Kenny Kane Stand-Up Comedy to Coaching

Kenny Kane
Full Transcript

Back to Episode

Kelly: [0:03:40] Kenny Kane is a lifelong performer and coach who’s fueled by improving quality of life for people in very principled ways. He grew up in a family fitness business with a mother in the Swimming Hall of Fame and a father who was an officiant even at the Olympics. He bought CrossFit Los Angeles in 2014 with a vision to build a unified coaching team and the business to support it. And then this business rebranded in 2017 as Oak Park, a nod to Kenny’s roots in Santa Rosa, California, as well as a symbolic transition to something more evergreen. His dream has always been to create an environment where he can be a student and learn entirely new things from the people within it. As the Oak Park coaches and community continue to evolve, that dream became more of a reality. We are really thrilled to bring you this great conversation with one of our best friends. 

Juliet: [0:04:26] Hey, Ready State listeners, if you like what you’re hearing, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes to help others find our show. 

Juliet: [0:04:33] Kenny Kane, welcome to The Ready State Podcast

Kenny Kane: [0:04:36] I am so happy to be here. 

Juliet: [0:04:37] We’re so happy to have you.

Kelly: [0:04:40] Just so we just set expectations for everyone here, Kenny’s one of our best friends. We’re really… I would like to say we’re close, but that maybe doesn’t go as far as we’d like to go. We’ve had a relationship as friends, as coworkers. Man, it just transcends. We’re parents together. I think we’ve been doing this as long as you’ve been doing this and it’s really fun to get caught up with you and introduce you to our community.

Juliet: [0:05:00] And it will be a Christmas miracle if we actually ask you any actual questions.

Kelly: [0:05:05] Fact.

Kenny Kane: [0:05:07] Great and great. And additionally, for The Ready State listeners, these two are just fresh back from the European trip. So how the flow goes is going to be, well, we’ll see.

Juliet: [0:05:16] Entirely dictated by you.

Kelly: [0:05:19] Well, my brain is a little bit fluffy with pastry so I’m going to just do the best I can.

Juliet: [0:05:24] We’re a little puffy right now, Kenny. We ate a lot of simple carbohydrates.

Kelly: [0:05:27] Kenny, tell us where you are. Set up where are you coming live from?

Kenny Kane: [0:05:30] I’m currently coming live from the Pacific Palisades, where me and my wife and our two little boys live. Juliet made a sojourn here last year. Gosh, time has flown. But yes, I’m in the Westside of Los Angeles as we record this son of a gun. 

Kelly: [0:05:47] And is that where your training facility is as well?

Kenny Kane: [0:05:50] Santa Monica. So adjacent. So the cities in order going south to north, Venice, Santa Monica, Palisades, and then The Bu, the Malibu. So yeah. I’m kind of in the middle. But our gym is in Santa Monica.

Juliet: [0:06:03] So I do want to ask you about your gym but not ‘til later because I want to start by asking you to tell us a little bit about your athletic career. And also, that’s going to lead into I think like many people including me, you have not had a straight path to your current professional situation, and I want to ask about that. And also, I know because your own athletic background is so tied to your parents, who were amazing, amazing humans, maybe you could talk a little bit about them too.

Kelly: [0:06:30] And let me just set that up for everyone, that one time someone was writing an article about Juliet and they tried to summarize her transition from world champion, et cetera, et cetera, to gym owner, and they just said, “lawyer turned personal trainer.” Just reduced it down. So I think I’d like to see you try to top that.

Juliet: [0:06:49] Yeah. So let’s see how you can just distill it into two words. 

Kenny Kane: [0:06:54] That’s amazing. Knowing Juliet, I mean they should have just made a sound effect and made it-

Kelly: [0:07:02] Step one, law school; step three-

Juliet: [0:07:05] Personal trainer. 

Kenny Kane: [0:07:09] Totally. Well, for me, look, I grew up just north of where you guys are at in Santa Rosa, California. Born in the city. Got my—you guys missed it, you were in Europe—but great finish to the Warriors season last week. It was amazing. I grew up in the Bay Area. My grandfather was the president of the AAU in the late ’60s and early ’70s and that kind of set the stage for our family’s experience with athletics. At the time, that was the governing body for world class athletes in the U.S. And my mom kind of raised me with an athletic mind but also a coach’s mind and a performance mind, unknowingly. She was a world class swimmer. She’s in the Swimming Hall of Fame. She can coach anything and has arguably the strongest kinesthetic eye I’ve ever been witness to. She used to as a teenager enter all male races and swim shore to shore underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. This is in the late ’40s and early ’50s when it was still a prison. And she used to on dates with my dad swim out to Alcatraz as an 18, 19-year-old, and the armed guards would just walk up to her and go, “Uh, you gotta turn around.” They’d be dumbfounded because the prison was built because nobody was supposed to be able to survive the swim leaving there and here there is this teenage girl swimming out to Alcatraz for shits and giggles.

Juliet: [0:08:34] Yeah, like it’s no big deal, here I am on the dock.

Kelly: [0:08:37] Made the Clint Eastwood movie look dumb.

Kenny Kane: [0:08:39] Yeah. Totally.

Kelly: [0:08:40] Like Top Gun when you’re flying up there and then all of a sudden there’s like a kid in his homemade airplane next to you. What’s up, Tom? Yeah, I understand.

Kenny Kane: [0:08:46] You know, growing up with them, my mom was just a beast mentally. She just unintentionally sort of required that of me. And so at a dinner table as an infant, I’m with Mark Spitz, who was routinely at our house for dinner and this kind of thing. And so we’re just around this pedagogy of coaches and athletes. And my mom’s coach was the first swim coach on the planet to use something called intervals. And so again, this is seven decades ago. But at the time, obviously novel. But just so much life instruction being the first… Everybody listening, everybody, we just assume that intervals are to be used if we’re adapting human physiology. And yet she was literally on the cutting edge of all that as it began.

