Interview date: 01/04/2009
Run date: 01/13/2009
Sam Kinison died far too soon, but his legacy lives on, thanks in no small part to his brother. Bill Kinison served as Sam’s manager for the majority of his career, and since Sam’s death, Bill has assisted in the maintaining of SamKinison.org as well as writing a book about his younger sibling’s life and times (“Brother Sam”). When Bullz-Eye made the decision to induct Sam into our Stand-Up Hall of Fame, we dropped Bill an email and asked if he’d be agreeable to talking about his brother for a few minutes. Thankfully, he agreed, providing us with a wealth of anecdotes about Sam’s work on “Saturday Night Live,” “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” and the short-lived sitcom “Charlie Hoover,” as well as stories about Andrew Dice Clay, Bill Hicks, Chevy Chase, Slash, Billy Idol, and Pauly Shore.
Bill Kinison: Hey, Will.
Bullz-Eye: How are you doing?
BK: I’m doing great. Hang on just a minute.
BK: Let me get where it’s just a little quieter. (Vanishes from the line for a few seconds, then returns) All right.
BE: All right. I appreciate you taking a few minutes. Like I mentioned in my E-mail, we’re inducting Sam into the Bullz-Eye Stand-Up Hall of Fame, so I just wanted to just talk to you about him for a few minutes.
BK: I’ll answer anything you want to ask.
BE: Well, first off, just to kind of set the stage for everybody, what was your relationship with Sam? Was it a case where you two were close from birth ‘til his death?
BK: Yeah, I was the older brother. I basically raised him; my parents got a divorce when he was five years younger; he was eleven when they got a divorce, and so I pretty much raised him. He told me in one of the last conversations we had before he got killed…and I never really looked at it that way…but he said, “You know, you’re the only father figure I’ve ever had.” He had cleaned up the last year and a half, and on this particular night he was having some champagne and whatever, and I guess I got a look on my face from all the problems he had had in the past. And he wanted to go into the bathroom, and he said, “You know, I hate disappointing you more than anybody because you’re the only father figure I’ve ever had, and when you give me that look…” I was, like, “Man, I don’t mean to give you a look; you’re doing great. I can handle this every three or four months.” It was every night I couldn’t handle. So, yeah, we were very, very close. That’s why I eventually got out of the ministry and came out to manage him just six weeks before he hit it big. It was just coincidence, not because of my skill. But, yeah, we were close.
BE: I know your father was a Pentecostal preacher, and he inspired both of you to pursue the priesthood for a while.
BK: Yeah. I preached fifteen years, Sam preached seven. And he got out…well, he ended up in a divorce. He caught his first wife in an affair and, that was worse than being gay or being a thief or whatever. In our religious circle, that was, like, the worst that could happen to you. Yeah, I know it’s stupid, but he also was…he had told me when he decided to get out of the ministry that he had been in the ministry seven years and he had never made as much as five thousand dollars in any one year. So he wasn’t very successful. He felt guilty about it even up until he got killed. He was actually going to go back in the ministry in May, and he got killed in April.
BE: Oh, geez. Now, how would he have gone about doing that, given his past and with the media? I mean, do you think…
BK: My mother and stepdad used to…they had a convention every year in May at the church in Tulsa, and so when we could, we would go back and be there just to be with our family. And he told me that he wanted to start preaching at that convention. And so I told him, I said, “Sam, this isn’t something to mess around with. This is their life, and if you’re not serious, don’t tell them that you want to preach.” He said, “No, I’m totally serious, man.” He always felt guilty about being out of the ministry, and then he also felt guilty…he felt like he took me out of the ministry. And he really didn’t. I got up one morning and the drive wasn’t there anymore. But he always had that guilt on both sides there.
BE: So how did he transition from the ministry into comedy? Had he always had an interest in comedy and just decided to use his delivery for comedic purposes?
