Meet Kevin Bartini, The Coffee Of Comedy
By Abdullah Wali — / Death Wish Coffee Blog
In some ways, comedian Kevin Bartini's job is just like coffee's. Over the years, he's been there to wake audiences up, get them ready for what's to come, and of course, make them smile. He started his comedy career doing the regular small town stand up circuit and quickly moved up to warming up crowds on major television shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Nightly Show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
On April 9th, Kevin will be the guest on the FIRST EVER live episode of Fueled by Death Cast during New York City Podfest, and judging from what we've seen from him so far, it's going to be hilarious. Before we get to that, we wanted to get to know him a little bit.
Were you always the funny kid?
Yeah, I was. It sounds kind of stupid but I was always the funny kid. You would never say, "I was the best-looking kid," so I feel weird saying that. I have this very early memory of my dad, and we're at a family party at my grandmother's in the backyard and I was probably only three or four years old. There was a group of my father and his friends and these guys, there's maybe six or seven of them standing in a formation. At the center was my father and they were all turned towards him and he was making them laugh. I don't know what he was saying, but there was that music to it. There was that beat. There was him saying, "Da, da, da-da, da-da," and then a laughter.
There was something about that image that struck a chord. When you're that young, your father is a superhero and to see all of his other peers laughing at him and the power that represented, made a huge impression on me. It made me want to be funny. Then once I was in kindergarten, all of a sudden, I was the funny kid. It's weird you know, you have that childhood dream that actually ends up becoming the job, that doesn't happen to everybody. Not many kids get to be astronauts or get to play for the Yankees.
You've made a career out of being one of the best warm-up acts in the business, how did that happen?
Anytime you see a television show that has a live audience, nine times out of ten, they've hired someone, a professional, to come warm the audience up because there needs to be someone to get their energy focused and to get them understanding that the audience is such an important part of a show.
They bring an energy and they are as important as the host and the guest. If they weren't that important, believe me, they wouldn't exist. Having a live studio audience is very expensive, so they're very important. That being said, I had done a lot when I had gotten down to New York. I hosted thousands of shows. Clubs will hire you, making you the MC for the night. I just watched Letterman and Conan and guys like that and saw how they opened shows and how they were hyping the show even though you were already watching it.
At this point, I've been very fortunate that I've gotten to work for shows that I'm a fan of, so I get to be there and I'm backstage and I'm in the green rooms and the dressing rooms. I'm getting to know the writing staff and the actors on the show, the host. It's quite thrilling. I kind of just go out there as a character almost. This is my character, I'm a guy who's a little bit cooler than everybody else in that audience, just by virtue of what my job is. I'm the guy with the microphone in my hand. I kind of go out with that air and I'm very welcoming and I make them excited and I get them pumped and I get them focused. I've been quite successful at it, and I've had a run of really cool shows to be a part of and so I'm very definitely proud to point it out and talk about it.
What is something that you're most proud of?
One of my credits, (and this is one of the things that someday if I have grandkids, I'll be proud to tell them), is that I'm the only person in the entire world that John Stewart and his company have hired to warm-up and to work on every TV show he has ever produced since The Daily Show. Anytime there's a live audience, I'm the guy or one of the guys that's called in to do warm-up for it. I've done over 100 episodes of The Daily Show with the Colbert Report combined. I did the entire run of The Nightly Show, and now I go in from time to time on The Late Show.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for John Stewart and Stephen Colbert and a little bit, I kind of feel like I'm in the 1940s and getting to look back at the 40s and say that I worked for Sinatra or Jackie Gleason, something like that. Like absolute legends have ordained me in some way to legitimize me as a comic.
You mentioned that you act as well, right?
I do, yes. I'm in a play right now. It goes back to wanting to be a comedian since I was six years old and seeing that stuff on TV. I was a pretty smart kid in this respect. Nobody had to tell me this, but I realized if I wanted to be a comedian, I was going to have to become an actor too. I started working with Shakespeare and Company out of Lennox, MA and they taught us Shakespearian acting. Not that when I do stand up, I'll say, "dost thou" too often, but I learned how to be on stage. If you had seen me when I was at the Comedy Works when it first started out, compared to the other guys they were putting up who were doing the guest spots, the five-minute local comics, maybe my material wasn't any better written than theirs but I was certainly more comfortable up there and that goes a long way. When a guy looks like he belongs on that stage, and so that set me apart a little bit from other guys, especially at the beginning.
Then after I'd done stand up pretty much every night for maybe 15 years, something like that, 14, 15 years, I was starting to burn out and starting to look for other things to do and low and behold, theater kind of came back into the mix and I since started a national tour of a play that went all over the country and then now I'm in Manhattan and I do plays. This is my fourth off-Broadway, my fourth role in two years doing, it's actually with another Shakespearian company which is great.
How does coffee fit into your life?
Coffee is a staple for me. Especially when I was in my leaner years financially, those first eight or ten years. I wasn't looking at it as I knew I wasn't going to make money, I knew I was going to create debt, but I knew that if I did it right at the end of that time, I would have a skill that's marketable and I could then build a career. That being said, eight years when I was pretty dirt poor, I didn't necessarily eat three square meals a day and coffee was the energy. As a warm-up comic, I'd have a cup of coffee before I go out about 20 minutes before just to give me a little energy. I've been drinking coffee roughly since I was probably 13 years old, there's always a cup in my hand, absolutely.
Kevin currently hosts a podcast called The Movie Preview Review which you can download here.
Win tickets to see Kevin, Jeff and Dustin live at NYC Podfest here.