So kind of growing up in that, what’s interesting is that I refused swimming. I became a little bit of a land animal and I chose soccer and martial arts as my two primary sort of disciplines growing up. And back then in the ’70s, martial arts was really influenced by Bruce Lee in the Bay Area. So our dojo was like a mix. Now everything is mixed modal martial arts. But back then, it was heresy to have one style mixed with another style. And so, “I see you have a Shaolin style,” then those were fighting words apparently before that. And so like a lot of the dojos, that dualism started to collapse and people started to really be in the mindset of like, you know what, let’s exchange ideas more openly rather than be closed.

And such was our dojo. And I grew up with… I started when I was six, turning seven years old. That influenced every bit of my directionality coupled with my mom. It allowed me to just kind of do semi reasonably well as a collegiate athlete and post collegiate athlete in soccer and track. So I wound up being a subnational class runner. And I got paid to play soccer in a semi-pro league up in Davis, Sacramento area for a year or two after college as well. So it really started with a mom who understood coaching, physiology, human movement, a family that supported it. 

But man, I think the best life lesson I ever got from my mom was just sort of the necessity of developing your mind and your body. And there was a moment where I went to UC Davis and we were at a track meet and I’d just finished running and she pointed out something about my teammates when I was cooling down. She happened to catch me on the cool down run. And she goes, “Just look across the stadium.” And I looked across the stadium. And she goes, “What do you see right there?” And I go, “Well, that’s the team, mom. What are you trying to get at?” And she goes, “All of them are studying right now.” So between their events, all the Davis athletes were studying. And she just made a comment like in that moment, “You’re in the right place.” And that’s how she wanted me to be raised, is there’s no distinction between developing your mind and developing your body. These things are inexorably, they’re meshed together and they must mesh together.

Kelly: [0:11:55] You sure they weren’t on TikTok?

Kenny Kane: [0:12:02] And so begins this whole concept, which has really been driving me on that through this world in which I’d like to live that includes intentionality, not impulsivity, but we can speak on that a little later.

Kelly: [0:12:16] You grow up in sort of this mindset of really human potential. I mean it’s sort of a weird word people bat around. But you’re around elite athletes who are also very much thinking about developing mind and the brain around that. More of just being a rounded person, an integrated person. And then you just said at that moment, you’re like, I’m going to be a coach? You knew after your… Is this where you go from lawyer to personal trainer? Can you explain? Because that’s a pretty amazing-

Juliet: [0:12:46] Is this when you went from soccer player to comedian?

Kelly: [0:12:48] Yeah, pedigree. Because I know you as a coach and I’ve always known you as a coach the almost 20 years we’ve been friends, which is shocking since we’re both 19.

Juliet: [0:12:57] That’s some B.S. We know him as a comedian too. 

Kelly: [0:12:59] Mmm. Do we?

Juliet: [0:13:00] I mean I do. I do.

Kelly: [0:13:03] Well, I mean I originally became familiar with your work on Southwest, which we’ll get to in a second. But in the meantime… That’s a true fact, ladies and gentleman. We’ll get there in a second. But talk about, because you said, hey, I’m not going to be a swimmer. And that can happen because you just grow up immersed, no pun intended, with a culture, that you’re like, I need to find my own way. Your parents are great athletes and coaches and run an incredible facility. Did you say, I’m not going to do that? Was that a conscious thought? Or did you fight that power?

Kenny Kane: [0:13:37] A hundred percent. I’m finishing high school, going into college, and I’m just seeing my mom who’s running a fitness facility in Santa Rosa, and she’s still coaching but mostly retired at that point. And I’m looking at this going, man, I want no part of this. I want no part of this. Although it is so in me. And I think in the end, the thread that puts all of this together is there’s something about performance, period, that allows a human being to step into the moment. And whether you’re doing standup comedy, a track meet, a soccer race, a triathlon, a hip hop routine, it doesn’t really matter. It’s all the same thing psychoemotionally. In a moment or two or in 17 days or six months or whatever it is, you need to step up and go. It’s that time.

Kelly: [0:14:24] Do you think people mostly don’t make those connections? They’re just like they’re exercising because it’s good for their heart or they’re trying to change their body composition? That most people aren’t recognizing that potential for that?

Kenny Kane: [0:14:35] Look, you and I have been advocating for a long time we need to retire a siloed consideration of what our physicality and our mentality mean. As our good friend Andy Galpin always talks about, hey, look, there is a line between psychology and physiology, and it’s always dancing back and forth. And you can go upstream or downstream to positively and/or negatively affect both directions. And in the middle, you’ve got the nervous system kind of like putting through traffic. But in the end, yes, people perceive it to be that siloed. But in the end, our job as expert coaches and communicators is to kind of go, that’s good that your heart is pumping. But also, there’s a lot of other stuff going on and we need to contextualize that to a greater degree to have it, A, be more efficacious and solve a real situation which is the health of the planet, which is a larger concern, but we can do that in our immediate circles. 

I mean every coach that I came across that was coming to family dinners, I mean my track coach in college was the Olympic coach for track and field in ’96, the commonality in all these people was, yes, they understand these things to the most expert degree. What position does your big toe need to be in to give the optimal pushup? Yeah, all that. And what’s happening in the being of the person? They’re running in concurrent timelines. They’re not separable. And so that was just taught to me through martial arts by being exposed to these people and by continual repetition really. I mean it was just like growing up around that, just sort of the way. Whether people were explicitly communicating it or not, but they understood that the human with the physical, the physical with the human, that they just go so, so together. 

