A GoPride Interview

Kevin James Thornton

Comedian Kevin James Thornton zips by Zanies for Pride month

Wed. June 5, 2024  by Jerry Nunn

I wasn’t out until my late twenties.
Kevin James Thornton

kevin james thornton

photo credit // kevin james thornton

Kevin James Thornton talks about tour and life on the road

Out and proud Kevin James Thornton brings a laugh-out-loud show to Zanies Chicago this June. Just in time for Pride month, this comedian will have stories that will resonate with the queer community as well as their allies.

Thornton has garnered over two million followers on Instagram and TikTok with almost reaching a billion views combined.

He zoomed in for an interview while out on the road to talk about his life and tour.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) So where are located right now?

KJT: (Kevin James Thornton) That’s a great question. All of my belongings are in a storage locker in Nashville. Right now I am just going from city to city where my shows are. If I have a few days off I will just get an Airbnb. I don’t know where I am living I have been on the road so much. I’m a fagabond!

JN: I grew up in Nashville and I’m a southern gay. Tell me about your background. Where did you grow up?

KJT: I grew up in Indiana. Nashville was such a big city that we would take weekend trips there.   We walked around downtown and 2nd Avenue was all junk stores. Do you remember that?

JN: Yes.

KJT: I moved there to start a band and lived there for many years.

JN: What happened with the band?

KJT: We sucked! We put everything into it for about a decade and it just didn’t work. It is actually why I started doing standup. We got so close to having a record deal and then it fell apart. I was done with it. I wanted to do something totally different so I moved to LA to start standup comedy.

JN: So you started right from the beginning at that time?

KJT: Correct. I had never done it before. I moved to LA and took a few comedy classes. I began hanging out at the back of The Comedy Store every night.

JN: Did you have comedian heroes that you wanted to emulate?

KJT: Yes. It’s funny that the idea to try it didn’t occur to me sooner. Remember that TV show An Evening at the Improv?

JN: Yes.

KJT: Standup had a big wave in the ‘80s. I loved that show and watched every episode of it. I also watched Comedy Central all the time. I loved Robin Williams and my parents bought the Bill Cosby album where he sang about chocolate cake when I was a kid. That was the first time I remember cracking up at standup comedy. I have been such a huge fan of it that I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to try it.

JN: Talking about the ‘80s. Did you know there is a Color Me Badd member of the group that has the same name as you?

KJT: I did know that.

JN: I was googling your name and it came up. I am hoping you sing “I Wanna Sex You Up” at Zanies!

KJT: [laughs] I am but also that’s a different guy.

JN: Are you packing up the voice modulator to bring with you?

KJT: Yeah. I use it, not the whole time, but there is a little bit of that.

JN: The whole time would be a lot!

KJT: It sure would.

JN: You grew up in Indiana, so how was it being gay there?

KJT: It took me a long time. My community was very religious. It was before the Internet, so I couldn’t get online and find other people. It was a small town and super religious, so it was awful.

I was in so much conflict about it. It wasn’t until I went away to college and enrolled in musical theater that I met people with new ideas and viewpoints. I slowly was able to shift away from that. I wasn’t out until my late twenties.

JN: That was the same for me so we have similar backgrounds. You are going to be in Chicago for Pride month. I also see you will be in San Antonio soon and I am going there tonight to celebrate Pride there.

KJT: Oh you are?

JN: Yes, and it’s very diverse with a good gay scene.

KJT: All of the major cities in Texas are super cool. Dallas and Houston are great places. It’s just the rest of Texas.

JN: Right, the outskirts. With your show do you like hecklers?

KJT: I get a different kind of heckling. I rarely encounter an angry person. People feel like they know me. If they were watching my stories all through the pandemic they have a social media relationship with me. Once in a while, a person gets a few drinks in them and they start responding to everything I am saying as if we are in a conversation.

That’s the kind of heckling I get. It is positive, but it still interrupts the show. It is sometimes hard to get that to stop. I don’t want to destroy the person. If I do stop them it has to be nuanced or I look like an asshole.

JN: Hecklers can throw you off. Some audiences don’t understand that.

KJT: Yes.

JN: I saw you sell a kaftan with your merchandise.

KJT: I sure do.

JN: Where did that idea come from?

KJT: In my early pandemic videos I was wearing those in my house. I always had five or six of them in my closet, but during the pandemic, I wasn’t wearing anything else but those.

At one point that was what people associated me with. For Christmas last year I did a short run of those.

JN: I may buy one if they sell the kaftans at Zanies. What do people wear under a kaftan?

KJT: I wore nothing!

JN: We are on the same page.

KJT: It is kind of naughty.

JN: Do you have a favorite tattoo?

KJT: The one on my wrist and it’s my cat. During my comedy special, the tattoo was poking out of my sleeve a little bit. There was a whole thread on Reddit about me having the devil on my wrist!

JN: what is your cat’s name?

KJT: Comet.

JN: Who is taking care of Comet while you are out of town?

KJT: My ex is taking care of Comet. I moved out and left the cat behind. That was the saddest part of it.

JN: Poor Comet is a product of a broken home.

KJT: I go see him a lot.

JN: Oh good. How did you build such a massive following online? Is it overwhelming?

KJT: Yeah, sometimes it is overwhelming. It was just being in the right place at the right time. It was a moment when a whole bunch of people got on TikTok during the pandemic because we were at home alone. There was something about that app that felt social. It exploded in earl 2021. That is about when I started making videos and a lot of people tuned in to me.

It blew up. There was a minute there when I was gaining 100,000 new followers a week.

It was an accident. I didn’t intend to do anything. It just happened.

JN: Look at Leslie Jordan who blew during that time and people were looking for funny entertainment. You had a captive audience in a way.

KJT: I did!

JN: What are you working on next?

KJT: I am going to take a long break. I have been on the road for three years with no break. It has been amazing and I loved it, but I am ready for a break.

The timing worked out well and I just signed a book deal. I am taking my advance and taking several months off to write a book. I will go to Europe and float around on Airbnbs to write it.

It is very Eat, Pray, Love.

JN: Eat, Gay, Love!

KJT: Make sure you punctuate that correctly. It is the same thing that happened to that author. She came out of a breakup and she took the advance to travel around the world to write a book. That is not the book that I will write, but I will go to Europe for a few months.

I will just enjoy myself and stare out my Airbnb window while I write a book.

JN: That sounds wonderful.

KJT: I can’t wait!

JN: When is the goal for the book to come out?

KJT: It will come out in 2026. My due date is June 2025 and then there are six months of pre-sales and promotions.

It’s a memoir and I am doing something a bit different. It’s following the entire decade of the ‘90s, which is part of my thing. It will have my coming out and stepping away from religion. That all happened very tightly during that decade for me. It will also have me in the present flashing back to my coming out and coming of age story.

JN: Now I want to read it and I have to wait until 2026!

KJT: You will have a long wait.

JN: We will have to keep in touch. What is one thing you want to tell people about your show for them to come out to Zanies and see it?

KJT: It is a standup comedy show and the essence of what I am online. It’s embarrassing stories about growing up and stories about my youth group church experience. It’s about me coming out of the closet and all of that mess. There’s a touch of autotune stories. Like I said that is not the whole time, but just enough to be satisfying.

You will laugh and you’ll cry. It’s better than Cats!

Thornton has multiple shows on June 20, 21 and 22. Look for tickets and information at kevinjamesthornton.com and chicago.zanies.com.


Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.