Les Kurkendaal

I am an actor/stand up comic / spoken word artist who is based in Los angeles. I am a member of Story Salon , a story telling company based out of studio city. I have been touring the world with several one man shows. I can also be seen in the movies The Lost cause, boychick and Eating out 3 All you can eat.

Here are some reviews of the show….
Nightmare in Bakersfield

Minnesota Fringe Festival Review – Nightmare in Bakersfield
By Matthew A. Everett,
The name of the producing company for Nightmare In Bakersfield is quite apt – The Adventures of Les Kurkendaal. Every year since I first introduced Mom to Les, both onstage and off, she puts his shows at the top of her list of things she most wants to see. “It’s like another chapter in the story.” Exactly.

Someone commented to me that, after Les did the introductory segment of his show at the Out of Towner Showcase, their spouse turned to them and said, “I think I’ve seen this show before.” Well, yes and no. Les’ shows are always about Les in one form or another. But it’s how he chooses to process his life with each passing year that is most telling.

Someone else who’s been privy to more of Les’ productions over the years than I have noted that he becomes more accomplished in his storytelling skills with each passing Fringe. I’ll second that assessment. It’s been great fun to watch him grow, with the added benefit that the shows just keep on getting better. Like visiting an old friend in more ways than one, a friend who only improves with time.

“I have everything I need right here.”

I got on the Les Kurkendaal bandwagon late in the game. He was already a fixture at the Minnesota Fringe, visiting faithfully from sunny California, one of our biggest fans (and we, his) by the time I finally saw Christmas In Bakersfield in 2006 (and introduced him to Mom in 2007 when he remounted the show).

From Attack of the Big Angry Booty (2008) to The Gayer Show (2009) to Drink Drank Drunk (2010), Les hasn’t just been mining his life for easy laughs. He uses a healthy sense of humor (and perspective) to create stories about the rough edges, bumps and bruises of life – weight issues, troubled relationships with parents, alcoholism – that don’t get bogged down in “pity poor me.” That smile of Les’ is earned. His gift to his audience is that anything can be gotten through, if you want to make it happen badly enough – and you keep your eye on the things that are really important.

“Oh, you do porn!”

In Nightmare In Bakersfield, Les is struggling with something less obvious, but just as insidious – wishing your life was something else so much that you forget to appreciate the good things you already have. Les’ husband Mike is lauded as one of the 100 Most Famous People to come out of his hometown of Bakersfield. So when Mike’s class reunion rolls around, everyone back home at his old school is anxious to see him. They just don’t know Mike’s gay. So when Les comes along for the big occasion at Mike’s request, that makes things interesting.

“What happened this time, were you voted Miss Bakersfield?”

Les has to deal with his unexpected jealousy at being the “less famous” one in the couple. He also has to deal with people constantly mistaking him for the only African American Mike’s class had in their ranks (a man who wisely decided to stay away from the reunion).

“I guess all black people really do look alike to them.”

There is, naturally, a colorful cast of characters, but here’s where Les’ tale is different from previous ones. Les creates this large cast of characters and keeps juggling them as he recounts the big night of the reunion. These people aren’t simple cartoons. They start to reveal other layers. As does Mike, who doesn’t seem to have any problem introducing Les as his partner, and correcting people if they get it wrong. It’s no big deal to Mike, he just wants everyone to know he and Les are together, and patiently pushes past people’s confusion until the light dawns.

“Where is that lovely wife of yours?”

Learning that contentment is not the same as settling, that’s a tricky one. Continuing to push for your dreams without forgetting or discounting all you’ve accomplished, that’s also tricky. And Les is finding that balance as he gets introduced to his husband’s past, very happy to be part of his present and future.

Is Nightmare In Bakersfield hard-hitting, edgy Fringe fare? No, but that’s not what Les and his shows are about. They’re about the simple things that are so simple we tend to overlook them. They’re the little moments inside the big picture, keeping both in perspective. And each new show is another part of a still larger picture. People like Mom and me are just waiting for the next chapter of the story. Knowing Les, he’s already lived it and is just trying to figure out how best to find the humor in the twists and turns of a life well-lived, and use that to encourage us to do the same.