And my mom could press on people. She could just kind of put the thumb on you and just go, lean in, and she was so fierce. And she’d just kind of like look at you. Our track coach in college had the same intensity. But she’d just kind of get at you just by a look. And it was just kind of like, okay. And the look wasn’t so much like what’s going on in your body; it’s like what’s going on in you, like where are you at. Where are you at? Right now. Right now. Because we either need to fish or cut bait, which is the ultimate… You know, you get back, it winds up being fairly simple. Like today we’re going to go hard, today we’re going to go easy because I can see that look in your eyes.

Juliet: [0:17:00] Am I correct that you dad was also very sporty, number one? That’s part A question. And then part B question, isn’t it interesting that you look back on sort of your mom’s contribution as body and mind connection, but then also, she was running a fitness facility and was an entrepreneur, and that may have some connection to what you’re currently doing at this moment?

Kelly: [0:17:24] That’s called family trauma where you just pass the generational family trauma. I mean you can’t escape it. Caroline and Georgia, welcome to your gym. 

Kenny Kane: [0:17:32] That’s funny because my mom was trying to like, “Oh, do you want to?” And just as a little sidebar, you and I had talked, well, it’s been probably a decade now since we talked about the potential of having like a human performance institute just north of where you guys are at, using the 16 acres that was once the Oak Park but that burnt down in the fires in 2017. My mom really did want me to take over the family business. And that did start to circle back after I just needed to rebel and go be a standup comedian for 15 years. And that rebellion I didn’t exhaust in my teen years, I just waited until my 20s and then kept it until I was 40 and then went back. Fitness was always a thread. And then the other part of it that’s highly influential is my dad was a hilarious dude and he just by his nature… My mom didn’t frankly have much of a sense of humor but my dad was hilarious. And I always sort of appreciated her sort of intensity and his just comedic ability to take any moment that’s rough and just soften it with just the common sense of humor and comedy.

And so after I became a schoolteacher for three years, while I was a schoolteacher after finishing UC Davis, I started going to open mics in San Francisco and just kind of getting my chops a little bit. And then by ‘99, 2000, I started going on the road and touring the U.S. and spent the better part of the 2000s touring. And then when I was not touring doing standup comedy, I was doing fitness videos, things like bellybutton thighs, for example, and lose weight in eight.

Juliet: [0:19:14] Peanut Butter Jelly Time videos?

Kenny Kane: [0:19:15] Peanut Butter Jelly Time. And so that really became, I’d come home from gigs and I was working in fitness all through 2000s and it just got to a point where in standup comedy I started being inspired by my father really. And then kind of going, okay, I’ve become part of one percent that has thought of being an artist for a living, I’m doing that. And I also made a conscious choice at that point, the year of 2010, my first child Cameron was born, and in that year, I started kind of going really second guessed this standup comedy thing for a living. I also at that point, I was deep in the profession of it. And I realized this is not what I want for a lifestyle. And there it was right in front of me. Fitness. I mean I’d been doing it the whole time. Never really got… I was coaching, teaching for decades. And it was just right in front of me. And although it’s passed down, it’s coming from a very meaningful place. Shifting back into the late 2000s, 2010s, I’m starting to kind of go, ooh, let’s retire from standup and let’s focus more on fitness and health and wellness.

Juliet: [0:20:30] I think there’s performance and there’s performance. And maybe because my own background is in athletics, but to me, doing standup comedy is perhaps one of the hardest and scariest things. We have a friend across the street who she’s a mom and has a regular job but she just does standup comedy because she loves it. And man, how do you survive in that world?

Kelly: [0:20:52] #askingforafriend because we think Caroline could be a standup comedian.

Juliet: [0:20:54] Oh my God. I just think it’s got to be the hardest. It’s one thing to run or play a sport. And maybe, again, it’s because that’s what I relate to. But I just have such mad respect for standup comedy. It’s so hard and I think comedians are so smart and so fast. 

Kenny Kane: [0:21:11] Standup is in many ways professionally the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I mean-

Kelly: [0:21:17] You just don’t have a big window to get it right. You have to be so tight.

Kenny Kane: [0:21:20] And then the pressure’s always on because, you know, it’s human energetics in real time. So there is nothing worse when you’re headlining a set and you’ve got 45 minutes or an hour and you go out and you open and kind of go, okay, okay, it’s going to be we’re going to lift rocks up a hill for a minute. And you kind of go, okay, I’m going to start to throw some elbows here. And okay, that’s not really connecting with them, okay. Okay, what’s next? Oh. And then you start looking at your clock going, yeah, I’ve got 47 minutes left.

Kelly: [0:22:03] Out of 45 minutes. 

Kenny Kane: [0:22:05] Totally. And then the countdown is so slow back to that minute that you’ve got to get offstage. And the entire standup comedy industry works off of a sub industry. So standup comedy in clubs works as alcohol. It’s a bar, what you’re doing when you go to the standup comedy clubs. So there’s two concurrent things going on. People are going for a show but the way the clubs make money is to sell drinks. So they have different sort of needs, right? So the comedian, the human being, needs to be loved and appreciated and brought out of their little fragility. And the club needs thousands of dollars because people are having a good time buying lots of drinks. And so they overlap, but if you suck, the punishment is multifold. One, I’ll just describe one of my worst experiences in standup. I was hired to welcome the incoming freshmen at UC Davis.

Juliet: [0:23:05] What year was this, just for reference?

