‘Breaking’ Presents: Dwayne Kennedy, a Seasoned Comedian Emerging From the Trenches

By Sameer Rao Apr 04, 2016

This installment of Breaking highlights Dwayne Kennedy, a 30-year comedy veteran who is just now emerging from the background. Kennedy, who has appeared on "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell"* and "Seinfeld," dropped his debut standup album, "Oh No, It’s Dwayne Kennedy!" this year.

Hometown: Chicago

Credits: Kennedy wrote for the short-lived "The Orlando Jones Show," and he wrote for and appeared on "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell" in a series called "A Cranky Moment With Dwayne Kennedy." He’s performed standup on "Late Show with David Letterman," "Late Night with Conan O’Brien," "Comedy Central Presents" and a slew of other programs. He’s acted on "Seinfeld" and "Martin," and  in the movie "How High."

Latest Project: "Oh No, It’s Dwayne Kennedy!" his debut standup album released in February.

Why You Should Care: Despite Kennedy‘s tremendous resume and multi-decade career, we’d forgive you for not knowing who he is. He’ll tell you himself that he’s been erratic over the years. 

"I never was consistent, man," he tells Colorlines via phone. "I would [perform or act] and I would stop for months, or I would take breaks. So I know that I impeded myself, looking back on it. I’m more consistent than I’ve ever been."

Count his debut standup album, "Oh No, It’s Dwayne Kennedy!" as part of that newfound consistency. Concurrent with Kennedy’s absurdist take on race and racism in America, he lists "reparations price options" on the Bandcamp page where the album is for sale. Here are a few options: 

• Black Folks: $9

• Indigenous people: $9
Hey, I’d give it to you for free if I could. …but I can’t. So 9 bucks!

• Bleeding Heart Liberal Whites–$13 for those who know that all people should be judged as individuals but still get a little nervous whenever they see a group of young Black dudes coming down the street.

• Previous Racist Statement Whites– $18
($15 for the EP and a $3 hypocrite tax.)
For those who have made racist statements in the past and know that they will probably make racist statements in the future but pretend to not feel good about it in mixed company.

• Donald Trump – $40,000
I know that’s not enough for me to purchase forty acres with, but I’m pretty sure I’d be able to buy a mule…or at least a Buick.

• Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli – $80,000
You’re an even bigger douche than The Donald. And with 80 stacks I could probably get TWO mules…or a NICER Buick!

The album—taped in front of what Kennedy says was a "98 percent Black" audience in Grand Rapids, Michigan—similarly pulls no punches. Kennedy delivers hard truths in what he calls a "seemingly demented" style. One bit from the album, which you can download for free here, tackles White hypocrisy in saying "never forget" to some tragedies while overlooking others. Without spoiling the punchline, we can tell you that he dovetails into MLK Day and leaves listeners laughing while questioning that  hypocrisy that grounded the joke.  

Kennedy brought his unique style to FX and FXX’s ahead-of-its-time show "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell" as a writer and star. In one of his best bits from the show (which you can see above), years before #OscarsSoWhite shook showbiz to the core, Kennedy destroyed White Hollywood’s preoccupation with stories of Black subservience. 

Comedians celebrate Kennedy as sort of a "comic’s comic," influential and respected among their own kind (especially in his hometown of Chicago, from where people like Hannibal Buress move on to fame on the coasts). Another comic’s comic, podcast host Marc Maron, once called him "a sort of mythic comic in the way that he’s very respected." Although he tells us that he doesn’t care about the spotlight, with the new album and work on a to-be-announced show, he might get to translate that respect into widespread recognition soon. 

"Oh No, It’s Dwayne Kennedy!" is available for purchase via Bandcamp (complete with reparations prices) and iTunes. 

*Note: W. Kamau Bell is a former board member for Race Forward, the organization that publishes Colorlines.