Very Highly Recommended

Reviews of Christmas in Bakersfield

Were I to choose one Fringe performer whose work I consistently enjoy, it would have to be Les Kurkendaal, whose latest piece, “Christmas in Bakersfield,” is a treasure. Solo gay artist Kurkendaal, takes the audience, in an enjoyable, intelligent piece to Bakersfield, “the arm pit of California” where his lover, Mike’s family, lives in a gated community. It’s the hometown of Buck Owens and the headquarters for the California branch of the KKK. Having been invited for Christmas, Les finds his holiday rule, “no family drama,” continually broken until he meets the matriarch of the family. Les Kurkendaal loves the Minnesota Fringe and we need to love him back! This is a marvelous show!—— Steven Lavigne —On The Purple Circut august 2007

May 31, 2007 - Cincinnati City Beat

Christmas in Bakersfield
Les Kurkendaal’s solo performance in Christmas in Bakersfield, which opened the Cincinnati Fringe Festival for me, was at the same time simple and winning. He poses the following loaded question for his audience: What happens when a man brings his male lover home to his family in Bakersfield, Calif., for the holidays?

Oh, but this isn’t really the crux of the problem: The family has recently and grudgingly accepted their son Mike’s sexual orientation. The real problem begins as Les steps across the threshold of the family’s pricey, gated suburban home. Mike “forgot” to tell his family that his lover is an African American (Les, who is telling us the story).
The fun begins in this autobiographical tale as Mike’s family tries to hold in their prejudicial reactions to this quite obviously black man. But they are unable to keep from compulsively making racial slurs. At one point, Mike’s father Jeff (who talks like a cross between a used car salesman and a vacuum cleaner) asks Les whether he had any work done on his face, because his nose isn’t wide enough to be a black nose.

What makes the performance work is that Kurkendaal obviously doesn’t have any rancor for the white folks he encounters. He breezes through his social critique and largely allows the audience to come up with the horrified reactions. The way he tells the tale, which he claims is completely true, the entire situation is quite funny and the various family members come to life with well meaning comments that inadvertently expose their limited experience and views.
Kurkendaal’s solo orchestration of the tale makes the performance work. We hear from mother and father first, in satirical tones that suggest both outer decorum and inner impulses. Then other family members are allowed to have their say. First there is Jeff Jr., who sounds a lot like Dad. Then comes Linda, a Latina sister-in-law who actually empathizes with Kurkendaal’s predicament, having been in the same position some years before.

Eventually we hear from some shocked neighbors, and finally the extended family on Christmas Eve. The dreaded Grandma arrives (every time her name is mentioned an eerie siren goes off, followed by some music that sounds like something from a ‘50s cop show). Not one to give away an ending, I will refrain from describing the action of the piece further.
Christmas in Bakersfield is a performance that explores the borders — the fringes, if you will — of a society still strongly divided across racial lines. It’s a report from the front lines, where county-clubbing whites and urban blacks seldom mix, at least not socially. — Mark Sterner The Cincinnati City Beat

Christmas In Bakersfield – Traveling Kurkendaal Productions – Interact Center

Man, have I been missing something by not catching this guy’s Fringe shows in the past. Les Kurkendaal is a damn good storyteller. He loves our Fringe and I can see now why our Fringe loves him. It’s just him, and a chair, and that’s it, for a little under an hour. Having passed the 30 show mark a while back and with Fringe Fatigue beginning to creep in around the edges, I feared attending a one person show at Interact, sittting in the dark, that I would drift off. Not to worry. Les held my attention with no difficulty at all. It was a pleasure to listen to his tales of Christmas among the white folk of Bakersfield. And also a pleasant surprise that the show didn’t conclude with, “And that’s why my boyfriend and I broke up.” A happy ending to a story like this is as wonderful as it is unexpected. Means there’s a little hope for the rest of us. If, like me, you’ve missed his act before, get your butt on over to Interact if you want to have a lot of fun. If, unlike me, you already know how great Les is, and how raucously you will laugh, bring a friend or two and introduce them. This is the kind of stuff that gives the Fringe a good name.

Highly Recommended.
- Matthew Everett – Minneapolis 2008

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