Kenny Kane: [0:23:07] I don’t know, probably 2000. If it was 2010, I would’ve been able to handle the situation so much better. But I go onstage and there’s an interesting substory to this too. I was having a hard time with my girlfriend, who was supposed to come and watch the show, but she didn’t. And so I had this plan that I was going to crush the show, there was going to be all 2,000 incoming freshmen at the thing in the little basketball stadium, whoo, whoo, you know? And I go on. But see, they mistimed the whole thing because what they had was a DJ who’s just like going crazy and all these 18-year-olds are away from home. For the first night in their life, they are unsupervised. So there’s just surging sexuality and physicality and music and yes, probably some drugs. And so just the grinding. And it was like a rave on crack. And then they go, “Now we’ve got to stop it because it’s time for comedy. The guy coming to the stage, his name is,” and he looks back. He literally forgot everything. And he goes, “His name is… Kenny. Kenny Kane.” 

And so there’s 2,000 college kids, half of which have erections, are standing there going, “What’s happening right now?” Then immediately one kid goes, “You suck.” And another guy’s, “You suck.” And then the boo starts. “Booo.” And then they all start going, “You suck. You suck.” Two thousand people saying in unison, “You suck.” And you’re sitting there going, “I gotta get paid. I gotta do my 10 minutes.” And I’m looking at my clock. I’ve got nine minutes to go. “You suck.” And then there’s some very compassionate, just very angelic, they’re probably not 18 yet, they’re probably 17-year-old freshmen, and they’re looking up at the stage going, “We like you; we think it’s okay.” They were literally saying that. And there was just three of them. The three sweet angel amigos. And they were trying to boost me up. But all the good will in the world from those three humans that liked me and the other 1,997 that didn’t, man, that was-

Juliet: [0:25:11] That’s the longest 10 minutes of your life right there.

Kenny Kane: [0:25:14] I know that you guys can feel that. But there’s something to that. Now I’m so thankful for that experience and all the others that were like that. I had some crazy trips in Afghanistan where one time I came off of a Black Hawk and I was traveling with a trio. I went over to the Middle East a couple of times and performed for the troops. And it was my turn to go first on this particular show. We didn’t know that we were three hours late in Bagram. And they had just captured 20 Taliban. So we get off the Black Hawk. I’m wearing Kevlar at the time. And they’re going, “Yeah, we’re going to go right to the stage and we’re going to start the show.” I’m like, “Okay.” And I’m thinking the show, we’ve still got 10 minutes. So as we were walking to the stage, I’m looking at the bad guys that I’ve seen on TV and they’ve got hoods over them and they’re cuffed up. And I’m just like a civilian administering that going, okay, let me just process that. And the guy’s saying to me, “Hey, you’ve got to get your vest off because you’re going on stage.” I’m like, “What?” And then he opens the door and there was 1,500 angry troops because it’s 114 degrees literally and they’re just pissed and waiting for the standup comedy show

Kelly: [0:26:20] You suck. You suck.

Kenny Kane: [0:26:22] You suck. And I’m in this alternate universe. I’m not present. I’m just flying on Black Hawks. That’s the thing. Process that. Okay. There’s the bad guys. These guys just literally just blew up a bunch of our guys. Okay, I’m processing. Go. Okay. But the beauty of all this is that these moments give so much teeth and so much stone because no matter what after that in life that comes, you have these rough moments but they’re so valuable to develop the stones for life. You know, Mark Divine always talks about VUCA: The world is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. And man, I’ve learned that hundreds of times, particularly in the 2015 to 2018 window. But just that, having that emotional rigor to kind of go, do I really want to do this when I’m crying on Interstate 80 been Winnemucca and Salt Lake City when the place that I’m supposed to perform says we can’t house you tonight, I have no money, and I’m listening to an Eve CD crying on the Salt Flats. Like I’m sleeping in my car. The album Scorpion got me through it.

Kelly: [0:27:34] In that great documentary about the guitar player, Jack, and the Edge, it’s called It Might Get Loud, Jack is talking about how you really need to feel uncomfortable onstage. It’s important that you feel something at risk. You’re prepared, clearly, but he’s like, “If the microphone is two steps away, tomorrow night you need to put it three steps away.” Because otherwise, you really just push play and send it in. And even if everyone doesn’t know, you know, and the experience of the performance is different if you’re not sort of struggling. 

And what I hear underneath that is this ability to walk in and quickly understand the people of the context of the room you’re in. And if you go in with this perfect plan, if you get hit in the face, your plan doesn’t work anymore. It’s so interesting, you know, we were just in Germany yesterday morning and I just ran a camp for 300 people. We couldn’t go outside and they’re like, “By the way, you have no equipment and four hours, go.” And it’s 98 degrees in the hall. So there’s a lot of adjustment and working and trying to just give people this experience. But I understand that the power of being really uncomfortable, having imperfect things, and the practice of that for decades, you cannot substitute that. Not having a chance to warm up as an athlete, not having a chance to have perfect food, not having a chance to have the right equipment, to be in a fight with your family or feeling something uncomfortable, and still having to go out and cobble it together is what I’ve just heard you describe, which is really amazing. I mean those are bitter, bitter lessons that hopefully you can come out intact with. 

Kenny Kane: [0:29:13] You and I quote our good friend Laird all the time. He talks about it in the context of a hamburger. If you can’t eat a hamburger as prepared, you’re a liability, which I really appreciate that.

Kelly: [0:29:25] And if you go out and bonk because you haven’t eaten for a while and now your precious little food thing, now you’re also a liability. How do you become less of a liability?

