Coping Through Comedy

Kirk Smith doesn’t have to scan news stories for comedy material for his act. He doesn’t have to look any further than his own day-to-day life as a parent.
He speaks from the heart about his experiences and challenges of raising his autistic son — finding humor as a way to cope personally, as well as connecting to others in similar situations.
Comedy has become his way to find peace with his son’s limitations while providing astute and timely advice that every family, no matter what specific challenges they face, needs to hear. He also has the ability to relate to people on many other levels through various subjects everyone can laugh about, the trials and tribulations of relationships.
Smith is also an actor and a writer. He has performed in more than 100 different comedy clubs and venues on five continents, working with other comedians like Chris Rock, Bill Burr, Russell Peters, Gabriel Iglesias, Ali Wong, Jim Gaffigan, and more.
He’s also the author of the best seller, Rice Kispies with Ketchup and he co-anchors “Autastic,” a podcast ranked on iTunes.
We talked with Kirk Smith about his comedy and the show he’s bringing to the Edgewater. Here’s his take…

Talk a little about your background and how you got into comedy.
Smith: I grew up mostly overseas. My parents are missionaries — they’re still there. My dad loves it and my mom loves my dad, so they’ll stay there forever. They’re down in South America — they’ve been there almost 40 years. I’m just a regular white guy, obviously with the last name of Smith. I’ve got kids. I have a son who is severely autistic and has a few other problems. I think you talk about what you know in comedy, and so my stuff’s very personal. I talk about personal experiences. I think if you’re a pretty good comic you can talk about anything really — if you’re respectful and smart.
So that’s my job, to bring light to difficult subjects. I’ve been doing comedy for a while — my son’s an adult now, he’s 19, and I have a daughter that’s 20. I’m widowed. Yeah, I’ve had a full life, I think.

Why comedy? Is it like therapy?
Smith: Like a lot of comics I had a lot of challenges and pain in my life and I think a lot of comedians use humor as a coping mechanism. I haven’t been doing comedy that long, like maybe 12 years and at the time, I was having a really hard time with his diagnosis, and I still struggle with it. We don’t really have any mental illness in my family at all, I was kind of lucky because we didn’t have that. I really didn’t have any experience with it or a point of view and it was just hard.
My son learned to talk when he was 10 and he still barely says like six or seven words, so he’s got some severe learning disabilities. It’s a hard, complicated thing and I was married at the time, and my wife got cancer so it was a tough thing to go through as a youngish person.
I think I looked for comedy as a way to deal. Austism is like a bully sometimes, it kicks your butt, and then we all get together and laugh about it and laugh at it and then I go out into the world and austism still kicks my butt. But comedy kind of takes some of the sting out of the pain of life. That’s how I feel, at least.

Sounds like a good way to not feel alone, too.
Smith: That’s exactly it. Performing is a way of connecting with others. The show is over 100 people and every show I’ll have someone come up to me and they’re like, “I have a downs-syndrome nephew,” or “my kid is such and such,” and they connect with that. It helps to remind them they’re not alone too. I kind of look like everything in my life works out, that I’m not complicated. I’m 6’2″, I have all my hair, and I look pretty happy. Then I think to myself and it’s like, “Oh, crap, I don’t know if I want all that.” So that’s what got me into comedy.

Describe your comedy for people who may not be aware.
Smith: I talk about family and personal experiences. I wrote a book about it called Rice Krispies with Ketchup. It’s uplifting and encouraging. I also do a Podcast and we get about 45,000 downloads a month. It’s called “Autastic.” It’s a comedian’s guide to autism. It’s hosted by me and my buddy, who has an autistic brother, who’s less severe. We just talk about life and what’s in the news. It’s designed to be encouraging, funny, and we get a lot of parents and teachers. That’s what I do with my life.

Do you perform a lot in nightclubs or groups?
Smith: I do both, I perform all over to be perfectly honest. I’m pretty clean, so I work churches, I go all over and when I’m home, I do the big comedy clubs here in L.A.. I mix it up depending on where I’m booked and what the audience is.
So if it’s your people at 11:30 p.m., you’re gonna get 10 or 20 percent autism jokes and we’ll talk about trying to date at my age, starting over, we’ll talk about traffic, or things that everybody can relate to. I did the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, a one-man show on autism, so I can do an hour on just that. The casino isn’t going to want an hour of that.

Where’s the strangest place you never thought you’d perform?
Smith: This year I performed in Bucharest, and Albania which is unusual. I performed in Australia a little bit — and I was shocked about that — it was really strange. Three weeks ago I did a rehab center out here in L.A. so that was funny.
I was at a hospital and they were checking people in and out. I’d be halfway through a joke and someone would say, “I gotta go take my meds,” so they’d stand up and shuffle off. I’ve done youth groups, churches, I did a juvenile detention center thing once. I’ve done backyards. It’s really funny to do a backyard, next to someone’s pool. I did a show in Sri Lanka which is an island off the coast of India and there was a major, major language barrier. I was making a lot of faces mostly.

Who makes you laugh your butt off?
Smith: I really like Brian Regan still. Brian is so funny and such a sweetheart of a guy, which with everything going on right now it’s nice to root for some of the good guys. He is just a master of the craft. He can do subtle, he can do faces, and he works clean, which is always hard. Bill Burr is also great. I love the honesty of his stuff. I support the people that are trying to do something positive.

What’s your favorite thing about being a comedian?
Smith: Well, honestly it’s a little bit like you have a pill. Sometimes people come there sad and then you’re going to try to change the energy in the room, on your own without music, sound effects or whatever and you’re gonna just try to change their moods.
So for an hour you’re gonna try to make them happy, just like a pill. Yeah, the mood wears off, but then so does the pill, so does everything. In a room of 200 people, statistically, a couple of them will have lost something in their lives, so just for a little bit, you’re gonna make them laugh so that’s what I like about it. When it works.

What’s your least favorite thing about being a comedian?
Smith: That’s also the least favorite, trying to change your own mood, like you had a rough week and you found out, say, your dad passed away…(the venue manager doesn’t care)…”okay, that’s terrible, but you’re on in 5. I need you to do 35 minutes and go.” That’s the hardest part.

How do you handle hecklers?
Smith: Yeah, heckling is part of it sometimes. Everyone is different, but usually I give them a little bit of rope to hang themselves. A heckler will usually have one thing they’ve thought of to say, and it might be funny, it might work, a you let ’em have a laugh and say something else, then I’m prepared.
After the second thing, which means they’re usually done, I repeat it back to them. You have the audience on your side when you say something like, “You’re really embarrassing your wife, look at how embarrassed she is.” And she’s usually elbowing him trying to get him to shut up. I get her on my side, and pull her into that. Now if it’s a girl heckling you, it’s a little harder, ’cause you don’t want to make her cry.

Anything else you’d like people to know about you?
Smith: Come out to the show. It’s gonna be a fun time, just come out and see me perform. Feel free to follow me and my podcasts online.


COMEDY ON THE EDGE

The Edge Lounge within the Edgewater

Friday-Sunday, Jan. 5-7 (doors open 6:30 p.m., show at 7 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets