State Street Scribe
by Jeff Wing
Kimmie Dee; Stand-up comic. Impresario. There’s a lot going on. For one thing, she’s nonstop. One is tempted to call her a dynamo, but that suggests something like an admirably tireless motor, and she’s really more like a Wham-O product flailing at the end of a pressurized garden hose. Dee is possessed of smoldering Mediterranean eyes and a motor mouth that can stop on a dime and blossom unexpectedly into a 1000 kilowatt smile that really lights up the place. She’s loud and profane and funny and her verbiage escapes her like it’s been crowding the exit for an hour. She shakes her long hair when speaking emphatically; or “when speaking”, I should say. She shrugs her shoulders and slashes her hands around and generally makes a scene.
Her syntax relies heavily on the F-bomb, which she’ll shoehorn quite organically into a sentence between the article and the noun. “Lookithat F-bomb view, wouldja?” “Pass me the F-bomb ketchup, hon.” She is, shall we say, emphatic in her declarations. Oh, and she’s under five feet. She’s a demure little radium grenade, a thimbleful of nitro. Her husband Glen, by contrast, is something else again; a soft-spoken, boyishly handsome guy with a disarming smile and temples daubed with Hugh Beaumont gray. And he’s about 7 1/2 feet tall. It’s really something. You meet the two of them and it’s like being greeted by Chewbacca and R2-D2.
Tonight Glen is studiously destroying a plate of unidentified meats on the back patio of Savoy (on Figueroa downtown); all concentrated staring and clinking cutlery. Kimmie is seated opposite me with a bottle of water. “You hungry? You wanna eat something?” she asks when I arrive. I demur. “Yeah, I already ate, too!” Kimmie, late of the Jersey Shore, is one of those exclamatory souls whose utterances often emerge as calibrated shouts.
“I found my percentiles the other day, from when I was a kid!”
“…your percentiles?” the interviewer wonders aloud.
“Her height and weight,” Glen clarifies quietly, working his plate with forefingered knife and fork.
“When I was in 4th grade I was 42 pounds and 42 inches! I don’t know what I was in the 7th grade when we moved from Northern Jersey to the Jersey Shore, but I was really tiny! I mean, look at me now. I’m two inches taller than a dwarf. I’m four-eleven and I think they’re four-nine!”
“You’re a tall dwarf,” Glen offers helpfully from the corner.
No Indoor Voices
So, here’s that buried lead. Besides being a stand-up comic, Kimmie Dee is more recently den mother to a gang of visiting Top-Tier comics who are increasingly taking it upon themselves (at Dee’s arm-twisting request) to make of lil’ old SB a verifiable comedy Metropolis by throwing down shows whose collective reputation is spreading like a rash. Uh, a really good rash. These freewheeling No Indoor Voices comedy happenings, hosted in a handful of wondrous commercial district back rooms you likely never knew existed, are quietly having the intended effect, and the word is out.
The loose and familial shows feature A-list Amusers and are a miracle of downtown warmth, the packed and happy rooms redolent with a village vibe that recalls the cloistered coffeehouses and bare-brick grottoes that once defined an evening out in Gotham an epoch or two ago. The whispering campaign on No Indoor Voices begs the question: why does LA have to be the white-hot center of live comedy? We’ve got the beaches, the mountains, the clear air, the transplanted palms, and enough seamless sunshine to bore a melanoma right off your forearm. Can SB actually become the new comedy capital? A little someone is working on it.
Just Call Me Angel
The most oft-asked question of a comic is not rhetorical. How the hell did you end up here? Circuitously, in Kimmie Dee’s case. To say the least. The trip was part gauntlet. “I was born and raised in New Jersey, I’m Italian and Spanish. I was named Angel Funincelli before I was adopted.” Okay. That explains the olive complexion and smoky Castilian peepers. “Then I was raised by some white waspy people. My dad’s family was English, my mother’s family was Irish. They were both first generation Americans. A social worker told my parents it would be healthy to refer to me as ‘adopted’, to keep everything in the open, and it became kind of a label.” When her parents divorced, Dee separately interviewed her adoptive mom and dad, learned she had blood siblings out there in the world somewhere. Including an older brother. “I’d always wanted an older brother. It was heartbreaking and lovely at the same time.”