BK: Well Sam was always…even in the ministry, he was always coming up with just funny stuff. Sam never…he never wrote a routine; not ever, not once. His act was pretty much whatever was going on, his life experience and his view points on what was going on that day or that week. And so I guess that was one reason it was so interesting managing him. We did 280 shows a year, roughly, and there was never two shows alike. And he just had this genius ability, and he always had it, of making anything funny. Sometimes that was to his detriment in the ministry because he would get up and he’d be preaching and then he’d go off on some tangent, being funny, and everybody would laugh their ass off, but they wouldn’t give their money. And so when the wife thing came down, when he caught her in an affair, I was pastoring a large church in Rockford, Illinois, and he came up and told me, and so I told him then, I said, “Sam, I want you to forget that your dad was a preacher, your brother’s a preacher, all your friends are preachers. Now I want you to look down in your heart and really, really find out what you really want to do.” I really thought it would take a few days, but it took about five seconds, and he said, “I’ve always wanted to be a stand-up comedian.” And so I said, “Well, set a date.” That was, like, in…man, that was probably in November or December, and I said, “Set a date, and after that date you’re never going to preach again. If you have to pump gas or whatever, you’re never going to preach again.” So he said, “Okay, July 1st is it.” So he met a girl down in Houston who ended up being his second wife, named Terry. He was talking to her on the phone and she read in the paper where a bar down there was going to have a week of teaching you how to be a stand-up comedian…which I think is kind of funny now. So Sam packed up, went down to Houston, and went to this bar, and during the day they would…they had this guy named Steve Moore, and his claim to fame was that he worked the Playboy circuits: I guess that made him an expert. So he was ready to show these guys how to be stand-up comedians, and that night they would get up in this bar that held about 50-60 people and they would try their trade. Sam was just naturally funny, and that bar ended up being a comedy club called The Comedy Annex, and that’s where Sam started, Bill Hicks started, Yakov Smirnoff started; several comedians started there. But Sam…I guess, with preaching and seven years in the ministry, he was head and shoulders above everybody. He was there about six weeks when Rodney Dangerfield came in and saw him. Rodney always remembered him, and they ended up being best friends.
BE: So who did Sam consider to be his comedic inspirations? Was it people like…
BK: Richard Pryor.
BE: Richard Pryor, specifically?
BK: Yep. A little story that no one ever knows is that Sam and Richard Pryor came out of the same projects in Peoria, Illinois.
BE: Oh wow.
BE: Did Richard Pryor ever know that?
BK: Oh, yeah. Well, he met us out here, and we became friends and everything. We used to tease him because Richard’s act was on how he was raised and, you know, growing up. I told him, “Dude, we was raised in the same projects and we were white, so I don’t even want to hear shit, man.” (Laughs)
BE: Do you know what Sam’s favorite of his TV appearances was? And I’m including his own specials.
BK: Probably for him, his high point would have been Johnny Carson. Yeah, “The Tonight Show” with Johnny, because we had tried so long to get on there, and then even after he had made it, he probably had been on top probably for three years before we ever did “The Tonight Show” because the talent booker there would never let Sam on. And we actually ran into Johnny Carson at the Palm restaurant in Hollywood, and he had us come over to his table and asked Sam, “How come you don’t do my show? You do Letterman, you do everybody else.” So I told him, I don’t remember what his name was, Jim McCauley or something like that. But I said, “Your talent booker won’t let us on there!” This was like a Friday night, and he said, “You call Monday.” So I called Monday, and he booked us right on. Well, now, Sam, he was still pissed, so he brought on three of his buddies, and that’s when he sung “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and they had to pay these three guys to stand behind him, besides a quartet that was behind the curtain actually doing the singing, just to jack up the bill on this talent booker. But that was probably the high point of any of his appearances on TV. And, well, naturally, your first HBO special; that’s always just… I mean, that’s it.
BE: I presumed he enjoyed doing “Saturday Night Live,” too, as many times as he popped up on there.
