Interview: Danny Kallas

Danny Kallas recently announced he's planning to record his first stand up album in March of 2013 here in Chicago. Kallas is a guy like few others, he's intensely self-aware and a relentless champion of the local scene as one of the producers of Comedians You Should Know, not to mention one of the funniest, most capable performers in the city (and the subject of a fascinating episode of Wrestling With Depression).

I talked to him over email about his plans during these next few months leading up to his impending recording. You can catch Danny headlining tonight (Monday, October 29) at The Comedy Evening at Ace Bar, and should probably go to CYSK more than you already do.

The Steamroller: How long have you been performing standup?

Danny Kallas: My first set was in March of 2004 at the legendary Lyon's Den, which is now Globe Pub. I performed three more sets that month and quit for two and a half years until performing again in August of 2006 at Hoghead McDunna's, later known as McDunna's, and now Ace. That night is when I tell people I started performing stand-up. So, a little over six years.

TS: What led to the decision that it's time to start working on a record?

DK: I have been on the road 12 of the last 16 weeks and I'm not able to do all the material I want to do because not one person is there to see me. Not being able to do all the material I want to do becomes frustrating. I get the job done most times, but it makes me feel miserable inside. So, getting more fans is the only way to get to do all the material I want to do. Because I have no interest at the time of acting or podcasting or murdering a Kardashian, recording an album seems like the best way of getting those fans.

TS: A lot of people view their first record/special as a sort of best-of from their first several years of material, is that the approach you plan on taking or are you looking to write a lot of new material between now and March?

DK: I always said I would never record a full-length album unless I could go out the next night and do a headlining set (45 minutes) without using any of the album's material. Currently, I have 60 minutes I'm confident in and plan on burning about 35 minutes on the album. That leaves 25 minutes. So, I set the goal of recording in spring of 2013 with the main purpose of writing new material so I have enough left once the album is done. Writing 20 minutes in five months is easy. Writing 20 minutes that not only you like but most of your audience likes is not; however, I'm up for the challenge. 

Besides writing new material, I plan on really tightening up old material. Adding tags, more act-outs, dropping a line or even just a word that isn't needed, etc. Anyone who knows me knows I'm very honest with myself about my material. If I don't like a bit or can't get the audience to respond to it the way I'd like them to, the bit doesn't stay in my act and it most definitely ain't going on my album, which will be made up of 35 minutes I wrote from about a year into performing to the day before the recording.

TS: Are you planning on independently releasing the record or are you working with a label?

DK: We've talked about starting a CYSK label but at his time it's up in the air.

TS: Are you looking to some of your favorite records/specials as reference points?

DK: I honestly don't watch or listen to enough comedy specials/albums but to get some reference points, I definitely will within the next few months.

TS: Adam Burke recorded his first album at Comedians You Should Know earlier this year and it sounds great. Are you planning on recording yours there as well?

DK: Yes, I plan on recording at CYSK. The room is not only my favorite room in the city (and many others), but it's also my favorite room I've ever set foot in. The low stage, low ceilings, intimate setting, it's everything a comedian wants in a room and the most ideal place for recording.

CYSK has made me develop my act tremendously. We started the showcase in January of 2008 and I was a year and a half into performing stand-up and would go to shows at The Lincoln Lodge and Chicago Underground Comedy and watch comedians like Nick Vatterott and T.J. Miller and Brady Novak and think, man, they're really funny and their material was a little out there and I didn't think my material was weird enough to work in those "alt" rooms. Then I'd go to Zanies and see someone like Michael Palascak and think, yeah, he's really funny and has mass appeal and I didn't feel like my material had enough mass appeal to work in the clubs.

So, I really didn't know where I fit. CYSK (the showcase) was started by my comedian friends and me with the purpose to produce the best weekly showcase possible. We never wanted it to be considered "alt" or mainstream, we just wanted to showcase the funniest comedians in Chicago. We've built an audience that gets that funny is funny is funny, which is why a comedian so out there like Junior Stopka does just as well in our room as a comedian who has mass appeal like Sean Flannery. (Note: In no way was this an insult to any comedians I mentioned. I love all their acts and they're all better than me.)

Five years after starting CYSK, I still don't know where my comedy fits. Some alt crowds find me too mainstream while some mainstream crowds find me too alt-y. I guess I'm a "CYSK comedian" and I'm fine with that. We have proven there is an audience for that. Without CYSK, I probably would've quit doing stand-up years ago, go back to my dead end job, moved to Palatine, married some broad I hate, and have ugly kids.