It's been 13 years since comedian Kevin James' one-hour stand-up special, "Sweat the Small Stuff," debuted on Comedy Central. In the years since, James has broken out as a major actor in comedy movies — he made his first film appearance with Will Smith in 2005's "Hitch," co-starred with Adam Sandler in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," and took lead roles in "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," and "Here Comes the Boom." But for the most part, James has been fairly quiet in the stand-up world in recent years.
James got his start in the early 1990's as a stand-up on the Long Island comedy scene, and it was his performance at the 1996 Montreal Comedy Festival — and his appearances on Ray Romano's TV show, "Everybody Loves Raymond" — that led to the creation of his own sitcom, "The King of Queens." The show ran for nine season on CBS, and earned James an Emmy nomination in 2006 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Though he was routinely able to play smaller venues, the busy filming schedule kept him from touring and writing new material as much as he hoped. "It felt kind of stale to me," James says.
To shake things up after he finished filming "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2" and "Pixels" (both scheduled for 2015), James put pen to paper, wrote out some new material, and has hit the road on a string of stand-up dates, including a Friday, October 24, appearance at the Auditorium Theater, 885 East Main Street.
James squeezed in a few minutes for a phone interview with City Newspaper, last week, to talk about playing theaters, staying clean on stage, and finally working on a new stand-up special. An edited transcript follows.
City: Besides this string of dates, what do you have going on right now? Are you still filming for "Pixels?"
Kevin James: That wrapped a little while ago, so we have that in the can, and also "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2". I'm excited about those two. April starts with "Mall Cop."
So right now are you just focusing on stand-up and doing these shows on tour?
Exactly. I've never stopped doing stand-up, I always loved doing it. But now was a nice time, after doing these movies, where we could put together a tour and really get out there and do new stuff and have fun with it.
You're performing at the Auditorium Theatre in Rochester, which is a larger venue. And I know you're doing larger places on this tour. Do you ever get back to smaller clubs?
You know, it's funny, about a year and half ago I went out and did some — I'll write new material and do them in the clubs. I'll stop and just pop into a club and do some sets there, but most of the time I like doing theaters. It's kind of nice.
How often do you turn around new material for your stand-up?
Well that was a problem. For a long time, I was still doing the stand-up but it felt kind of stale to me. The audiences were still great and liked it, but I was going, "Oh man, I hope they haven't heard all of this before." I just didn't have the time to write a lot. So I finally dedicated some time and put down some new material and it's going great. I'm excited.
You said you were feeling kind of stale; what is it about stand-up that makes you want to come back to it? Why go from filming so much to wanting to do a new tour?
In everything else you do, in making movies and TV, it's just a process from editing to writing; to editing to putting it up; then shooting it; then screening and testing it; then you have to promote it and wait for a release date before you finally see how it does. With stand-up, it's so immediate. You get to write your own, direct your own, do whatever you want right away and you can put it up on stage and get a reaction immediately. The feedback is right away, good or bad.
Where did you find inspiration for this new material?
It's just always been little small things that will annoy me that I kind of make extraordinary. People kind of feel that and see the same thing and connect with it. With my kids, man, my life changed so much, so there's what's going on with how I'm interacting with them. It's all new relationships and things like that which have changed my life, so I wanted to talk about it.
You're a fairly clean comic. Do you find it challenging to stay clean on stage?
Nah, not for me. I've always done it that way, so it's more natural to do it the way I've been doing it for me. I've never gone that way, so it would be weirder and more awkward to do that.
From seeing an audience reaction, do you encounter audiences maybe expecting dirty material from a stand-up routine?
You know, the shows we do in theaters — that may be true if you go to a comedy club or someplace where they're not expecting to see you, but my fans know what I'm about. They're the ones who come to see me at theaters and they're excited.
"Sweat the Small Stuff" was 13 years ago. Do you have any hopes for a new special in the future?
Exactly. We're starting to put this tour together and write this new material and that's exactly the plan. We're waiting to see the right time and see what theater we would want to shoot it at, but we want to do another special.