BK: Oh yeah, yeah. That story…you know where everyone thought that he got censored? Actually, what it was was “Saturday Night Live,” they run a dress rehearsal to start with that runs about two hours, and then they go straight from that to the live show, but they cut out thirty minutes of skits or routines or whatever. So they called Sam up in this room, where all the producers and Lorne Michaels and all them are, and said they wanted him to cut a couple jokes. One was about anybody who tries to bring peace to the Earth we shoot and that’s why they only wounded Reagan; that’s pretty much the take on it. Then the other was Pat Robertson running for president because Jesus told him to, and Sam said, “You know, I read the bible and stuff, and I think maybe the last thing Jesus was…” And that’s when he started hammering the NBC stage, going, “Not the other one! Not the other one!” So, yeah, they wanted him to cut it. And I’m on the outside, and he comes out…I knew what they were doing…and so he comes out, and I said, “What’s going on?” And he said, “They want me to cut a couple routines.” And so I said, “Well, what are you going to do?” He said, “I’m doing them.” I said, “Well, don’t. You know the consequences.” Because you can’t tell them what to do. I said, “Know your consequences, dude, you’re messing with NBC.” Well, he goes on and does it, and…“Saturday Night Live” is live on 60% of the country, the other 40% is taped; west coast and Mountain time is taped. Well when it came out here, it was a bad job of editing, man, you could tell they just cut it right out. So everybody thought that they had censored him, so Brandon Tartikoff…first, Sam pissed of everybody at “Saturday Night Live,” then he pissed off Brandon Tartikoff, who was the president of NBC. So Brandon Tartikoff, the very next day, he had a press conference and says, “Sam Kinison will never work NBC again.” So one of the few times Sam listened to me, I said, “Keep your mouth shut, man; no interviews, no nothing. Let me try to calm this down.” So I’m talking to Lorne Michaels every day, and about a week later I go, “Well, Lorne, how bad is it?” He goes, “Bill, they’re sending shit in the mail.” I go, “The letters are that bad?” And he goes, “No, they are putting human feces in envelopes and sending it.” So all of a sudden, this light went on, and I go, “ You know what? I can give you the biggest ratings you’ve ever had.” And he said, “What?” I said, “Have Sam come back and host.” He goes, “Man, Tartikoff is never going to buy that.” And I go, “Lorne, it’s all about ratings. You just explain to him. You can get him to do it; just explain to him if you bring Sam back now after all this uproar you are going to have the biggest ratings you’ve had up to that point.” So I don’t know how, but somehow he got Tartikoff to back off. They brought Sam back. And, again, he isn’t just going to come back. Now he wants to bring Seka, because she’s a porno star, with him. And he did. So “Saturday Night Live,” he enjoyed that. He enjoyed anything on TV or radio, really.
BE: I know his scenes were deleted, but I read that Sam originally had some scenes in “Three Amigos”.
BK: Yeah, we shot it in Arizona, and he had actually had several scenes. He played a mountain man that just wouldn’t die. They shoot him and he wouldn’t die; they stab him and he won’t die; they drown him in a river, from which Sam caught pneumonia, and he won’t die. But Chevy Chase, after seeing the dailies and everything, said he wouldn’t finish the movie if Lorne Michaels left Sam in, because he felt like Sam stole the movie. So they still had to pay Sam but he was never in any scenes that was released. I told Lorne, “What, Chevy Chase runs your business now and everything?” And he goes, “Bill, we’re into this movie. What am I going to do?” But, yeah, I guess no one will ever see that footage, but it was hilarious at the time.
BE: Were you on the set when they did the filming of the “Wild Thing” video?
BK: (Chuckles) Oh, yeah.
BE: That seems like that would have been a party.
BK: Oh, I had my hands full. Had my hands full. The worst one out of control was Billy Idol.
BE: Oh, really?