Kenny Kane: [0:29:34] And that is to be in these positions. You know, as you were talking, I remember one of the more poignant moments of my life was in 2010. I was working in Vegas, very lucky. Bud Freeman, who’s kind of a legend of comedy, loved me and he used to send me up to Vegas to work three or four times a year. And I met a girl there while I was working in Vegas. And so what I learned was the first rule about Vegas is that sometimes it comes home and follows you to life. And so a condom broke, is the short story, and then I get a call a month later from this gal. And she says, “Well, I’m pregnant and I’m a good Midwestern Catholic and I’m not going to do anything about it.” And I was like, okay. And I was driving and realized obviously that my life was going to change. Going to meet another standup comedian at the time, a guy named Allan Havey. And I got out of the car and he goes, “Hey, man, you look really…” He said, “You don’t look good.” He goes, “Did you knock somebody up?” And I got more white. And he goes, “No.” Just like, yeah. So he’s just like… Comedians love stuff like that. Like, “That’s hilarious.” I’m like, oh my God, no, it’s not. I just need a moment, bro.

Kelly: [0:30:50] The Spartans, your ability to find humor in the face of death. I know you love your child and not trying to say, but it’s such a great total, it’s a skill.

Kenny Kane: [0:31:02] All my comedian buddies were just like not giving me a moment. 

Kelly: [0:31:07] You’re going to get over this, Kenny, we’re going to help. 

Kenny Kane: [0:31:10] So anyway, fast forward, she had considered and was planning to move out to California and then when I was driving to go teach hip hop that one day, she called and said, “Hey, by the way, I’m not moving.” And this was two weeks before she’s supposed to move out and I had just given up my apartment that was very affordable in Santa Monica. I was like, huh, okay. Then it’s plan G at that point. And that night I had to go perform at the Laugh Factory. Dane Cook, who was immensely popular at that time, was on stage for two and a half hours before I got on. He bumped everybody. And the owner of the club, Jamie Masada, comes up. I had a very high energy act. And he’s like, “Buddy, buddy, you’re the only one who can follow Dane, the energy,” and this and that. And all the other equally capable headliners, they were baling. And people with major TV credits and all this. They were like, “I don’t want to follow Dane. I don’t want to follow Dane.” And how can we have a room full of 20-year vets and nobody wanted to go follow this? Because nobody does because it sucks, right? 

And so I had this very potent moment when they called me to go on stage, I was exhausted, just physically exhausted because I was supposed to go on hours before, I get up at 5 every day or 4:30 to train people for three or four hours in the morning, and then I’m going onstage, at this point it was easily 1:15 a.m. And I’m following Dane in his room, in his place. And I’m not known. And so it’s the guy followed by who the fuck is this guy. And my introduction was parallel to the one I got earlier. It’s like, “And now the other guy.” And so I come on the stage and something bizarre happened. I was able to watch myself perform from another place. And I was just watching myself work the crowd. And I don’t know if I’ve ever smashed as hard as I’ve smashed. Now this is years after the two prior experiences that I’ve just described. But I don’t know that if it wasn’t for those experiences that I wouldn’t have been steeled for just the mindset of drop tears in a bucket, fuck it, take it to the stage, let’s go because we’ve got to go right now. 

And so in that moment, I got offstage, got up the next morning, trained some of my people and I just realized, okay, I’ve made a decision. Obviously, my daughter’s not going to move here to California but I’m going to stay here and try to figure out how to parent from California. That was one of the more brutal decisions that I’ve ever had to make in my life. But there was a lot of things underscoring why I needed to make a choice that was right for me in the context of what had just happened 24 hours and realizing I wasn’t going to be near my daughter as she was raised. And all of these things happening in overlapping degree and just being able to push into the performance of the moment to really force myself to grow.

Kelly: [0:34:08] What it reminds me of is that Juliet is a total gamer. I mean she’s okay in her day-to-day life, but if you actually put Juliet under some real pressure, she only really gets better. I mean Juliet has done things physically and emotionally and spiritually and physically. If you’ve seen 100 Foot Wave, you get that joke. And the idea here is that because Juliet’s been competing and is a World Champion, National Champion, State Champion, and has been competing forever, when it really gets gnarly, she is able to actually be better. 

So I feel like the same thing’s happened to you. The moment of following that comedian, Dane, onstage, it’s an end terminus of 1,000, 10,000 experiences. So let me ask you, now you own a gym, and I’ll put capital G because it is not just a gym. How are you thinking about shifting or training those capacities in a physical experience where people are coming in three to five times a week? A, can we do that? And B, how are you consciously helping people connect the dots? Because I feel like that’s the only way to practice for some people, is to get really uncomfortable and do it over and over and over again.

Juliet: [0:35:22] Could you also tee up what your gym is?

Kenny Kane: [0:35:26] Yeah. So I own Oak Park Los Angeles, home of CrossFit Los Angeles. So we’re one of the oldest CrossFit gyms. We’re on our 18th year now of being a CrossFit gym.

Kelly: [0:35:35] Older than San Francisco CrossFit, RIP.

Kenny Kane: [0:35:37] Yeah. Yeah. RIP. And truly one of the old guard. I think now what’s left is I think we might be number two or three of the original sort of first 10 gyms in the world. And we’ve seen a lot of evolutions, but to answer the question more directly, what I’m interested right now is if you take a very simple thing and how do we communicate this in ones and twos to our people. Greg Glassman had a great fitness experiment that we all bought into. And for those that aren’t familiar, it’s very elegant. At the top of it, you have sport. At the very tip of the pyramid, if you can picture that. Underneath that, you have weightlifting. Underneath that, you have gymnastics or body weight control. Underneath that, metabolic, conditioning. Underneath that you have nutrition. So that’s a pretty eat right, hey, do your heart and lungs work, hey can you hold your body up by itself? Can you throw some things around and can you be sporty? That’s a great in ones and twos descriptor of are you fit, are you ready for a bunch of stuff. 

