Kevin James is forever tied to "The King of Queens," a staple sitcom still in regular rotation on TV Land and Nick at Night.
James tried to recapture the magic in 2016 with CBS's "Kevin Can Wait," which also featured Leah Remini, but it lasted only two seasons.
He has since taken his stand-up comedy even more seriously, building a new show from scratch since his 2018 Netflix special came out. You can see the results live at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre Thursday, September 26. (Buy tickets here.)
“It’s always scary to let all that material go [from his last special} and stare at a blank page,” said James in a recent interview from his Long Island, N.Y. abode. “But it came pretty quick. Honestly, it feels better than my last one. It just jelled in some areas. It’s better laid out.”
James is a pro on the live stage, his decades of experience clearly in effect. His style is like a more blue-collar version of Jim Gaffigan - few standard punchline jokes and more storytelling, physical humor and self-deprecating humor. Politics? Nah...
If you haven’t seen him live, his Netflix special will give you a good sense of how his Cobb show will go. (It’s his first stand-up show in Atlanta in six years.) In effect, his humor goes down easy even if when he tells stories about the time he’s vomited. In the special, he also addresses people with lactose intolerance, his battle with his weight, his adorable kids and his first colonoscopy. And he shows his ease on stage by riffing with people in the audience over their tattoos to hilarious effect.
James has mixed feelings about his time on CBS’s “Kevin Can Wait.”
“It was similar to ‘King of Queens,’” he acknowledged. “I loved the set up. I had the same exact feelings working with Leah Remini. But it was a constant battle: half your audience wants what’s comfortable. The other half wants more.”
If you want more James on TV and film, the “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” actor will return on both fronts. But he’s taking some chances. Early next year, he will begin shooting a Netflix comedy in which he plays part of a NASCAR pit crew.
“This is completely outside my world,” James said. “I sat and observed an actual pit crew. It’s crazy. It’s intense! I had no idea a lot of these crews were families. I didn’t know how it worked. They’re always trying to shave down the cars and make them lighter, make them faster.”
The upcoming show will be able to use the NASCAR name and has producers with NASCAR ties. This will enable the show to use real NASCAR drivers and announcers.
He’s also shooting a movie where he isn’t a silly zookeeper or comedic firefighter. Instead, he plays a genuine bad guy in action thriller “Becky.” He portrays a convict on the run who tries to take over a lake house where 14-year-old Becky takes matters into her own hands.
“They approached me and asked me to do this,” James. said. “I’m excited to be a part of it. I’m going to hand myself over to them and have them tell me what to do.”
James is also mourning the recent death of one of his favorite artists Eddie Money, who appeared on "The King of Queens" in 2002 to sing "Shakin'"
His death "was a huge hit to me," James said. "He's such a great guy. He played at my wedding. I loved him. He was so incredible. Every once in awhile, I'd jump on stage when he was performing at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut." (He's done the same with his fellow Long Island hero Billy Joel.)
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years.