it and if it didn’t work you deliver it a different way. The rule is three times, three different shows and see if it has some potential and if it doesn’t, discard and move on. It’s a weird feeling. You can go sometimes where an audience is just uptight. The mood of an audience is amazing especially when you think that we’re animals and we are affected by the mood, I totally believe that. I’ve seen shows where it was a full moon out and the audience was just the tightest and it was like ‘son of a gun man, I kill with this all the time and you guys are looking at me like you’ve heard this before.’ Thankfully there’s few and far between but it does and you gotta recognize it for what it is and just keep plowing. Just keep plowing ahead.
What is your greatest fear?
I guess it would be not being a good example to my kids. People take this career and…I have a lot of buddies that have kids and I’m one of the few comedians that are on Facebook and is always talking about their kids. Doing homework with them, they’re on a trip with me, and we’re doing this and this and constantly teaching. Stand-up is stand-up, I enjoy it and love it but my family is first and foremost and if I failed in some way at that, I would be crushed. Nothing else because I can do everything else. Oh and…not having crack available. (Laughs) I’m just joking, no drugs. But yeah that would be it; I just have to be a good role model for my kids.
Do you have a favorite place to do stand-up?
Not really a favorite place, any place where there is an audience, a stage, and…
Me: The full moon.
No full moon. You know I’ve gotten over stuff like that and I’ve stopped using it like…suits. I said that I couldn’t wear a suit because I felt they were too inhibiting when I perform and I realized that was all psychological. If I planted that in my mind then I would become a different performer so I said ‘no, do it.’ So I started dressing up at times and put it on and I made myself get over that so the full moon thing, I’ve gotten over that but it definitely plays a role. But USO tours are the most gratifying. To go over and perform for the troops, especially when they were in a forward operating basis and stuff, and I’ve done quite a few now, like 21 different USO shows overseas and the gratification and just to see the happiness on their faces, because you know some of them have been deployed for so long and then you talk about some stuff that they actually have lived and remember and they just…little bit of home and that’s all your doing, bringing that little bit of home and I’ve had guys crying and everything just so happy because they needed that so badly. That was the most gratifying.
What’s your greatest memory doing stand-up so far?
I would have to say, I was at a performance in Los Angeles in Universal City which is in Universal Studios, it was the Universal Amphitheater. I opened for three musical legends that I grew up with: The Temptations, The Four Tops, and then they had The Whispers with them. There were 7,000 people and they wanted me to do 15 minutes. Now, to work with these guys was one thing, but to go work in an enclosed venue with 7,000 at that time, it was amazing. That’s when I got to feel what the energy of that many people laughing felt like because people don’t realize, there is energy in laughter and its moving air and stuff so when I hit my punch line it’s like standing in front of a bass speaker, you could feel that. When I hit my first punch line and the wave of energy from all that laughter hit me, my hands started shaking and I was thinking ‘I hope they don’t see my hand shaking.’ I was holding the microphone and it was getting out of control. Oh god, it was amazing. That still is one of the biggest moments, that was very memorable and I will never forget that feeling. It was fantastic.
Now you’ve been doing acting as well, have you enjoyed that?
Oh, love acting. It’s a lot of hurry up and wait, tedious, boring, until you see the final product and see that ‘wow, they did all that from that.’ It’s pretty amazing to watch directors and the choices that other actors, I’ve worked with some pretty cool actors and I tend to sit back and watch everything that’s going on because it’s very interesting to me and it’s as fun as doing stand-up but I wouldn’t put it first. Stand-up is my first love.
What are your plans for the future?
I have no plans. In fact, I’ve made it to Erie and I plan on stopping right now (Laughs). I just continue doing what I’m doing, trying to refine the craft of stand-up. Chris Rock said on Oprah once that ‘he wanted to be the best stand-up’ and I watched that dude become the best one. He got a CableACE for one of his specials and I was like ‘wow’ it just blew me away. Then he got another for another one, so when I see that and see the work that he puts into it, I get motivated to really want to work like that. So, I’m still trying to find myself after all these years. It’s an identity you want to find, what you want to talk about, and I have a pretty good sense of who I am and what I like to talk about. So, I just want to get that out there and let it be known so I’ll continue doing this as long as I can. It’s fun. Traveling is the hardest part, it’s old. But that’s what I want to do.