I admit it. Occasionally, I struggle to know how to compose an introduction for the newest “Twitter Personality” profile that isn’t a carbon copy of the last. After all, I interview people of whom I’m genuinely fond, and one would assume there are only a finite number of ways to say, “He’s awesome!” or “She totally rocks!” But when it comes to Stephen Kruiser, the difficulty lies in discerning what NOT to say, for fear of endless pontification.
Without doubt, Kruiser (yes, we page him by his surname) is one of the most multi-talented figures to gain prominence in the New Media wave that is sweeping the conservative movement. Whether you’ve seen a Kruiser Control monologue on PJTV, caught a punditry appearance on Fox News’ Red Eye, watched him work a crowd in a standup routine, howled with mirth at his Twitter musings or talked theology with him at 1:00 in the morning…you know Kruiser delivers the goods. And the man can evermore write! If you learn for the first time while perusing this profile that Kruiser held a paid gig years ago as a blogger…Now you know why I do these “10 Questions” pieces. I learned it here, too.
All of the aforementioned, however, is buildup to the main event, so to speak. The chief reason I’m a Stephen Kruiser fan is because he’s all about fostering community in an all too often fractious conservative movement. Personal illustrative anecdote: Kruiser followed me on Twitter before I followed him. If memory serves, I probably had about 150 followers at the time. Without exaggeration, Kruiser’s numbers totaled at least 500 times that by that point. Seeking out new people to follow simply isn’t a pursuit in which Twitter celebrities normally engage. For that matter, I seldom do! But for Kruiser, bringing more people into the conservative tent outweighs minor ego massages like juxtaposing followed/following ratios. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…
Speaking of learning, I have over the last year…a lot…just watching Kruiser interact with a broad cross-section of activists in a variety of settings. He is consistently at the center of the action, exuding frenetic energy, one-liners effortlessly flowing, extracting involuntary chuckles from all comers. Stick around a while, though, and you’ll also discover that under the bombastic sarcasm and mesmerizing hilarity is a warm and meditative soul…a man who unabashedly worships his little girl, and is devoted to God and country and loyal to family and friends. That’s the Stephen Kruiser I’ve come to know.
10 Questions for Stephen Kruiser
1. Thanks to a late night in San Diego a few weeks ago, I now am far more aware of your life story than I previously had been! But many of your other followers are not. Tell us about your youthful upbringing and how it influenced the person you are today?
I was born in Tucson, Arizona and spent most of my childhood bouncing around the state, with a brief stint in California. My parents divorced when I was seven and we immediately went to work redefining the dysfunctional family. My education was a 50/50 split between Catholic & public schools. I had the good fortune of going to Catholic schools back in the day when nuns still roamed the planet freely, doling out discipline and education without much regard for my self esteem. This country would be far better off today if there was more of their way of teaching in our schools. You often hear adults who went to Catholic schools back then bitching about certain nuns being mean to them but you never hear them complaining that they don’t read or write well. I moved back to Tucson to go to a Catholic high school and remained there for a good portion of early adulthood. Although I have an enduring love affair with Southern California, I remain a Tucson/desert boy at heart. My family has been in business there in one way or another for over seventy years now. My dad, grandmother (98!), several cousins and many of my closest friends still live there.
2. How did you know you were funny, what led you into the standup comedy business and what keeps you out there on the circuit?
I always knew I was funny; I just never thought of turning it into a job. The sense of humor runs deep in my family. We’re a loud, sarcastic bunch, for the most part. I think the fact that humor was so prevalent is the reason I never thought of stand-up as something to do; it was simply a fact of everyday life. When we weren’t screaming at each other, of course.
When I got to college, I became good friends with an old enemy from my high school. He decided that he wanted to give stand-up a try when it was just becoming very popular in clubs around the country. He went to his dad (who had a local TV show) and asked for some advice. His dad told him that it might be easier to start out as part of a comedy team and the push was on to get me to join him. I said no for at least six months, maybe longer. We became roommates and I finally agreed to give it a try, mostly just to get him to stop bugging me about it.
The advantage to starting out as a team is that you have to actually write some material and rehearse it. A lot of people who are funny around their friends think all they need to do is get a buzz and go up on stage for their first open-mic night. This is why it’s so painful to watch the newbies. As a result of us putting several weeks into preparing for our first time on stage, we did all right and immediately began getting stage time. After about a year, my partner decided to quit and my friends began dragging me to do sets as a solo act. It took quite awhile to figure out how to make the transition and honestly, if it hadn’t been for those friends, I would have bailed on the whole thing.
I keep doing it for two reasons: my passion for it hasn’t diminished one bit and it really is the only thing I’m very good at when it comes to a marketable skill. Thanks to the political speaking I do now, my gig at PJTV and the good people at Armed Forces Entertainment, I didn’t have to deal with too many comedy clubs last year. Like everything else in this economy, the clubs took a hit and have become rather dismal lately. However, I miss doing regular gigs so I’m putting more of them on my schedule this year. In the end, I’m still a comic and I need to get on stage to talk about failed relationships and my junk or I feel I will cease to exist.