BK: Yeah, and Sam was going to beat his ass. He was spitting on Jessica Hahn when they were, like, on this ramp around this mat where Jessica and Sam would roll around; and this idiot keeps spitting on her. So Sam had told him to quit. And then Slash was drunk off his feet. At the end of that video, if you remember, Slash always tried to break the guitar, but he’s so drunk that I went and got a prop guitar so that he didn’t trash a good guitar…but he didn’t know it. So if you notice at the end of that thing, he’s beating the floor with this guitar that won’t break, and he eventually falls into this box and none of that was planned; it just…that was Slash being out of control and literally falling in the box. But it was so good we left it in. And the other thing is, we only got to interview about 140 strippers for the girls in it.
BE: There are worse jobs.
BK: Oh, yeah. (Laughs) Oh, yeah.
BE: Sam’s appearances on the “Howard Stern Show” were certainly many and memorable.
BK: You know, he did over 500 hours on Howard’s show.
BK: Yeah, so Howard’s got a lot of stuff he can play. That was one of the big issues when Howard went to SIRIUS was that Clear Channel would not let Howard take his material with him. I think eventually Howard purchased it, but the big issue was Sam; Howard wanted all of the Sam footage. Yeah, he did over 500 hundred hours. Very few of them sober, but that always made great radio for Howard.
BE: I hear your book, “Brother Sam,” is finally moving forward as a movie. Is that correct?
BK: Yeah, we were with Universal, and I never, ever thought that the movie would be made with Universal, but we got a deal, which makes it easier to get a deal. So HBO purchased it back in November, I think, from Universal. Dan Folger has committed to play Sam, and Tom Shadyac is going to direct. Tom’s company, Shady Acres, David Permut and myself are producing. Hopefully spring or early summer, we can go into production.
BK: We’re going to do one more draft on the script, and then we’ll go into production on it.
BE: Cool. What did you think of the tribute…sort of…to Sam in “Pauly Shore is Dead”?
BK: Well, I didn’t mind it.
BE: Did they talk to you about it before they did it?
BK: Oh, yeah, yeah. They asked for permission and everything. You know, it’s Pauly. We’ve known Pauly since he was about twelve. To be really honest with you, I never thought anybody would pick this movie up. It went straight to video, but if I knew anybody would have done it, I probably would have been a little more apprehensive. But I really never thought anybody ever see this thing.
BE: What did you think about the Sam Kinison monument in the movie “Domino”?
BK: They called and asked me about that, also, so I made a deal with them. I said, “Yeah, you can use the image of Sam if you put my daughter in the movie.” So she actually had five or six scenes in it.
BE: Oh cool.
BK: You know, to me, now that we’ve been trying to do the movie, any kind of attention he gets is good.
BE: Right, absolutely.
BK: And, actually, I was happy to have a tribute like that out there.
BE: I’m sure.
BK: I put a memorial out there where he died probably three or four times, and the state keeps coming along and removing it, ‘cause I guess that’s against the law. But I do it, and other fans go out and do it whenever they go by, so… (Drifts off)
BE: As far as his sitcom “Charlie Hoover” goes, do you think that was a show that could have worked if they had better special effects at the time, or do you think it never had much of a chance?
BK: For us, we didn’t really want it to work. I found the project and I wanted a…you know, the reputation Sam had then was that he couldn’t show up for work. I wanted a project where he could obviously put those rumors to rest, but I also didn’t want him to be in a position where he took a hit if it didn’t make it. So when they came up with this twelve inch man and Tim Matheson is the guy that he’s the conscience of…? What I was hoping for was exactly what happened. The reviews were that Sam was too good for the show, which is what we wanted. And out of that, we ended up with our own series on Fox that I signed the week Sam was away on his honeymoon. So we had our own series of what would have been like Jackie Gleason’s old variety show. Not “The Honeymooners,” but if you remember way back, Jackie Gleason had a variety show where different celebrities would come on and they would do things that people weren’t accustomed to them doing, like, say, Jon Bon Jovi singing gospel songs. And then they had the little skits and everything, so we had just…I just signed it while he was on his honeymoon. I signed that, I signed a three movie deal with New Line. One with Arnold Schwarzenegger and one with Rick Moranis and then a concert film. I signed that while he was gone. Obviously it never did come to fruition.