But the one thing that that’s missing is context. And so what I’d say is let’s make that pyramid a little bit deeper. Let’s make it a little bit broader. And underneath all of that is a context. And the context has everything to do with what we now replace at the top end, which is sport, and replace that with one word, life. So everything going upward, can you contextualize your training so that your nutrition, so that your metabolic conditioning, so that your body weight control, so that your weightlifting serve you in the season of life that you’re in, in a sustainable way. 

Kelly: [0:37:13] Spring. Just by the way, everyone, we’re in spring.

Kenny Kane: [0:37:16] Spring. It’s not the solstice yet. I mean no, it is the solstice, today.

Kelly: [0:37:22] It is the solstice.

Kenny Kane: [0:37:23] You brought that back from the East. Thank you, my friend. So where I look at how do we communicate that. We’re still in a lexicon where people are putting the tools over the principles. And it’s just sort of like what’s the tool you’re using. Okay, well, I use Ready State and I do the thing, I do CrossFit or I do strength and conditioning, or I do… Okay. You move your body and you try to take care of yourself. Good, good, good. But what’s a deeper context? What are you trying to do in life right now, man, woman, child? That’s the important thing. 

And asking that starts to really ignite often confronting questions for people because you ask a fundamental question. Hey, what’s your purpose for training? Have you connected it to your mental and emotional wellbeing too because they go together? And for our gym, I’ve reduced all of our thinking into two basic concepts. The why our business exists is to support the sustainable growth of humans that participate with us, period. The cause of our business is what we call, we started using a couple of years ago concept of GHP. So General Human Preparedness or Performance. And so it’s just a straightforward idea of, look, are you using this physical practice to make you a better version of yourself? And what that ties every coach to is a more meaningful dialogue of the emotional and the mental parts of people’s wellbeing because they are completely tied to the physical wellbeing. And while that’s not for everybody in the Westside market, the people that have found us stay with us for 10, 15, we’ve got a couple people that have been with us for almost the full 18 at this point. 

Kelly: [0:39:16] Let me just say that it is for everyone. Not everyone is ready to take on that practice, right?

Kenny Kane: [0:39:23] Well, that’s it. But as all of us know in the coaching world, and this is the thing when we started the podcast, is like what do all these coaches have in common. They have a way of understanding the being of people. Yes, they were absolute cutting edge when it came to physiology and movement mechanics and all these other things. But it’s the other stuff that made them great. And so what I’m interested in in a gym atmosphere is that. 

And what’s interesting for us is that the whole thing has evolved for me personally because now the majority of my time and the majority of my personal business as it relates to the gym is life coaching. I’m wearing a hat that says Treehouse. And we’ve got a tip of the spear group called the Treehouse. And the idea of the Treehouse is we grow ourselves, we grow each other on purpose. And effectively it’s a men’s group, but it’s about a year and a half curriculum with really high cost buy in. And we get down, we do a lot of physical work, but we do a lot of psychoemotional work. We bring in mental skills coaches, guest speakers. And routinely in formal settings and then we meet informally working out, sauna and ice, these kind of things, to kind of like bridge the gap of where their growth is as humans. 

And so by allowing this conversation, it’s allowed me to grow personally, but also the gym to grow in meaning for people. My biggest hope is that humanity at some point really starts to appreciate the role of their physicality with their spirituality. Again, martial arts has a lot of influence on my thinking there. But this concept is about 5,000 years old with the yogic practices so you can’t really strip it away. How you’re being in this thing is how you’re being elsewhere. And that’s really compelling to me. It’s like that’s a practice that’s sustainable. The methods themselves are just tools that you’re using along the path and you can be curious about those things and retire them or bring them back or whatever. I’m less concerned about that, so.

Kelly: [0:41:27] You’ve been talking, you and I and Juliet and the three of us have been talking about this practice for a long time. It’s like, great, it’s not just how many calories you burned today. How did you feel? What was going on? How did you confront? How did you… All those things. Where else do you think if it’s not for the gym because the gym doesn’t always live up to this. I mean just go on Instagram and you’ll see what I mean. Because we feel like the gym is the only safe place in the world and it’s actually the only place where anyone maybe has exposure to a toolset to talk about sleep and the physical base practices and how they interact and how when things are hard, how they deal and how they manage little doses of micro fear and uncertainty. Where else do people get this in their lives? Because here you are in LA with theoretically people with lots of resources and yet I think you probably would agree that most of the people in here are like, wow, I have never been asked of these things. I’ve just sort of blundered my way through without any meta awareness of how I work and the underlying processes of my own self. Is that a fair characterization? 

Kenny Kane: [0:42:28] It is. But also, time’s catching up. So as people get better… So where we lose people, look, this conversation’s 5,000 years old. It’s not new, one. But two, communicating it in a way that’s meaningful for people in one’s and two’s and then having an experience with it… One thing we do a lot, and let me try to answer the question from a lens of like… Some people relate to competence and some people relate to sincerity, right? What’s gone in the world right now? Trust. It’s very hard to trust in the world right now. I would say at a moment of human time where that’s… And so all of us are wired biologically to go… The competent biased ones are like does this person know what they’re talking about? Yeah. Okay, if they do, I’m going to follow them. And a lot of things are kind of built on that. And then there’s a whole other group of people who are like, do I like this person. And then they trust first in that regard. But every human is a pinwheel of both of those things. 

