What makes revealing personal anecdotes compelling? Perhaps it’s peeling back the layers of detail to get at the heart of emotions — if not situations — we can all identify with, with what’s human.
By revealing plenty and walking cheerfully to comfort’s edge with TMI (too much information), the stand-up comedian/storyteller/singer-songwriter Kevin J. Thornton pretty much kept the audience in the palm of his hand during his sold-out opening performance of I Love You (We’re Fucked) on June 3.
And for good reason: he’s a fast-talking, high-energy powerhouse of a performer. What’s more, he’s damned funny.
Through his signature mash-up of stand-up and original Folk/Country-inspired music, he tells tales, sings, and plays guitar and harmonica. He possesses solid musical chops, honing his skills over the years as a professional musician in Nashville.
Oddly, Thornton started the performance dressed like a Wall Streeter at lunchtime — shirt, tie, suspenders — before gradually removing articles of clothing as the show progressed, down to pants and a wife-beater T-shirt.
He said he was hot (and the ArtWorks Gallery space was indeed hot).
Audiences might remember Thornton’s popular debut solo act, Sex, Dreams & Self-Control, from the 2009 Fringe. He brings some similar themes to the table this time: growing up gay in the Bible Belt, church lock-ins, summer camp, sexual stirrings and heartache. He adds to the mix some cheesy, silly ’80s pop cultural references, from Prince lyrics and Footloose to Aussie Scrunch Spray, Duran Duran’s hair and that terrible TV show Silver Spoons, starring his 12-year-old crush (and mine), Ricky Schroeder.
In a segment he calls “Blood Stories,” Thornton creeps us out with true tales of gore, from his own life and the news — recounting that Greyhound bus beheading from a few years back, for instance. After the audience grew silent, he’d say, “I lost the room — right then!” or “Some of you hate this part of the show,” before singing out “Blood Stories” as he claps and gleefully dances around, tickled pink at having “had” us. “Now you’re with me!” And we were, the whole time.
But no matter how irreverent Thrornton’s topics become, he really knows how to connect with audiences through humor and moments of poignancy. Plus, he’s honest, open and totally unself-conscious — just check out the image on the back of the program: a dreamy-eyed, discreetly nude photo of him in bed that shows off one of his elaborate arm tattoos.
Thornton is a consummate comedian, but he weaves in memorable moments of heartfelt philosophy, too. He plays with words, expressions and aphorisms like so many toys. “Time heals all wounds, but time’s running out,” he repeats. He talks about returning from L.A. to his roots in “the broken Heartland” over a winter in Southern Indiana to recover from a painful breakup. He ponders the origins of phrases like “when the shit hits the fan” and “balls to the wall.”
Because Thornton is such an engaging, passionate storyteller with a good dose of goofiness about him, whatever he’s talking about, we’re along for the ride. And we can’t help laughing — and feeling.