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Sam Kinison Is A Scream

February 08, 1987|LAWRENCE CHRISTON

It's hard to account for the rise of Sam Kinison. On the strength of a comedic style principally based on gross-out commentary, a malevolent leer and a fairly incessant stream of bellowing at his audience, Kinison has appeared on TV's "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night With David Letterman"; he had a cameo in the Rodney Dangerfield movie "Back to School"; he's part of Dangerfield's upcoming HBO special, "It's Not Easy Being Me"; and he has a three-picture deal with Orion Pictures.

Warner Brothers recently came out with a Sam Kinison concert album called "Louder Than Hell," where in the privacy of your own home you can subject yourself to the high-decibel rantings of a voice that rakes the nervous system with the same electrifying ferocity of someone gouging a turntable record with a needle.

If you've never seen Kinison's Henry VIII bulk or watched his porcine, accusatory face skewer and redden under the weight of yet another tirade, the record will do: His voice, cultivated through years of working as a Pentecostal evangelist, is his chief organ of energy and expression. It curls up into pixie-ish squeaks in the manner of Robin Williams' infant depictions; it smooths into low-key regular-guy confidences; it trails off in hebephrenic laughter. Mostly, it coils and gathers and explodes in barely articulated primal screams that--particularly in an overmiked club setting--carry the neurological effect of a sonic firestorm.

Audiences seem to love it. Most comedians exemplify protest of one sort or another; Kinison's blasts go straight to the viscera, where human anxiety, disappointment, frustration and betrayal swell into a precognitive existential boil. The process of socialization requires managing that pain; the demagogue instinctively knows how to burst it with a lance. Kinison has that demagogic instinct.

Certainly the mindlessness of his act complements the bluntness of his emotional intensity. Kinison works in crude categories, not specifics. From a comedic standpoint, he's not concerned with theme, imagery and development. There isn't any sense of orchestration and suspense you get when you hear a first-rate comedian. Kinison plays to emotional and sexual reaction instead, largely misogynistic.

Early in the album, Kinison says, "I'm trying to talk men into not (the word sodomizing is euphemistically injected here) women . . . Come on, guys, there's other ways to hurt 'em." Later, he says, "I don't worry about terrorism. I was MARRIED for TWO YEARS!!! These hostages who complain, 'I was a hostage for 58 days.' You got off LIGHT, man!" Where he concedes that women often have a bad time at the hands of men ("They're used to 'Where's your purse? I need cab fare' "). He laughs maniacally. He shouts in lieu of a joke. He screams, "I LIVE IN HELL!!! UH! UH! OH-H-H!"

He asks about Dr. Ruth (Westheimer): "What a psycho (expletive deleted) this is!. . . . You don't need sexual counseling. It's like animal psychiatrists. . . . Women, if somethin' turns you on, how 'bout FILLIN' US IN!!! WE'LL DO IT!!! WILL WE DO IT, GUYS? TELL US!!! WE'LL (expletive deleted) DO IT!!!

Side 2 opens with a rambling reference to Charles Manson and the night of the Sharon Tate murder, where Wojiciech Frykrwski, having been stabbed 51 times, bludgeoned in the head and shot twice, yells to his departing attackers, "You don't have to leave yet (do you?). . . . You (expletive) can sure handle your high!"

Kinison talks about coming back from the dead (with monster-movie sound accompaniment) and segues into the Resurrection before moving on to his by-now famous World Hunger Organization routine ("Don't send 'em food. Send 'em U-Hauls and luggage . . . We have deserts in America. We just don't live in 'em!"). He vilifies his parents in a late-night long distance phone call for bringing him out of a blissful spiritual purity into this miserable Hobbesian vale of earthly life ("Pick up the check!!!). He concludes with a love song to his long-gone beloved: "DIE!!! I want my records back!!!"

Kinison has been quoted in interviews as saying "Everything can be satirized. . . . You have to give people some kind of information to re-evaluate their feelings about religious concepts. . . . Stand-up comedy is an art form and it dies unless you expand it. . . ." Contrasted with his act, these generalizations appear to be intellectual window-dressing designed to disguise a small talent that pumps the afflatus of a large anger (there is nothing satirical in Kinison's act).

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