Born: December 8, 1953
Death: April 10, 1992
Blue Meter: Dirty

Like this comedian?
Log-In or Register to mark it!

Who’s Funnier?




2016 Sam Kinison's Last Recorded Performance

Recording of a 1992 performance a few days prior to his death.

2005 Sam Kinison: Outlaws of Comedy
2001 Live in Vegas

Rereleased in 2016 by Comedy Dynamics

2001 Breaking The Rules

Rereleased in 2016 by Comedy Dynamics

1996 20th Birthday of the Comedy Store
1994 Live From Hell

Won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Comedy Album

1993 Family Entertainment Hour

Rereleased in 2016 by Comedy Dynamics

1990 Leader of the Banned
1990 Louder Than Hell

Never released on CD. MP3 release in 2014.

1990 Have You Seen Me Lately?

Specials (and other video)

2010 Back From Hell : A Tribute to Sam Kinison
2005 Brother Sam: A Tribute to Sam Kinison
2001 Sam Kinison: Live in Las Vegas
20?? Brother Sam

Biopic about the life of Sam Kinison

1997 Sam Kinison: Why Did We Laugh?
1990 Sam Kinison: Banned
1990 Sam Kinison: Outlaws of Comedy
1990 Sam Kinison: Family Entertainment Hour
1987 Sam Kinison: Breaking All the Rules
1984 The 9th Annual Young Comedians Special

Books (by and about)

1994 Brother Sam: The Short, Spectacular Life of Sam Kinison

by Bill Kinison and Steve Delsohn


The most controversial comic in the last half of the 1980’s, Sam Kinison was compared to Lenny Bruce for his deliberate bad taste, and Richard Pryor for his dangerous raging on stage and off. For some, he was a symbolic primal screamer exploding with inner pain and frustration. For others, he was just a trashy lowbrow appealing to woman haters and an audience of hard rock punks.

Utilizing the bombastic, shouting style of a Pentecostal preacher (his first profession), Sam shocked audiences with earthy routines on religion. He wondered why Christ would ever want to return to earth, enacting Christ on the cross (“Somebody get a ladder and a pair of pliers!”) and Christ’s bitter realization afterward that he was “the only savior who can use his own hand as a whistle!” Another routine that shook people up was Sam’s response to famine and starvation. His response to the Ethiopians: “Hey, we just drove 700 miles with your food and it occured to us that there wouldn’t be world hunger—if you people would LIVE where the FOOD is! You live in a…DESERT! Nothing grows here? Dammit, you see this? This is SAND…we have deserts in America, but we DON"T LIVE IN ‘EM!” His most famous early line, following a raging description of his failed marriages and expensive divorces, was “I don’t condone wife-beating. I UNDERSTAND IT.”

The difference in audience reaction depended on whether they viewed him as “The Beast of Burden” (the nickname he preferred over “Screamin’ Sam”) or simply “The Beast.”

As “The Beast of Burden,” Sam was just a frenzied, out of control version of loser Rodney Dangerfield. Rodney was Sam’s first supporter, giving him several key career breaks including a 1985 appearance on a “Young Comedians” HBO cable special. Sam was the cynic who couldn’t imagine Christ forgiving the sins committed against him. He was the average guy whose guilt and discomfort over starvation led to shouting out an exasperated, ridiculous solution. But one not far removed from the annoyed thoughts of the un-cheerful giver who donates to charities or appeases a street beggar while secretly wishing the government was taking care of the problem or at least moving them out of sight. And fat, unappealing Sam was the 80’s frustrated Ralph Kramden, who instead of hollering “Pow, to the Moon!” and feigning a punch that would separate his wife’s head from her body, screamed about wanting to jam her severed head in a camera bag.

As “The Beast,” many alarmed critics and audience members simply believed Sam was a shock comic; a man whose religious comedy had no soul, a man who made cruel fun of starving people, a man who not only hated women but advocated murder. As the L.A. Weekly noted, “what…would the public reaction be if the line read, “I don’t condone Jew-beating—I understand it.”

The fine line of what’s funny and why was stomped on repeatedly by the short, heavy set Kinison, who had spent five tough years developing his cathartic style, demanding ringsider attention with his screams. When he was banned from “The Comedy Workshop” in Houston, Kinison staged a mock cruficixion and hung himself on a cross from across the street. He seemed the perfect candidate to become the next comic martyr in the Lenny Bruce tradition.

