Carl LaBove: ‘Outlaw’ comedian reflects on comedy’s resurgence

One can slay a thousand, but two can slay 10,000. It’s an old biblical reference that comedian Carl LaBove says he and his buddy Sam Kinison used as a guide after they befriended one another more than 20 years ago.

“He was a preacher. I was a preacher’s son. We were thinking along the same lines,” LaBove says in a recent telephone interview. LaBove spoke with Xpress in advance of his headlining shows Friday and Saturday, Nov. 20 and 21, at Asheville’s Funny Business Comedy Club on Patton Avenue.

The two teamed up and, by the late 1980s, were rock stars of comedy. They sold out clubs, packed stadiums and toured. They specialized in an over-the-top brand of comedy known for its obnoxious content and in-your-face delivery. The outlaws of comedy, as they called themselves, lived it up.

“Once success comes, you can’t control it. It does what it does,” LaBove says. “We were the most controversial team of the time. We brought others who along who were outrageous. We experimented with drugs and women and life and took everything to the end. We had our butts kicked, and we stomped on some people.”

But, as it always does, the high ride ended. In April 1992, Kinison died after his car was struck by a pickup truck driven by a drunken driven. He was 38.

LaBove took time off, then regrouped and continued to pursue his comedy. He’s had appearances on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. He was a regular on Rosanne Barr’s late night comedy show, and has performed at comedy clubs around the world.

LaBove says he’s excited about what he says as a resurgence in comedy club stand-up around the country. “It’s been through many ups and downs for 125 years. Back when there were court jesters, if you had a bad joke, they cut your head off. When they abolished that, it helped a lot.”

As a more freewheeling form than the television comedy that once dominated, says LaBove, the comedy room stands as a last bastion of free speech.

“Comedy clubs are a place where you can voice your opinion and you can talk about anything,” LaBove says, “and stand-up comedy is your own personal song, written out as jokes.” 

“I meet so many people who feel they can’t voice their opinion, and I think it homogenizes people and they become fearful,” he says. “But at a comedy club, someone can come in and say ‘I don’t care what you think, this is what I think is funny.’ People pick up on that and if they see that you’re authentic, they’ll go with you. I think stand-up is that one safe island of free speech.”

LaBove says he’s looking forward to visiting Asheville for the first time and soaking in the local scene. Meantime, he sounds happy to hit a few golf balls every now and then and hit the stage for a few laughs.

Once the height of fame passes, LaBove says, “you take all that you’ve learned and put it into the person you are now. And yes, I’m glad it all happened because it made me the person I am today.”

Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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