About a year ago, the musician Jack Kennedy was on a tour, in a manner of speaking. The local disco-pop antagonist rode Greyhound buses making Alan Lomax-style field recordings of amateur musicians along the byways of America. He’d tape their performances and interview them for his podcast “Night Bus Radio,” a low-fi documentary series sponsored by the streaming service SoundCloud.
“That’s where I learned how interesting everybody really is,” Kennedy said, kicking back beneath the kitschy goth-erotica paintings in the Echo Park performance space Echoes Under Sunset. “If you put pretty much anybody in front of a microphone, you’ll get a good story out of them.”
For his next project, he’s still putting people in front of microphones and wringing good stories out of them, but he’s traded rural bus stations for this rowdy underground comedy club. “The Kennedy Administration,” his new live variety show, is a freewheeling mix of local indie rock, sendups of classic TV chat shows, and a demented version of NPR’s Terry Gross in shellacked-on jeans and fluorescent sunglasses.
Anyone who has haunted the rock clubs of Silver Lake and Echo Park rock in the ‘00s has probably seen Kennedy in one guise or another. He was an early member of Silversun Pickups, played as part of the house band at Largo during the beloved venue’s early days on Fairfax Avenue, and his randy single “Karate” showed up in alt-friendly films like “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.”
After living the Big-in-England itinerant musician dream in London for a few years, Kennedy returned to his hometown and saw that L.A.'s old divisions between weirdo comedy and rock’s cool kids were collapsing. His own music had always been built on a measure of self-aware absurdity (here’s a few choice song titles: “I Love Me” and “I Drive a Mustache”), and after some late-night bar sessions with his old friend and producer Adam Levin, they conceived a show in which Kennedy would portray a slightly over-caffeinated, personal-space-demolishing version of himself.
“Playing in the Largo band was a great education,” he said. “It was like an experiment to see how much an audience could take — how long can we make you stand in line and how cold can the chicken entrée be, and yet we still make you like it and keep coming back.”
Unlike the punishing meta-gags of local talk show takedowns like “The Eric Andre Show,” “The Kennedy Administration” gets its humor from running a super-tight ship with a guest roster reflective of L.A.'s current omnivorous night life scenes. The show is a crisp hour, and while it’s certainly geared toward a live room, it’s shot on three cameras and edited with a high-gloss professionalism that makes its loucheness that much the funnier.
Guests at the packed first installment included the comedian and “He’s Just Not That Into You” author Greg Behrendt, the cosmopolitan Fool’s Gold lead singer Luke Top and Buzzbands.la blogger (and former Times music columnist) Kevin Bronson. The next show this Thursday gets founder of pop-art Gallery 1988 Jensen Karp and mod-rockers the 88.
“We always imagined having a kind of ‘Norman Mailer on Johnny Carson’ element to this, where you’d get a useful interview but the guests have a sense of humor about themselves,” Levin said. “For so long, people in Echo Park and Silver Lake kind of looked down on comedy, but now you have the generation of comics that have always worked with musicians and played music festivals, and no one even thinks twice about pairing them.”
It’s been suggested in music circles that, in the absence of much influential or otherwise culture-shifting rock ‘n’ roll today, weirdo comedy of the likes frequently seen in the orbit of Largo, the UCB Theatre and Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” are taking its place. With “The Kennedy Administration,” Kennedy is proving pretty adept at doing both at once.
But he’s certainly not kidding about creating a genre-smashing scene for local musicians, and those who like seeing them gently skewered by a twitchy interviewer. But as you learn on the road, L.A. has high standards for this stuff.
“There’s been so much bad musical comedy, I know,” Kennedy said. “I never wanted to go for an easy gag where I break out a ukulele or something.”