When she later got a hankering to Know, she set about trying to find her biological family but it proved fruitless. “I realized they had a better shot of finding me, but they haven’t, so I haven’t put much stock into that.” Later still she and Glen walked across the North of Spain together, the El Camino de Santiago. “It was the first time I ever looked like anybody. People seeing me would immediately start talking Spanish to me. I was even taller than some of the ladies waiting in line for communion.” She laughs. “That’s never happened!” And, she freely admits (and the uninitiated wonder in these instances if the unabashed testimony carries with it a vaccination of sorts, or a salve) she was mishandled as a child, molested. “By different people. I was very respectful of my elders. To my detriment.”
Suddenly, laughingly, an innocuous but illustrative happenstance occurs to her. “A month or so ago I was schlepping around town hanging up posters, and a friend of mine, an 87 year-old woman, bumps into me and proceeds to tell me that she’s really upset with what I’m doing to myself. That if I wore lipstick my husband might like me better, that I’m dressed like a homeless person. I get to the French Press and a young guy there asks how I’m doing, I seem exasperated. So I explained it to him. ‘I just had my ass handed to me by an 87 year-old woman!’ and the incensed kid says ‘well..didn’t you tell her to shut up?! That’s the problem with your generation. You respect your elders!” She laughs again. Long and hard.
Jimmy Goskowsky. The Gambling Nun. The Robert Frost Boardwalk.
When Kimmie was in 4th grade her family moved from North Jersey to the Jersey Shore. That’s where she met Glen. Yeah, in the 4th grade. “He’s smarter than I am, he’s an architect.” For the Record (as they say), Glen Deisler is an award-winning architect who works with heavy-hitting design maestros AB Studios, and spends his evenings working the No Indoor Voices comedy show door. If that isn’t the coolest professional dichotomy you’ve ever heard, I don’t know what. “He was very shy, he didn’t pay much attention to me. I didn’t have as big boobs as everybody else. This one girl in particular.” Kimmie holds her hands out to here and arches her typically overactive eyebrows. “You know? She’s on her third husband now. Just sayin’.” I glance over at Glen and he’s wearing his happy-go-lucky, mildly helpless Good Sport expression. We both break into spontaneous grins.
Kimmie had a pal by the maybe-only-in-Jersey name of Jimmy Goskowsky, and the kid had landed a kid-job at the storied Boardwalk, a glitzy, neon-encrusted arcade as long as a football field just up from the beach on the Jersey Shore. “So I walked with Jimmy to his work and his boss, a lovely guy named Bobby McKee, must’ve seen something in me and says, “Kid! Do you want a job?” “Yeah!” Kimmie recalls, “I ran to my ma. ‘Ma, can I take this job?’”
Kimmie Dee’s fate was sealed. When not in school she could be found plying a new trade. She started by working McKee’s wheel – “I got licensed and everything” – where she would take bets and help with the payouts, quickly discovering a latent talent for pacifying wounded gamers with gifted jibber jabber and laugh-inducing sarcasm. Over time she mastered many other aspects of The Game (double-entendre alert), cajoling passerby, cracking wise with the customers and, this writer imagines, looking to transfixed spectators like a caffeinated Lilliput escapee from the Greatest Show on Earth. She describes once going nose-to-nose with a drunk knucklehead who, unhappy at his run of bad luck on the wheel, bloodily smashed his hand through the glass prize case and prepared to ring Dee’s diminutive neck, the miscreant leaning into her, and she leaning right back, eyeball to eyeball. She on a riser, of course. A quick-thinking Boardwalk pal from across the way leapt out of his concession and charged over. “Hey! You gonna talk to my wife like that?!” The bruiser backed down. The Boardwalk gang were a family. “They’d be first ones to pick on you, and the first to run to your aid.”
Dee stayed at the boardwalk for – wait for it – 18 years (is the comedy thing starting to make sense now?), learning the ropes about… the Wheel; and yes, that word in this context may be freighted with as much baggage as the reader can reasonably handle. The experience defined and arguably created today’s Kimmie Dee, a bulletproof smart-ass with a heart the size of a Buick.
“I learned everything about everything on the boardwalk; how to count change, how to communicate effectively, how to read people. How to take money from a nun. What! It was her fault! I didn’t tell her to play, she kept losing! Eventually I pointed at the prizes and said ‘awright already! Pick something out, sister. Whatever it is, you’ve already paid for it twice.’” And in the midst of this nearly 20 year span of Kerouac-style tutelage, Dee attended college (Communications, natch), at one point memorably paying an admissions officer with fresh bills she peeled off a roll of green like a prohibition rum-runner. The once and future Road Scholar recalls this first contact with higher education. “The lady started looking at the bills and writing down the serial numbers and I said ”Hey, do ya think if I was smart enough to know how to counterfeit money I would F-bomb need college?!”
