For Kevin James, all roads lead back to stand-up


Kevin James, one of our most popular and successful comic actors of the last quarter-century, recently headed back to Huntington, Long Island, and stood outside what was at one time the East Side Comedy Club. 

“First place I ever did stand-up,” he said. “I think I had a couple Coors Lights, to get the courage up. And then I went in here, and this was the first place: 1989, July 26th!”

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Comedian Kevin James (right), with correspondent Jim Axelrod, outside one of James’ old haunts. 

CBS News


Thirty-five years later, he has quite a lot to look back on.

Deliveryman Doug Heffernan made him famous on the sitcom “The King of Queens.” Mall cop Paul Blart made him a bankable movie star. But it’s still stand-up, like his new special “Irregardless” on Amazon Prime, that makes him happy.

To watch a trailer for “Kevin James: Irregardless” click on the video player below:

A high school football star, James went off to play college ball at Cortland State in Upstate New York. When a back injury ended his athletic dreams, a public speaking course sparked some new ones, when he played it for laughs. “I didn’t know what it was, but I had something,” he said. I don’t know how you bottle it and make money off it, but I never went back to school.

He went to work honing his style – affable and observational, never dirty, and always with an eye on the future. He pointedly never worked “blue,” he says, “because I knew it was gonna prevent me from being able to get on a TV show. I want my act to be able to go and play wherever. It’s like, I want to build an act that people can relate to.”

By the mid-’90s, James was big enough to bag an audition for “Saturday Night Live,” a chance to follow comedy legends like John Belushi, Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy. 

He fell flat on his face.

“It was the worst audition I’ve ever had in my entire life,” he said. “Because it was literally me in a room, and it was absolutely brutal. And I just started doing my standup to no laughs, but I just kept going through it.”

Which is where you learn all you need to know about Kevin James, living proof that no one fails; they just stop trying.

And while a bombed “SNL” audition might cause 99 people out of 100 to curl up in the fetal position and never move again, James said, “It was the best thing that happened to me.”

Losing out on “SNL” meant he was free to audition and win the lead in a pilot called “The King of Queens.” The bet James made on himself when he left college had paid off.

In less than a decade he had gone from driving a forklift while moonlighting at Long Island comedy clubs, to starring in a network sitcom – too fast, perhaps, to completely trust the success, to believe it would last. “Well, that’s been my whole career,” he said. “If someone literally tapped me on the shoulder and God just said, ‘Hey, we know what’s going on, right?’ I’d go, ‘Yup. Where do I go? It’s all up? All right. It was a fun run, thank you!'”

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Comedian Kevin James. 

CBS News


But at 58, married for 20 years, James would now have a hard time making the case that it’s not gonna last. Maybe the only doubters now?  His four kids.

Asked if his children think he’s funny, James replied, “They do, at times. They have really high taste, which kinda, like, stung me a little bit! They were like, ‘We get it, your falling down in the ‘Mall Cop’ thing, and it’s good. But we’re lookin’ for a little bit more, you know?'”

But for all the success he found in Hollywood, this son of Long Island will never stray too far from his roots.

Asked if he had to decide between doing only stand-up, sitcoms or movies for the rest of his life, James had a quick answer: “Stand-up. It’s just me and a mic and I get to do it. And there’s no process through the studio or the network of saying, ‘Well, we’re gonna change it this way. We’re trying to cast this way …’

“You know, I really do enjoy the process. And there’s gonna be times where this is not gonna work out the way you want, and you’re not gonna connect with people the way you expect. And there’s other times where it’s like, ‘Yeah, you can still do this. This is great!’ But the opportunity’s there to do it.

“And I’m grateful for that,” he said. “I’m grateful that I’m still here!”

      
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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Karen Brenner. 



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