3. I’ve heard you say you’ve always been a conservative; you never went through (I believe you put it this way) a “rebellious liberal phase.” Have you always, however, been politically interested and involved and if so, why?
My political involvement has run concurrently with my tenure as a comedian; I just kept them separate for a long time. I was in the College Republicans while in school and began volunteering for campaigns shortly thereafter. I come from a family of small business people who have always been rather conservative and Barry Goldwater was a revered figure in Arizona when I grew up. The demographics have shifted considerably with the influx of people from other states, but Democrats were about as scarce as flowing rivers in the desert when I grew up.
4. You have vastly more followers than anyone I’ve profiled to date. (Current count: 123,000+.) When did you realize the potential of Twitter and how do you use the medium?
I joined Twitter in the summer of 2008, but really didn’t do much with it at first. I was doing a lot of blogging leading up to the election and spent little time on anything else. After the election, someone suggested that I start building my Twitter presence to help promote my blog. This was the same time that the TCOT list started and I immediately began being a fixture on that. Twitter didn’t have any restriction on numbers then so I started adding people all day, every day. I’d like to say it was all by design, but it really was just a happy accident.
Now, of course, Twitter is the fastest way to move information around our group on this side of the political aisle. I see it as by far the best way to counter the steady stream of false information that the MSM spits out every day. It gives all of us working in separate parts of the country, which can feel very lonely and disheartening at times, a sense of community that I think has been integral to the success of the Tea Party movement.
5. We always enjoy hearing your contemplations on your relationship with the #KruiserKid. What is it like being a dad with your frenetic schedule?
I’m a complete sap. When my daughter was first born, I began to loathe my travel schedule. It was during the Internet free-spending heyday and I curtailed my road work and stayed home doing a lot of freelance writing and taking care of my child. People were throwing that start-up money around for content; why not take advantage of it? I would go on the road when her mom had time off from work so we could all travel. The rest of the time I was a stay at home dad. It was far and away the most rewarding experience of my life.
My travel schedule got a little crazy again last year. I was overseas for several weeks doing shows for the troops (second most rewarding experience of my life!) and flying all over for various political gatherings. Fortunately (for her, not me) she’s almost a teenager now and handles it better. I still mope around in the days leading up to a trip because I really don’t like being away from her, but I have resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably never have a job that keeps me in one place. She spends a lot of time with me in the days before a gig and as soon as I get home, so we try to make up for it as best as we can.
6. One of my all-time favorite memories will always be unexpectedly hearing you utter the terms “transubstantiation” and “intercessory.” In other words, Stephen Kruiser has a reputation for enjoying a good time, but I’m not sure how many are aware that you’re a very observant Catholic. What role does your faith play in your worldview and your life, in general?
Oddly enough, I’ve been a practicing Roman Catholic my entire life. I never had a period where I wandered away from the Church, even in my very wild youth. As a boy and a young adult, I kept contemplating becoming a priest. My Irish grandmother and my godmother would often gently try to nudge me in that direction. I’d hang out at a monastery in Kentucky every once in a while. Club owners used to be taken aback whenever I’d finish doing my thoroughly psychotic act, then ask where the nearest Catholic church was so I could go to mass that weekend.
My faith has kept my life from being an even bigger train wreck than it could have been. It not only got me through a very painful divorce, but helped my daughter’s mother (I’m not a fan of the term “ex-wife”) and I develop a very functional relationship so we could continue being parents together.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m not exactly a model Christian. But then, none of us really are. (If it was easy, EVERYONE would be doing it!) One of the biggest ways my faith has shaped my political views has to do with the way I look at many of the social conservative issues, and not in the way you might think. I remain staunchly pro-life, but I pay very little attention to the other issues that many social conservatives focus on. My view is that faith is ultimately an extraordinarily personal journey. I have so many things to work on in my own life that I can’t possibly pay attention to, or pass judgment on, the way other people are living theirs. This leads me to bump heads with some people on the Right but it really is the only way I can go about things.
I’ve also been a student of Roman Catholic theology for a long time, which was why I enjoyed our conversation so much that night. The old adage that you’re not supposed to mention politics or religion in a social setting was thrown out the window by me a long time ago. They are by far my two favorite subjects to have a discussion or debate about. Sadly, reasonably discussing politics with people who don’t agree with me has become a rare pleasure lately.
7. This may sound like a variation on something I’ve already asked, but I don’t mean it that way: What is it like being a conservative in the entertainment community, which typically seems to tilt way left?
Truthfully, I can find a way to be the odd man out even if I’m the only one in the room so being the salmon swimming upstream in the entertainment industry has merely been another variation on the theme of my life. Now I live in West L.A. and my daughter goes to school in Santa Monica, which is easily one of the most far-left liberal cities in America.
My friends on the Right know that I often preach about getting outside of the echo chamber to get our message out. This is one of the few areas in my life where I’ve been able to lead by example. Yes, it’s fun hanging out with my conservative friends and feeling a sense of community. As an activist, however, I’m compelled by the need to bring more people into that community. Most regular Americans are more conservative than they think, especially when it comes to their wallets. The more we can lead people, gently or otherwise, to this realization, the better it is for the country.
