Les Kurkendaal, spoken word performer

So instead of just sticking with reviews, I thought I’d mix it up and do an interview with a seasoned Fringe performer. Les Kurkendaal is one half of the duo performing in The Gayer Show. I asked Les some questions about his history with Fringe, the state of spoken word in the Fringe and his show.
- Wonder Dave

The Gayer Show at the MN Fringe Festival

First off, tell us a little about your show:

In the Gayer Show, Dan and I both tell our coming out stories. We are exactly 20 years apart and so the stories show our similarities and our differences.

What were some of the similarities and differences?
Similarities with are stories are we both discovered we were gay at an early age. The difference is he acted on it, while I repressed it. His parents accepted him being gay and were supportive when he was a teen. My dad basically tried to force me into being straight. Both of our first sexual encounters with men turned out to be a disaster, mine because I was given misleading information about how one contracts the AIDS virus and him because it was just plain bad sex.

How did you get involved with spoken word/ storytelling?
The reason I got into storytelling is because I am also a stand up comic and I was looking for new ways to challenge myself.

What made you decide to do the Gayer Show?
Dan and I decided to work on the project because one day we were talking and he was telling me about his coming out, and the idea just came to me, because he came out so young and I came out kind of late. He was 14 years old. I was 26. We are 20 years apart, I’m 43, he’s 23 so I started to think maybe it’s a generation thing. In my day you wouldn’t dream of coming out in high school. You would be seriously putting your life at risk. So I thought, hey I bet there are some good stories there and I was right!!

When did you start touring the Fringe Festival Circuit?
I have been doing fringes since 1999.

Is there a difference in the way Mid-Western audiences react to your performances? Has the way audiences react to spoken word over the years changed?
I love the way Midwest audiences accept storytelling. Storytelling is more popular at Minnesota Fringe than another fringe. The storytelling community is very hardcore here and I like that. Yes the perception of spoken word has definitely changed for the better. For example when I first started doing the Minnesota Fringe, there weren’t that many people doing full-length spoken word shows. There was actually a spoken word fringe as part of the regular fringe back then and it didn’t even have a real venue. It was at Dunn Brothers. I remember doing my regular fringe show and having someone come up to me with a snarky look and going “Why are you a part of Fringe? Why don’t you just do Spoken Word Fringe you would probably do better.” Spoken Word was kind of the bastard stepchild of Fringe. Now eight years later, over half of the shows involved with the fringe are spoken word/ storytelling. I go to see these shows and they are selling out! People look forward to it. I think people have finally realized that a good story is a good story whether it’s one person on stage reading off of a music stand or a full-length play. It’s all about the story itself. Minneapolis gets that but there are other places that don’t. People like Kevin Kling really brought storytelling into the main stream here. I recently did a Fringe in Washington D.C. where a reviewer blasted me because he said that I was doing bad stand-up comedy and my jokes weren’t funny. Well, first of all, I wasn’t doing stand up comedy and I wasn’t telling jokes. So I guess I did my job. There are a lot of places that don’t get that storytelling and stand up are two entirely different things. Washington D.C. was one of those cities that just didn’t get it
Storytelling is also big at The Indianapolis Fringe where they have a huge spoken word / storytelling community as well.

Off the top of your head, do you have three shows you’ve seen at the MN Fringe that you’d recommend?
Casebolt and Smith
The Traveling Musicians by Three Sticks (WD side note- I have yet to see Les’ other recommendations but this show plays at the Nomad Pub at 7pm on Sunday and is a brilliant rock musical go see it NOW.)
The Concentration Camp Diaries.

Les Kurkendaal is an actor, writer, stand up comic and spoken word artist living in Los Angeles. He has been a member of Story Salon, a storytelling company, for 14 years. He also performs in comedy clubs through out the USA. You can see him in the movies Boychick and The Lost Cause.

Les’ co-star in The Gayer Show is Dan Bernitt, a writer and solo performer living in New York. He is a student at the New School for Drama. He has twice been a finalist for the Lambda Literary award. Dan Bernitt also created the Fringe Show Phi Alpha Gamma.


(Cole’s side note: I was out of town yesterday, when WD sent me this one, so my apologies that you cannot see all of the shows listed here.)


About Cole

A thumb among fingers. A writer, a photographer, a lover of all things citrusy.
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