While television audiences know stand-up comedian and writer Michael Cruz Kayne from his work on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (for which he’s been gifted a Peabody Award) for starring in the digital series Short Term Rental, and as a creative consultant for Billy on the Street, the more personal side of Kayne grieves. The father and husband’s life was transformed when Kayne and his wife lost a child. Yet, Kayne has wrangled a warm, embracing brand of humor from such sadness with his newest live stand-up show Sorry for your Loss, as well as his A Good Cry showcase on Apple Podcasts
In anticipation of bringing Sorry for Your Loss to the Minetta Lane Theatre, presented by Audible Theater in New York City April 28 to June 4, Michael Cruz Kayne tests its waters at PhilaMOCA on Saturday, February 25.
A.D. Amorosi: Having witnessed your writing via Colbert’s Late Show and your varied topic stand-ups in the recent past, the focus of Sorry for Your Loss is so much more daunting – for you and for the audience. Can you tell you talk about building a set and its crescendos around loss and grief, what points you had to hit – or not hit – in reaching a set of punchlines?
Michael Cruz Kayne: Grief was something I didn’t talk about at all on stage until a decade after I felt it for the first time. At that point my process wasn’t “I have to hit these points” so much as it was “I have a lot to say and I don’t know how to stop myself, so I guess I’m just gonna do it.” I was very scared of it, but it felt out of my control, and I was thrilled, even relieved, that it resonated with audiences. If there is one thing that I want people to walk away with, it’s that grief is universal even though it feels isolating. You are not alone, by a long shot. The show is basically a long way of saying that, but also, you know, funny.
A.D. Amorosi: Pouring through your A Good Cry podcast as well, artist or not, how has vulnerability and unutterable sadness ever stood in the way of making jokes about such loss? Has your sadness or vulnerability heightened the humor?
Michael Cruz Kayne: At first it seems like sadness is something to avoid, but after even the littlest time working on it, I realized that the sadness was the center of it. You’re right that it’s unutterable, but I’m still trying to utter it. Still trying to take you down into it with me, because I know you’ve been there also *or* – not to be to morbid – you’re going to be there someday. Once we agree to that, it’s so much easier to talk to each other, to fuck around and have fun, even in the face of the worst thing you can imagine.
A.D. Amorosi: Losing a child at an early age – how and when did you know that any of this could be funny? For you? For your family?
Michael Cruz Kayne: Well, losing a child is not funny; that’s bottomless sadness. I would never try to convince anyone otherwise. What is funny is all the crap that surrounds it, the funeral industry, the cards people buy you, the weird shit they say, the pretending that things are normal, the platitudes that everyone regurgitates, the things you try to do to cope. The contrast between the endlessness that you feel and the complete stupidness of the rest of the world, that’s what’s funny.
A.D. Amorosi: What do you remember of the first time you publicly discussed your grief – on stage or podcast? And how does your tone then differ from the tone of Sorry for Your Loss? When did you get that this story was funny for others?
Michael Cruz Kayne: The first time i really talked about it openly was on the ten year anniversary of it, when I tweeted about how i was feeling, and it went viral. The biggest change in me since then is that I’ve stopped trying to hide how I feel about grief. Once I did that, it became much easier to share my thoughts onstage. We have these anxieties about death and loneliness and grief, and even addressing them at all is such a relief for the audience and for me.
A.D. Amorosi: For those also suffering loss and grieving – are there audiences or fellow comics sharing in your pain, and is there a backstage/post show thing around that camaraderie; brother or sisterhood? Have you ever had an audience member have a visceral reaction on the other end of the spectrum, perhaps not be handle to handle the topic of death head on?
Michael Cruz Kayne: The siblinghood -is that a word? – around this subject is strong, because talking about it at all gives everyone permission to talk about it. It’s unusual for people to talk about the darkest thoughts, and it can be especially unusual for people whose whole lives is a performance of joy. On the other hand, comedians are self-analyzing by nature, so the conversations I’ve had with them have been amazing. I’ve never had a bad experience with an audience member; it’s mostly people coming up afterwards and being generous enough to share their stories with me. Would be pretty wild, after pouring my heart out, for someone to come up after and be like “Hey i hated that.”
A.D. Amorosi: From Bill Hicks to Marc Maron to Ben Wasserman, the topic of loss, recent loss, has been a hardcore topic within their sets? Do you pay attention to other comics plowing a similar field? What are your thoughts?
Michael Cruz Kayne: I definitely pay attention to other people who talk about grief in their comedy. It is inspiring. There’s so much common ground and seeing everyone’s individual approach to it is an education. It’s also not something people take lightly, so they bring the best of themselves to it. It’s not ten minutes on airplane food, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Airplane food is, you know, not great. Unless you fly first class internationally, which I have – brag – once.
A.D. Amorosi: Do you believe that this stand-up show and/or your podcast is cathartic for you every time that you perform it or talk through this? Or is it work/art and something to be savored solely in an aesthetic/comedic manner?
Michael Cruz Kayne: It is work, but it’s also catharsis. I’m lucky to get to talk about it to people who care.
A.D. Amorosi: As stated at the top of this interview, I know that you do not solely make jokes about losing a child. A decade-plus since your child’s passing… is it easier to tease about? Or just harder?
Michael Cruz Kayne: It’s never easy. It’s the most important thing that I’ll ever do in comedy, so there’s a lot of poring over it, making sure that I’m honoring my feelings, the feelings of my family, and the memory of my kid.
A.D. Amorosi: So, we’re talking on February 17, 2023 – what is funny to you today? Something that just crept up on you within the last day or so?
Michael Cruz Kayne: I was just wondering how people knew what they looked like before mirrors. If you had a date, would you have to go down to the lake to catch your reflection? Ok, this isn’t a joke yet, but you can imagine how it could be, right?
A.D. Amorosi: And where do you keep your Peabody Award? I don’t know too many stand-up comedians with Peabodys?
Michael Cruz Kayne: I turned a room of my home into a shrine to me, and that’s in the center of it. It means we don’t have a bathroom, but it’s worth it.