Glen and Kimmie Redux
It was an especially harsh winter in Jersey that broke the Camel’s back, as the saying would go if it were about snow and some humped animal that hauled snow around on its back. “Jeff, I hadda climb out my window, drop 8 feet and dig through snow so my dog could pee. I conjugated the f word with every shovel full. I’d had enough.” When the stuff thawed, Dee packed her things and headed for California, landing in our beloved Bauble in the Bubble, Santa Barbara. She’d spent some time in Florida with this and that sun-seeking boyfriend and had managed there to become a licensed masseuse.
It was her intention to ply that trade here in The Golden State where, it’s been suggested, the citizenry are demographically keen on being both spiritually healed and rubbed with oil. The fees required to be in compliance with California’s Rubdown Certification malarkey put that plan on permanent hold. “At that time there was a town-by-town, county-by-county licensure fee that came to $400 a pop.” Kimmie goes on to indelicately parse the nature of the non-incentivizing Fee Jungle as it exists nearly everywhere, really. “I could illegally jerk you off for $5000 under the table or give you a legit massage for a $10 tip. Does this make sense?” I quickly shake my head no.
Pals had been telling Dee forever “Awww, you’re sooo funny! You should be a comedian!” Around the time that her massage business plan was heading south in a handbasket, she began haunting open mike nights as an aspiring (gasp) stand-up comic. To her mild surprise she quickly discovered she had a talent. What’s more, she had a yen.
Over many many drives to destinations in the LA environs, Dee found her feet (and her microphone voice – the Boardwalk Bark could denature the alcohol in one’s drink when amplified, and she quickly dialed it down) and she was off and running. By the time she was comfortably in the swim, the Open Mike life was killing her. The constant driving down to LA and a cute little club she calls “the sh*thole in Moorpark” was balding her Firestones and eating into her time on earth. “Why don’t I try to get something going in SB?” she thought, the now Grande Notion at first a desperately self-seeking gambit to have a local performance space. This was the genesis of Kimmie Dee’s No Indoor Voices, around whose banner a gaggle of top-notch comics would later begin to gather and mount a less-than-martial invasion of our town. Then, coincident with Kimmie’s big idea, another momentous epoch began.
Listen to a Story ‘Bout a Man Named Glen
Dee had been tasked by her old high school with reaching out to her fellow alums scattered around the country and strong-arming them into attending a planned reunion. One of the calls she placed was to the silent, breast-obsessed future architect with the halting smile she used to pass every day in the hallways of their grade school. By this time Glen was a successful architect in South Carolina and was actually in the process of being made partner in his firm when Kimmie waltzed in with her lucky wrench. Timing (in both Life and comedy) is everything. Hence the phone call Kimmie placed at this potent juncture in their respective journeys. Glen would not make partner.
As Kimmie approaches this part of the story the Big Guy becomes animated. His endearing habit of avidly smiling and crinkling his eyes whenever Kimmie visits a subject that tickles him – this has captured my attention. These lovebirds are on for the long haul. “Do the first ten seconds of that phone call!” he suddenly blurts, like a fan requesting a favorite bit. His amused Life Partner obliges the request. “So I called him and said ‘may I please speak with Glen Deisler,” and he says “Is this Keeeeeim?”’ Glen had apparently adopted a southern drawl. She pauses for effect. “And I said…’No. My name has one syllable. What the hell happened to you?” Kimmie had questions, and recounts them now as a syllable-stream delivered in a single toneless exhalation.: “So, Glen; are you married, do you have kids, are you gay, do you want to be married? Do you wanna have kids? Is your mother dead? And do you have any STDs?” Glen turns to me, grinning like a lovesick idiot now. “That was the first 10 seconds of the call,” he says. “I thought ‘Yeah, I remember her.’”
“What’s the Password?” Introducing the Laugheasy
Kimmie Dee’s entrance at a standing-room-only comedy show is pure Blake Edwards. You’re watching a throng of cocktail-clutching patrons standing and chatting and gesturing near the back, and suddenly they’re being startled and jostled and scattered by an invisible tsunami that seems to be barreling through at the belt-line, out of frame. This tsunami is Kimmie Dee. When she leaps onto the stage and starts in, people shut up and glare with smiling open mouths at what looks like a hollering, pint-size special effect. She is mesmerizing. And loud.