8. The Red Eye program has a big following among the Twitter community and you’ve been appearing on the show for some time. How did your relationship with the show and the regular members begin?
I began watching the show the first week it was on the air, as did many insomniacs. The vibe of the show appealed to me from the beginning. Greg, Andy and Bill are all very intelligent and bring together a perfect blend of serious and goofy. I had a friend working very high up at News Corp. at the time and spent over a year trying to get on the show, to no avail. Long after I’d given up, I got an email one day asking if I’d like to appear. Andy had been following me on Twitter (there it is again!) and pitched me to the show. My first appearance came at the end of a tragic two weeks for my family and was not exactly stellar. I wasn’t able to get booked again until I was in New York for a comedy festival and ran into Greg on the street one night. There’s a lesson for you kids in show business: embrace the randomness of it all because that’s how it really works.
9. Besides your parents, who are 3 people, whether in politics, comedy or other fields, who have had a positive impact on the person you are and the work you do?
My relationship with my parents is a bit backwards. I’ve become much closer to them as an adult. We talk several times a week and I’m grateful for that. Their divorce went on for decades after it was legally final and things weren’t always very Norman Rockwell for us. I grew up clinging to my grandparents, all of whom lived to ripe old ages, thank God.
Politically, I’ve been more influenced by Barry Goldwater than any other politician. Yes, I’m a devout Reagan fan too. But without Goldwater taking it on the chin in 1964, the conservative movement may have been set back for decades, if not forever.
Pope John Paul II loomed large in my life too. He became pontiff when I was a kid and was the leader of the Church for most of my adult life. I saw him say mass in Arizona in the late 1980s and it was an indescribably moving spiritual experience.
Far and away, my daughter is the biggest influence on my life. Those who know me well will probably tell you that whatever semblance of adulthood I’ve been able to achieve has all happened since her birth. Comedians have license to remain rather imbecilic throughout adulthood and I am no exception. But fatherhood is the most important job I have and I try make sure that parental concerns are at the core of my decision making process. It’s still a work in progress but it’s been profoundly life changing. God leads me down different paths as they become necessary in my life and this one has been the one most filled with grace.
10. In closing, I’d be negligent if I didn’t ask you for some favorites in the following categories and anything else you want to throw in there:
Books, Movies, Music Artists, COMEDIANS, Travel Destinations, Food…Miscellaneous, too
Books: Trinity by Leon Uris is my favorite novel of all time. I mostly read non-fiction. America Alone by Mark Steyn, Treason by Ann Coulter and The Death of Right and Wrong by Tammy Bruce are among my favorites. I have wicked ADHD and am usually in the middle of at least seven books at a time (ten at the moment) so I wish I could read faster. I’ll admit, Twitter cuts into the reading time at night. But it helps pay the bills too so I don’t have a hard time avoiding it.
The Catholic monk Thomas Merton is among my all-time favorite authors. The monastery in Kentucky I mentioned was where he lived and wrote. He wanted to be a hermit engaged in contemplative prayer all day, but his superiors realized the gift he had and made him continue writing. For that I am very grateful.
Music: I am one of the few people I’ve met who genuinely likes every kind of music. My mp3 collection is all over the place and I’m pretty sure there isn’t a genre that isn’t represented (yes, even Pop).
Comedians: It all begins and ends with Richard Pryor, as far as I’m concerned.
Travel Destinations: I’ve had the great fortune of seeing much of this stunning country by car because of my early days on the road. The variety of scenery in the United States may be unmatched anywhere else. I remember watching an interview with Robert Redford, who was asked if he would consider making movies abroad for a change of pace. He answered something like, “Why would I? It’s all here.” I would tend to agree, to a point.
It is, however, a big world with some magical things to see. I truly enjoyed Iraq last year, mostly because it looks a lot like Southern Arizona sans mountains. The fact that we were well protected by our brilliant men and women in the armed forces and didn’t have to worry about being in real danger helped a LOT.
Last October, Armed Forces Entertainment sent us on a tour of the South Pacific, which bordered on unreal. We flew close to 20,000 miles in three weeks and saw some beaches that were otherworldly. We went snorkeling in the bluest water I’ve ever seen. Like an idiot, I didn’t have an underwater camera with me. I hope they send us back there again someday so I can prepare better.
I’d love to visit Poland and Ireland, where most of my ancestors came from. If I had to pick one city I could see in Europe (I’ve only been to England), it would be Kraków.
Food: I think my dream gig right now would be to get a show on the Food Network, to which I am addicted. A food and travel show that I could bring the #KruiserKid along on would be ideal. I love to cook (always have) and still dream of one day designing a home around the kitchen.
My other passion, which was slowed by an ankle injury last year, is running. I’ve run two marathons but that was awhile ago. I am slowly trying to get back into marathon shape. The fifteen pounds I put on when my ankle got jacked up have put the emphasis on “slowly”. I’ve got my eye on one or two marathons later this year. I run for the mental health (I do have a small amount of that) benefits more than anything else. I tend to get cranky if I can’t run for a while, so last year wasn’t the greatest for my personality.