How TikTok fame helped comic Kevin James Thornton find his voice
RICH LOPEZ | Staff writer
If you’ve spent any time on TikTok and Instagram scrolling through cat memes, gym misbehavior and dance trends, no doubt you might have come across Kevin James Thornton (well, depending on the algorithms of your life). His personal stories about high school, college and growing up gay in a religious atmosphere all hit close to home.
But his stories always land with a laugh, as his auto-tune delivery and singing have become his signature.
Thornton is no stranger to entertaining the masses or having varying degrees of notoriety. Before his current comic success, Thornton was this close to a major label deal with his country band Indiana Queen some years ago. Thornton had his own site devoted to queer country music and has written for Huffington Post. He even has his own photography studio and podcast.
But with more than one million followers and some 500 million views across the social media platforms, he’s found which side of the bread to butter.
He brings his stories and jokes to Dallas on Thursday, June 29, at the Addison Improv. He spoke with Dallas Voice about finding his place thanks to a pandemic and social media.
Dallas Voice: You’ve had a varied life of music, photography, writing and now comedy. How do you reflect on all these creative chapters? Kevin James Thornton: I turn 50 in a couple of months, and I’ve been at “it” for a long time. Life was just breezing by, so I started saying “yes” to everything. I’ve learned a lot of weird skills along the way — especially living in Nashville — and I have lots of friends who kept me going.
The pandemic threw everything awry for creatives. Like many others, you found a silver lining in social media. Everything changed. I had done one-man shows and standup, so I had a lot of stories in my pocket already. I got on TikTok, and I saw other people doing funny things. But I wasn’t really trying to do anything.
That’s so ironic because you definitely blew up on social media with your humor and stories — and the autotune. Putting the autotune in was this weird afterthought. I made a couple of videos with my stories, and it got a fast and big reaction. But at the same time, it was the real natural evolution.
What lessons do you feel like you’re learning now at this moment? I’m really enjoying this phase of my life, and, truthfully and more importantly, I’ve found my thing. I really love what I’m doing. After all this time, getting on stage and making people laugh is it.
Was there that moment when you kinda realized you can make people laugh? Looking back, it’s easier to see than when I was in the moment. I was very much the class clown and had those ridiculous moments in high school. You can see that a lot easier looking backward.
A lot of what hits with your comedy are the coming out stories, growing up religious bits and all the signifiers of that time, because “it was the nineties.” I was super repressed as a teen growing up in a religious way. It was before Will & Grace, before the internet. I didn’t really have a coming out moment. I finished college and moved to Nashville as a homo. It took a few years, but I eventually got a record deal.
You were determined to be an out musician with Indiana Queen. Yeah, this was around 1999-2000. I was very out and immediately so. I was told not to do that, and maybe they were right. That deal fell apart. I love music, but it’s so intertwined with my sexuality and still is today with comedy. I started my one-man show around that time so that was the beginning of all this.
Do you reflect on how something like TikTok has you touring across Europe and the country and with sell out shows now? I toured about 15 years ago, and I had moved to Los Angeles and then hit the road for comedy festivals. But TikTok really opened the doors, especially after the pandemic. I signed with an agency, and I’ve been on tour continuously for the past two years. It’s all been this kind of great experiment.
Thornton performs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Addison Improv. ImprovTx.com.