Dee is, not incidentally, also introducing a dynamic Gay Lesbian Transgender comedy scene to our giddy sexual grab-bag of a burg. Dee’s Queer comedy shows periodically sweep in to turn the Brasil Arts back room into a breathless love fest where audience hands are always visible and the jokes are perfectly calibrated to jab the sudden wheezing laugh out of queer and straight audience members alike. Nothing quashes Sexual Preference Apartheid Foolishness (SPAF! > my own term…) like a No Indoor Voices queer review. Kimmie Dee takes LGBT comedy pretty seriously, so to speak. One notable example: comic Heather Turman’s coming out to her family didn’t elicit the reaction Heather had hoped for. When the time came for Heather to tie the knot with her beloved, she asked Kimmie to walk her down the aisle.
When Kimmie is at the pulpit all bets are, if not off, at least ill-advised. As she feverishly riffs up there, radiating happy power and lassoing the crowd, anyone in the know may rightly marvel at how happenstance and a bumpy rollercoaster conspired to give the world its Premium Kimmie Dee. Any knucklehead can turn lemons into lemonade, but champagne? Kimmie De(isl)e(r) has figured it out; she’s perfected the recipe, actually, to our common good fortune. I ask her quite casually how important were the contributions of friends and supporters to the comic aerie that has become her perch. Big mistake.
“Michelle Bedard, with the City, has been our right-hand woman. I can’t even tell you! Oreana Winery hosts our salons the first Wednesday of the month. Elbows & Belly Buttons-How I See It – that’s my podcast! Patrick Melroy is my engineer! He has his own SB podcast called Towned. He’s the best! Troy Conrad and Dylan Brody are my main mentors, Dylan with writing, performing and personal stuff. Troy with producing – he handed me my first mic stand, a ‘passing of the baton’ that put me in the clubs. He also came up with our logo! Brian Brand at NightOut.com has been amazing.” She’s rolling. The comedy family has her in its grip.
“When Robin Williams died, I decided that EVERY show deserved the best performance I could give. Just Bring It! George Carlin was my biggest influence, but I’ve been watching comedy since Ed Sullivan, Flip Wilson, Sonny & Cher, Smothers Brothers. Hey, I memorized Carlin’s AM/FM album at 9 years old!”
Giving His Majesty the Business
At a recent show in the cavernous but otherwise secretive back room at Brasil Arts Café (an indefinably cool restaurant/polymorph near State &Victoria), I watched as the ascot set intermingled with flip-flopped hipsters and tat hulks to take in 4 stand-up comics whose stuff had my Life Partner and me struggling for breath. It’s almost a shame to call this stuff comedy. It’s more like Spoken Word Gut-Busting. One memorable bit about circumcision and the reticence of men to do housecleaning was some of the most literary holding forth on gender differentiation I’ve ever had the privilege of gasping helplessly through. Already-famous Telegraph Brewery’s Set List shows likewise steal your breath as top-flight professionals take on absurdist hurled improv subjects and turn the place upside down. It truly is a show you have to see to believe.
Doug Stanhope, Hal Sparks, Paul Provenza, Barbara (Babs) Romen, Rick Overton, Courtney McClean, Heather Turman – comedy cognoscenti recognize these names as belonging to some of the current Titans of Titter (sorry), and Dee is bringing these blue-chip performers here to Mink Petticoat Junction. Many of Dee’s acts have a national and international rep, have in some cases descended the marble As Seen On TV staircase to hang with us in spotlit rooms where the ‘stage’ is the floor in front of you.
Being at a Kimmie Dee show is like being in another town for a couple hours, a bigger town with mussed hair and starlit alleyways and flickering neon and marvelous back rooms like speakeasies (laugheasies, maybe?) where all manner of the faithful gather to be lifted with laughter; sometimes laughter sufficient to cause a mild aerobic emergency. It’s happening. The night I skulked into Brasil Arts with my bff, we were led through the busy restaurant to an unexpected door in the back, manned by a giant architect. This set the stage for a terrifically off-kilter evening. The roster included the acerbic and gloriously rasping Kira Soltanovich, remonstrative onanist Laurie Kilmartin, Cathy Ladman’s fizzie-obsessed notes from camp, and bone-dry Canadian meta-lumberjack Jon Dore. We can all thank Kimmie. Her Lilliputian Comedy Revolution is well under way. This is real. It hasn’t been easy, but what’s so great about easy?
“I think it’s important for a comedian not to have an indoor voice,” Kimmie Dee tells me levelly, with unfamiliar and civil intonation. “The jester was historically the one guy who could speak to the King without getting his head chopped off. Comics are likewise beholden to no one.” She ends on a note of…triumph? Is this a manifesto? She settles back in her chair. “I’m not there yet!” she yells, and lets fly with a contralto cackle that turns heads three tables away. “I still give a shit about what I say!” I look at Glen. We share another grin.