June 7, 2023

Kevin James Thornton: Growing up, coming out, and coming home to Indiana


Kevin James Thornton is coming back home to Indiana, appearing at Helium Comedy Club in downtown Indianapolis on Sunday, June 11. - Courtesy of Kevin James Thornton

Kevin James Thornton is coming back home to Indiana, appearing at Helium Comedy Club in downtown Indianapolis on Sunday, June 11.

Courtesy of Kevin James Thornton

Kevin James Thornton may live in Nashville, Tennessee, now – but the comedian is definitely a Hoosier.

He graduated from Ball State, a musical theater student while he was there. These days, some of his comedy material comes from tales of his hometown of Evansville. The stories he tells about growing up, however, are different than the ones you may tell.

One of Kevin's now-famous TikTok videos begins with him crooning, "In my super-fundamentalist church youth group when it was the '90's, we were obsessed with the rapture. And we even had a song we would sing in church, and the words were like, 'it's too late ... you've been left behind ..."

He has done standup comedy on the road for years, but Thornton's career took a viral turn when he started making those short videos – with the help of Auto-Tune – during the pandemic.

"There was a moment when it seemed like everyone downloaded TikTok at the same time during 2020," Thornton said in a phone conversation from his Nashville home. "I really wasn't intending to do anything with that. I was just watching other people's videos. But I've done standup comedy and storytelling festivals for years, [so] I already had a lot of that material floating around in my head.  So I decided to make a couple of videos telling my funny, weird stories, and just as an afterthought, I put that Auto-Tune filter on it. I wasn't really thinking much of it at all, and they just blew up really fast."

Kevin now has more than 2 million followers on TikTok and Instagram. That has allowed him to tell a more serious side of his story about growing up gay – and, obviously, not out back then – in a conservative Evansville-area community, and how he has come to terms with that over the years.  He said in a recent video he vividly recalls hearing sermons at church that made him think, "as a 12-year-old, what did I do (wrong)? God must have abandoned me and given me over to my evil desires."

If you also grew up in a rural area, regardless of your sexual orientation, you'll probably recognize some of Kevin's stories. For example, the rumors of where the local Satanists would hang out. 

"There was a baseball park by my house, and everyone said, 'Don't go into that dugout at night.  There's devil worshippers!'" one of Thornton's videos exclaims.

"There was a name for it – 'The Satanic Panic,'" Kevin adds. "During that pre-internet era, those myths would float around in small towns. It's so funny today, but I think we all [believed] that in 1988."

When live standup comedy shows returned from the pandemic shutdown, Kevin was ready. The videos gave him a new audience. 

"I have spent most of my life on the road," Thornton said. "I played in a band many years that traveled the country. When that ended, I moved to Los Angeles to begin pursuing standup comedy. That was about 15 years ago. Then I hit the road again, and back then it was a struggle. I was not making a lot of money, staying in cheap hotel rooms. Today, it's a whole different world. I am living the dream. I'm having the time of my life, and it's the most unexpected second chance at a dream I didn't see coming."

Kevin James Thornton is coming back home to Indiana, appearing at Helium Comedy Club in downtown Indianapolis on Sunday, June 11. Information is available at his website, KevinJamesThornton.com.

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