At first, the liberal press, rock critics, comedy buffs and Lenny Bruce fans were all behind Sam. His career took off. A controversial, censored appearance on “Saturday Night Live” added to his notriety in 1986. His first album sold over 200,000 copies. It was easy for Sam to blast back at his critics, and he often did it with convincing good humor. He wasn’t a sadistic satanist telling jokes against Christ. His father was a preacher and Sam had been one as well. And how could he be a misogynist? He loved women. There were only two he didn’t like, and they happened to be his ex-wives. Besides, wasn’t he urging guys to take better care of their ladies so they wouldn’t share his fate? He frankly and hilariously explained on stage how to orally please women by “licking the alphabet…they LOVE the letter T!”

As fans demanded more outrageous routines and his stardom led him into a fast-lane of concerts, interviews and big deals, Kinison’s woes increased. Problems on the set of his first movie led to its cancellation; Kinison lost $350,000 in salary. He lost his manager. Worse, he lost his brother, who suddenly shot himself to death during a family reunion.

Kinison tried to live by the comic sword he was swinging. On stage just three days after the funeral he looked up to heaven and raged, “Liberace! You dead fag! Stay away form my brother!” Like Richard Pryor (a strong influence since Sam first heard the “Bicentennial Nigger” album), Kinison was perceived as self-destructive, dangerous, and a druggie. Kinison only admitted to the latter and claimed he gave up cocaine after a bad drug reaction that felt like a heart attack. A damaging article in “Rolling Stone” magazine criticized Kinison’s lifestyle and insisted he was heading for self-destruction.

Complaints of gays, feminists and conservatives grew and his career stalled as record executives, film executives, agents and publicists began to step back. Sam’s audience became mostly youthful heavy metal fans, ones who just wanted to hear gross-out comedy, woman and gay bashing, and a lot of cursing. Influenced by the heavy metal musicians he was hanging out with, Sam explored rock singing and made a few semi-satiric rock videos featuring heavy metal guest stars and the usual painted-up bimbos.

Gone was the challenging, iconoclastic satire. To the cheers of his foolish, party-animal followers, he raged against the inconvenience of wearing condoms and championed drunk driving: “Child killer? Attempted manslaughter? We don’t want to drink and drive, but there’s no other way to get home!”. He thought up a routine on homosexual necrophilia not for any message but “just to see if I could think up the worst thing and make it funny.” Reacting to his own fame and controversy, he spent a lot of stage time snickering over his image and made an ironic catch-phrase of critics’ demands for “family entertainment.”

Sam had been urged to go over the edge for his comic truths. Now, he analyzed the AIDS epidemic, declaring it was caused by “a few bored fags” who “had to go in the jungle, grab some monkey,” have sex, “and bring us back the black plague of the 80’s. Thanks guys!” Gay groups picketed his concerts, scuffling with the sell-out crowds who weren’t very sympathetic. When Sam hosted “The 2nd Annual International Rock Awards” on TV in 1990, guest Elton John suddenly announced, “I’m doing this show under protest. I’d like to congratulate Sam Kinison on being the first pig ever to introduce a rock and roll show.”

Kinison insisted, “I’m not a pig. I’m a charitable man. I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who has AIDS…I don’t do AIDS jokes in my act anymore…I was pretty insensitive, but back then I was honestly unaware. AIDS is a horrible disease and the people who catch it deserve compassion.” Then he complained, “It’s acceptable to ridicule the Pope or the President, but God forbid you do a joke about gays. The gay community is the last sacred cow in this society.”

1990 marked a sharp decline in Kinison’s popularity. His screaming was no longer a novelty and he had said every outrageous thing he could think of. A new bad boy, Andrew Dice Clay, was now getting the headines. Kinison’s year of misery bottomed in June when his girlfriend was allegedly raped by his bodyguard, a 300 pound black man whom Kinison had hired, without a background check, the night before in a bar. Kinison had slept through the entire incident, including the four rifle shots his girlfriend fired (all missing the rapist).

The irony of a woman-bashing comedian’s own woman getting bashed was not lost on the media. People magazine declared, “For years, primal-scream comedian Sam Kinison has built his act on the elements of psychic terror and sexual violence.” So, they initimated, he and his girlfriend deserved this.

Kinison’s star had been eclipsed, but along with Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, he left a blazing trail. He influenced many performers, and sparked the return of uncompromising comedy in the late 80’s the same way Bruce ignited it in the late 50’s and Pryror in the late 60’s. His best work remains powerful, challenging, and valuable.