BE: What were those movies? I mean, did they end up being made with other people?
BK: No. I don’t know what the story line was for the Rick Moranis movie. The Schwarzenegger movie would have been funny. It was going to be Schwarzenegger, Beverly D'Angelo, Christina Applegate, and Corey Feldman. The movie was about Sam as a convict, and it’s an adopt-a-convict thing where you have to adopt a convict, he comes and lives with you to help him straighten out his life, and all that. Well, that’s the family, and Sam is the convict that they adopt, and by the end of the movie, Schwarzenegger and D’Angelo are in jail; the kids are in juvenile, and Sam has their house. So I thought that would have been a really funny movie, but obviously no one has ever made it.
BE: Actually, a couple more here, and then I’ll let you go. What do you think is Sam’s best of his stand-up albums?
BK: Oh, the first one.
BK: Louder Than Hell?
BK: Yeah. Actually, there’s a lot of people…Jay Leno, Richard Pryor, Dennis Miller, several probably respectable comedians that think it’s the best stand-up album ever made by anybody. I might be biased, but I agree. I’ve never heard a better or funnier comedy album than his first one. And comedians…if they get the chance to make an album, it’s like a band, you know, where it’s like the best of of your last ten years…
BE: Right, exactly.
BK: …and then you’ve got six months to pop out the next one. So I thought he should have won a Grammy for that. I put together an album after he died that we did win a Grammy with: Live From Hell. And I thought that was good. But the best he ever did was Louder Than Hell.
BE: Do you have a favorite routine or joke of his that never made it on to an album?
BK: Um…God, man, he was always on. I mean, there again, Sam never had routines. He would get on stage and for an hour, hour and a half, he just had this genius ability that he had. I think a lot of it came from preaching. Pentecostal preachers didn’t like to make an outline of their message. They usually get a scripture out of the bible and then yell and scream for an hour. I think that’s where Sam got to where he was able…not got to, I think that was his style. But the routines that I liked the best of his…I loved his Christian routines or Jesus routines. I just, you know, with my background and his background, we always thought that those were hilarious.
BE: Who do you think he had the greatest rivalry with? I mean, I’ve heard Bobcat Goldthwait and…
BK: Probably Dice Clay.
BK: With Sam, Sam always had to have a rival. If he didn’t have one, he would create one. Dice and him at one time were very, very good friends. I was a little responsible for the war they had, because I handled the business, but we played Madison Square Garden. Sam was the first stand-up comedian ever to sell that out; that was on a Tuesday night. I thought the amazing thing is the very next night, on Wednesday night, we played Nassau Coliseum and sold that out too, over 17,000 people. But while we’re at Nassau Coliseum, the promoter was a guy named Ron Delsener, and when the show was over I was settling up with him, and I noticed a calendar and about six weeks later he had Dice Clay with a question mark. And Dice was going to be there on a Friday night and so I asked him, “What’s the question mark about?” So he said, “Well, I wasn’t for sure that I wanted to do it until I seen how Sam did.” Well, you know, handling the business end of it, I’m going, “That’s bullshit,” you know? We paid our dues, dude. If you wanted a guinea pig, you should have brought Dice in Wednesday night, because you know you’re going to bump up a ticket price on a Friday night and you’re going to make more money. So I’m pissed, and when I come out…Sam and I knew each other so well that a lot of times you didn’t have to say anything. I wasn’t going to mention it because, to me, it was just business. Well, when we came out, Sam saw me and he goes, “Well, what’s going on?” And I go, “I don’t know; ask Delsener.” So he asked Delsener. and Delsener goes. “ I don’t know, your brother is upset because I’ve got Dice Clay coming in.” So then I said, “No, no, no. Now let me explain it to you, Sam; let me tell you how these fucking promoters work.” So now Sam is really pissed, because we had pretty much put up with Dice following everything we did. If Sam did a love song, Dice did a love song. Then it got so bad that Dice started doing some of Sam’s jokes and recording them. A good example of one was, “How does a guy look at another guy’s hairy ass and see love?” Well, the next thing we know, Dice is doing that and recording it. And, you know, that’s, like, a cardinal sin in comedy, to take somebody else’s material. So from then on, the war was on. It was real, man, none of that was ever put on between him and Dice.