And so our job I believe as health, wellness, and fitness experts, is to chunk these conversations down in ways where we kind of tie the emotional piece of it and the mental piece of it, and to many degrees, the spiritual piece of it, to the physical. And again, you speak of we’ve got to get rid of the siloed approach because we’re not progressing as much as we could be if we had a more global lens to look at this thing. And agreed. And I think the way that we can do that is in our, A, communicative abilities. But then also understanding we can charge people. It’s like, here’s all the goodies, and 50 percent of them are going to go, the competent people are going to go, that’s a good list, I like that. And then the other part of it is like, hey, come with me on this thing, man, you’re going to feel great. Just come with me. Trust me. You’re going to be all right. And if they’re feeling that as they come with you and if they like the other thing. And then we’ve got to be extraordinary at what we do so that we can start bringing people along. 

I think one of the biggest misgivings in the market of fitness, health, and wellness is what I would say is some people, depending on what their product is, business principles often get applied to micro gym environments. And the irony there is that ideas scale but human relationships do not. And that’s just you and I have talked about Dunbar before, I’m a big fan of tribe and self-determination theory. Look, gyms work really well in micro environments up to 150, 200 people. And then after that, the wheels start falling off. You know, coaches peel off, clients peel off. That isn’t necessarily anything to do with the system or the personnel; it’s just that’s humans. That’s humans. We’ve got about that much space. So have a business model that’s related to that and understand that we all care for the people that we guide. And so just start with that because that brings meaning to us professionally. And if there’s lots of us that are good, then we can start answering the question, Kelly, how does it spread. 

I think it starts by people who understand and who can communicate it and lead the charge in these small little micro communities. And that’s a very specific vision, but I really do… You know, you saw it at your gym, I’ve seen it at mine for forever. I mean there is real life changing that’s happening. It’s happening. But it’s hard to scale that. And so that’s why I said we’ve got to be careful what business systems we’re applying because of we’re talking about human relationships, that’s a faulty assumption. So sometimes business principles, human relationships, it’s just like oil and vinegar.

Kelly: [0:46:10] We always felt like we could only ever have one gym.

Juliet: [0:46:13] Yeah. Right. People are always like, “Do you want to expand; do you want to own multiple gyms?” And we said we already-

Kelly: [0:46:17] And of course other people do that but-

Juliet: [0:46:18] Yeah. We already, we noticed this, the moment we tipped over 150 members it was different.

Kelly: [0:46:25] We had to work a lot harder.

Juliet: [0:46:26] Yeah. And how could we begin to scale this across gyms that are all over the city and we can’t be there and our own imprint can’t be on it? Okay, first of all, I love what you said about tools versus principles and it’s funny that we’ve all sort of come to this in our advanced age of being in this business.

Kelly: [0:46:42] We’re drowning in tools.

Juliet: [0:46:43] Yeah. In fact, I’m sure we’ve talked to you about it, but Kelly and I are working on this book called Built to Move, which is just all about saying, hey, you have to look at the principles, and tools later, principles first. So anyway, I just wanted to say that’s cool. But I did have a question about Treehouse and you said it was for men. And the sort of commentary I’ll have is at our house lately we often have this conversation started by me where current events happen and I say to Kelly, “Dude, what is going on with men? Men in this world are really sucking right now.” A lot of the bad stuff that we see in the news, I’m like, wow, men are, they’re struggling as men.

Kelly: [0:47:20] And let me just jump in there and say that Juliet’s samples that she’s surrounded by women and then there’s me. So I’m sucking.

Juliet: [0:47:26] Well, no, that’s not what I’m saying. That’s not true.

Kelly: [0:47:29] I’ve got all these women around me. Oh, who’s the only man here?

Juliet: [0:47:31] I’m talking about current events.

Kelly: [0:47:33] I know, I know.

Juliet: [0:47:33] I am talking about current events. And anyway, so I have no idea if Treehouse is for men. I would just love to hear about what the thinking is there and why you chose that.

Kenny Kane: [0:47:44] I think fundamentally two things were happening. One was I work with pretty much high performers. They’re alphas. The guys in the Treehouse, there’s a lot of really well-known people in it. And then the business guys, it’s a combination of artists and business guys. And the business guys may not be well-known but they’re complete animals in their respective businesses. And the one thing that I’ve seen in all my years of working with alpha men is that, and I forget how the saying goes, it’s like the horse that gets you to water isn’t going to be the one that gets you to the next thing, is that most men have a real difficult time transitioning from warrior to king. And I just blaze, I pull out my sword and I crush skulls or whatever the ridiculous metaphor is. And it’s like, okay, maybe for a minute, and that works for a minute. But then it doesn’t because I’ve seen so many of them go through their really gnarly divorces or the broken relationships with their children, or just highly dysfunctional relationship with self and self-worth. The pain is real across the board. 

And so when I look at the need for healing in that regard, there’s just so much space for it. There’s just so much space for all of it, men and women. The plan for the Treehouse is to extend it out actually because men were in my sightline and they were asking for it, effectively. I was going to kick something off like this a couple years ago but it finally got going here after the sort of weird post COVID moment that we’re in. But that pain I empathize with so much because back story of myself that gives context to me being a leader of this group is that I understand hardship. I would say that my life had been really soft. I mean I described difficult experiences through standup comedy and I was a pretty resilient guy just in general, the way that I was raised. But my life wasn’t, I didn’t get thrown hard stuff. But in 2015—and you guys were right there by my side, you were some of the first people to call—my son was born August 8 of 2015 and two days later my mom died back in the States. He was born in Sweden and my wife is Swedish. And so then I get this weird decision to make in that moment. Do I stay with my newborn or do I fly home to be with my family? And not knowing that flying home to be with my family was going to cause a nightmare for my wife to get back into the United States with our child. Fortunately, I actually knew somebody who’s a big media person who was able to help get some stuff through the embassy after months, just in time to make my mom’s funeral. But then two months later after that, my dad dies. 

