Kevin Kling is a well-known playwright and storyteller, and his commentaries can be heard on NPR’s All Things Considered. His plays and adaptations have been performed around the world. He lives in Minneapolis.
Kevin Kling, best known for his popular commentaries on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and his storytelling stage shows like Tales from the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log, delivers hilarious, often tender stories. Kling’s autobiographical tales are as enchanting as they are true to life: hopping freight trains, getting hit by lightning, performing his banned play in Czechoslovakia, growing up in Minnesota, and eating things before knowing what they are.
Kevin Kling describes his zodiac sign as “Minnesota with Iowa rising…” He grew up in Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove, Minneapolis suburbs, and graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1979 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater. His storytelling started when a friend from the now defunct Brass Tacks Theatre asked him to perform his stories. Since then, he has been awarded numerous arts grants and fellowships. The National Endowment for the Arts, The McKnight Foundation, The Minnesota State Arts Board, The Bush Foundation, The Jerome Foundation and others have recognized Kling’s artistry.
Kling was born with a congenital birth defect — his left arm is about three-quarters the size of his right arm, and his left hand has no wrist or thumb. More than five years ago, Kling was in a motorcycle accident. The brachial plexus nerves in his right arm were pulled completely out of their sockets. Currently, he has partial use of his left arm and cannot use his right arm at all.
Kevin Kling continues to write plays and stories in a rigorous fashion, and travels around the globe to numerous storytelling festivals, residencies, and has been invited to perform the acclaimed National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN for several years. Kevin has released a number of compact disc collections of his stories, has published three books, “The Dog Says How”, “Holiday Inn” and “Big Little Brother.”
Guthrie Benefit, December 17, 2001
I’m going to be reading this. I would’ve memorized it but unfortunately my memory is what it was before the accident.
When we were kids my brother and I had a Briggs and Stratton three and a half horse engine. That same engine went into everything; the mini bike then into the go cart, to a boat, to go cart, to mini bike. We’d bolt down the engine and if there was time hook up the brakes. We lived by the theory of why stop if you can’t get going in the first place. This tactic usually end up with one of us in the emergency room where we were on a first name basis with most of the staff.
If my brother was getting stitched up, I would sit back and Read Highlights magazine. In it there were The Timbertoes, The Bear Family, a family of bears so perfect they made the Family Circus look dysfunctional. There was ‘find the hidden objects’ where one would search for the anvil, top hat and hatchet in the field of dancing unicorns.
But best of all was “Goofus.and Gallant”, a story based on the lives of two boys. Gallant exemplified good, Goofus bad. Bad behavior and good. Goofus and Gallant were always in the present tense. ‘Gallant cleans his room, Goofus sees if oily rags will burn in a window well. Gallant eats his vegetables, Goofus wonders what’s inside a squirrel.’ What I liked was there was no recourse to either behavior. They were simply different approaches to life. I was naturally drawn to Goofus. But I realized we are all made up of a little Goofus and Gallant.
On August 11th my Goofus got on his motorcycle Gallant put on his helmet. When I came to Lyndale and Lake a car pulled in front of me and before I or Goofus or Gallant could touch the fully functional brakes. I crashed.
Over the next several hours I was in sections of the newspaper I’d never known and headed for one section I wanted to avoid. I felt death brush twice and had one full blown conversation where we discussed my future, mostly what realm I would occupy. We worked out a deal and I came to. I was surrounded by loved ones. My family, Mary, friends. They said a lot of people were praying for me. It’s hard to deny the power of prayer when you’re on the receiving end of it. I know it helped me heal. At times it was like skiing behind a power boat — all I had to do was hang on.
I was also on morphine. Oh morphine you wonderful evil. Morphine is great because there is no pain. People would say you’re looking good and I’m thinking ‘I already know it’ but oh the price you pay. When morphine takes over, it takes over. It falsely takes charge like Alexander Haig when Reagan was shot. It says ‘I’m in charge now’.
All reality is morphine reality. I had no idea what was real. You cannot convince me that half of my stay was not on an Italian mountaintop or that there weren’t two guys in the room spying on me dressed up like televisions.
All the while I received excellent care. HCMC is internationally known as a trauma center and the doctors were incredible. Mary brought in pictures of me so the plastic surgeons could put my face back the way it was. There was some concern from my buddies because in one picture I was holding our dog.
Also our neighbor Linda Grieling was a nurse on my floor. All the nurses were wonderful but Linda was the greatest although she now knows more about me than any neighbor should by law. This was the time friends started sending cards. My buddy Steve Alter wrote to say I had done what his wife had been trying to get him to do for seven years: he went to the synagogue to pray just in case they were the chosen people. Jon Klein was upset that Bush got elected and that this happened to me within the same year. My buddy Herringbone from up north wrote to say all this time on my back was actually good practice for ice fishing.
Friends brought books on tape. I found that Harry Potter got me to sleep at night and when I couldn’t go to the bathroom, Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” got the nation moving again.
Through all this time my family has been at the front. Always there was my mom, vigilant and caring through some very tough times. My sister Laura making sure everything was ok like only a sister can, and my brother Steve who got me off a liquid diet by saying ‘wouldn’t a cocktail wienie taste good right now, you know in that red sauce’. And my girlfriend Mary. I just wouldn’t be here if not for her.
As terrible as this was and as scared as I am sometimes, I still feel blessed. And when I get discouraged I just look at our two wiener dogs because they are the best example of a ‘can do’ attitude in a ‘can’t do’ body. I’m happy to be alive and have such incredible people in my life. There are so many of you I owe so much to. Dr. Eckstrom, Doctors Englestadt, Bergman, Bassey, Boller and Voreka, my buddy Joe, Geo & Welles, Nance and Steve, Dietz and Jaime, Jane at Sister Kinney, Julie and Karen Boyd, Sonia, Dr. Buzz, Mike and Sue and Wendy for reading me the sports page and all those who have brought food. Incredible food. Thanks to people who had benefits: Frank Theater, Illusion and Children’s Theater, Mike Crouser’s incredible golf tournament and now tonight you are here. Thank you Joe Dowling, Dennis Beal, Marita, Dean Seal, Karen Casanova, George Sutton and all of these amazing performers tonight. So many others. Thank you all.
© 2002 Kevin Kling. All rights reserved.