BE: What was Sam’s relationship with Bill Hicks? I know you mentioned him in passing a minute ago.
BK: Bill…we knew Bill…when Sam was in Houston, Bill was there starting to do comedy at sixteen. Funny, funny as hell. His act is much different than what it ended up being. He actually would do, like, impersonations. He would go to the library everyday and watch silent films, so he had these facial looks, and his mom and dad were actually, like, old farmers, and so he was always in to that. We were very, very close with Bill. Sam was like his mentor. Well, when Sam came out to L.A, he came out with Yakov Smirnoff, Bill Hicks, Carl LaBove, and Dan Barton. There was about six of them that followed Sam out here, and everyone thinking Sam’s God, you know? He’ll take L.A. by storm and everything. Well, Bill…they all end up living in one apartment, and Bill gets a pilot the very first week that he’s out here. It never went anywhere, but, you know, he gets, like, I don’t know, 15,000 or 20,000 dollars, and, man, he dumped everybody. And so he went and got a house out in Studio City. We went out and saw him one day, and I don’t know if he thought that Sam wanted to live there or what the hell, but he acted really weird, like we were mooching or begging off him, I don’t know any other way to put it. So when we left, they really didn’t have much of a relationship, even though they never had words. But they never saw each other very much at all after that, and Sam probably never saw Bill…God, probably the last six, seven years of his life.
BE: You mentioned a pilot. Is there any truth to the story that Sam was considered for the role of Al Bundy in the pilot of “Married with Children”?
BK: No he never was. Actually no one even knew who Sam was when “Married with Children” started.
BE: Yeah, that’s kind of what I thought, but they’ve got it in his Wikipedia entry.
BK: Oh, yeah, yeah, those rumors fly around all the time. Like, you’ve got one that he’s cursed, that anybody who was ever involved with him got killed and stuff. That’s not true, either.
BE: Last question: in regards to his death, I know I’ve read a quote where he had told you he was never going to live to see 40.
BE: Do you think he would have just continued to overindulge more consistently, or do you think he would have outlived that…
BK: Sam had an addictive personality. I don’t think that’s the reason he said he didn’t think he would ever see forty, because he always said that. I just think he had a premonition of his death…or, at least, of something bad happening to him. Because we had several situations…like the New Line deal, when we met with them and discussed it, Sam got up in the middle of this meeting and goes, “Well, you know, it sounds like a great idea. If you can work it out with my brother, then we’re in business,” and he leaves. Well, this is what we got into this business for: for Sam to end up in movies. So I called him when I got home, and I said, “Dude, everything all right?” Because they were concerned if Sam really wanted to do this, and I’m, like, “Yeah, yeah, he’s just tired, not feeling good.” So I called him and said, “What’s going on?” And he goes, “Well, I was sitting in there, and I realized I’ve accomplished every goal that I’ve ever set. I’ve got to set new goals and new dreams.” And just making little comments like that and just different things made me think, you know, he might have a premonition of something.
BE: Well, I appreciate you talking to me, Bill. Like I said I’ve been a fan of Sam’s for quite awhile.
BK: Well, no problem, Will. I hope I helped you out a little bit. And if you need any clarification on anything you just give me a call; you’ve got my number.
BE: I need to check out my library and see if they’ve got a copy of your book, though, because I know it’s out of print.
BK: Yeah it’s out of print. We’re holding off on a deal until we get the movie into production, and then we’ll make a new deal and rerelease it.
BE: Excellent. All right, well, if I have any other questions I’ll drop you an email or give you a call.BK: You got it, buddy!