Then there’s a string of 11 more deaths over the next two and a half years’ time. And these are all mentors of mine, friends of mine. The last one being the person that I lived with in Minneapolis who was murdered by a cop going to help somebody in the back. And then so at that point I had my then seven-year-old asking, “Daddy, why did somebody shoot Justine?” I thought it was done at that point. But no, then the fires of Northern California came and burnt down our family home of Oak Park, the original Oak Park. And gone were all the ideas of having an institute and all that kind of stuff up north because I was put under so much pressure in this time. And it’s trauma. It’s just straight up trauma. Because I’ve got a kid in Minneapolis at that point. Maximilian was born so I’ve got two kids under two. So even if things were optimal and I had my place all Zenned out and I had my place just making sure that I was green every day, it wasn’t going to be because I’ve got two little kids waking me the F up every 42 minutes. And then, oh, by the way, I just spent my IRA to buy the gym, and now, uh oh, it’s not having a good year, I’m down to $463 in my account, literally. No commas, guys. No commas in the year 2015. 

But thank you for that because now I can be a leader of men who I recognize in them the hurt. And the hurt, like I stated earlier, one of my mentors taught me about, it’s coming. You can decorate, you can protect, you can biohack all you want. Good luck. Good luck. And by the way, when you do that, fragile little bird, fragile little bird, be careful because life will come. And I think just having the capacity for resilience in those moments can be trained. And that has informed everything that we’re doing both at the Treehouse and at the gym. It’s like, look, guys, this is about our life, and if we’re not steeled against it, it’s brutal. 

And what I’m really compelled about right now in my coaching and my teaching is we’re at this moment of time where our training, our impulsivity training, is at the highest we’ve ever seen. We are not getting to our reflective pre-frontal cortex at all as part of our daily experience, just broadly speaking. It’s just stressed, ah, information, content, let’s go, red light, so much. And it’s just like I just don’t see that training of like let’s train intentionality versus impulsivity. And that is at the core of everything that I’m doing right now. It really has to be about that because these men are just as capable, they’re amazing in the Treehouse, but if their impulsive self takes over, the guy that was 20 or 33 years old but who’s now 45, it’s just a different lexicon, different game. And so you’ve got to develop new skills. And that’s what I’m interested in supporting. 

Juliet: [0:53:37] I just want to say, Kenny Kane, so proud of you. That’s so awesome you’re doing that.

Kelly: [0:53:40] And have you had a moment to go, email all those 2,000 kids at Davis and been like, “Suckers. I don’t suck. You suck. I’m not the sucker, you the sucker.” I made this commercial in the eighth grade for some class I was in about Zitscas [sp? 0:53:55] and it was like this cream that you put on, it would clean up all your zits.

Juliet: [0:53:59] Wait, it was called Zitscas?

Kelly: [0:54:00] It was called Zitscas. And the big takeaway-

Juliet: [0:54:03] This is your chance, Kenny Kane, this is your chance right now.

Kelly: [0:54:04] The bit takeaway sales line was, “I can’t wait to see my dog and those girls now.” My dog came back and those girls came back and it was all because Zitscas. And I just feel like this is a Zitscas moment. I just want to bring that all together. Zitscas moment. #zitscas. Just being your friend through all that, we watched you-

Juliet: [0:54:24] Full on. Full on.

Kelly: [0:54:24] Negotiate that. And the whole point I think, exactly right, is, man, this physical practice training place may be the only safe place in your life to be able to have this conversation. And it’s so interesting that everyone I know gets to this psychoemotional aspect of this thing because you can’t have performance unless you feel safe, you can’t have performance unless you sleep. The physios are like, “Oh, it’s not just biomechanics.” And I’m like, “Have you ever worked with human beings before?” I mean of course it’s not. It really is like, I mean Juliet famously says to me all the time, she’s like, “I just think you’re probably an average physical therapist, but you’re really good at giving people permission.” And I’m like psychoemotional, that’s right. That’s right. Kenny, where can we read more about Treehouse?

Juliet: [0:55:11] Where can people learn more about all the stuff you’re doing?

Kelly: [0:55:12] Where can we drop in, see you in LA?

Kenny Kane: [0:55:15] Our gym is on the Westside of Los Angeles and we didn’t even get to it, and that’s totally cool. I’m not on any of the socials by intent. More on that perhaps at another time. But we do have a website, Oak Park Los Angeles, and I can be reached at Kenny-

Kelly: [0:55:28] .com?

Kenny Kane: [0:55:29] Yes. And I can be reached at [email protected]. Old school. It’s called email and that’ll work. 

Kelly: [0:55:35] I love it. I love you’re just like there’s only one way and that’s the front door.

Kenny Kane: [0:55:38] Yeah.

Kelly: [0:55:39] Kenny, thank you so much, my friend. We love you so deeply and we’re so grateful.

Juliet: [0:55:44] We’re going to have to have you on for a second edition, just FYI.

Kelly: [0:55:45] For sure.

Juliet: [0:55:46] Second edition. You’ll be back.

Kenny Kane: [0:55:48] I would love that. I would love that. It’s so good, you guys. And welcome back. Remarkably done. Having come back from Europe so many times, I know exactly what you’re feeling right now. And I’m amazed that this was semi-cogent. 

Kelly: [0:56:01] I’m just directing straight cocaine into my legs right now under the table. You can’t even tell. We appreciate you so much. Thanks. Kenny Kane, everyone.

Juliet: [0:56:08] Love you, Kenny Kane.

Back to Episode