Kevin Kling was born with a congenital defect that rendered his left arm one quarter shorter than his right arm, with no discernable wrist or thumb. Remember that.
Kevin Kling is a storyteller. It seems obvious what that is, but with regards to a college-educated adult from Minnesota, how does that constitute a career, much less a calling?
Theater is part of the answer. He earned a degree in theater at Gustavus Adolphus College in 1979, wrote a couple of plays in his native Minnesota, and premiered his one-man show Home and Away at Seattle Repertory Theatre. He started receiving recognition for his work.
He made it to Second City in Chicago, created more plays (and books, and recordings), contributed commentaries to NPR’s All Things Considered. Then in 2001 he got in a motorcycle accident that pulled the brachial nerves in his right arm out of the socket, rendering that arm inert. His left arm, you’ll remember, was already compromised.
And that is another part of Kling’s answer about his calling: stories became even more important.
“I went through a grieving process [after the accident],” he says. “Being able to tell stories has been part of my healing. It gave me an idea of why I’m on this planet. I also didn’t want to lose my sense of humor.”
Shortly after his recovery, he regaled an audience with a story about his hospital stay:
About morphine: “It falsely takes charge like Alexander Haig when Reagan was shot.”
About surgeons using a photo to reconstruct his face: “There was some concern from my buddies because in one picture I was holding our dog.”
Some of Kling’s favorite storytellers of the past include Homer, Mark Twain and Dorothy Parker. Some new storytellers he’s admiring are Donald Davis and Minton Sparks. Lately he’s into Icelandic sagas. Asked what makes a storyteller distinct from a writer, he replies, “When they write you can hear their voice. It feels like you’re being told a story.”
Also, he says storytellers take the temperature of the room, break the fourth wall, and engage their audience like they’re having a conversation.
“I have a few hundred stories in my head all the time,” he says. “At some point the audience will tip me off which way they want to go, then I’m off to the races.”