This past season, Kevin Cahoon returned to Broadway for the first time in over 15 years, and what a return it has been.
The gifted comedic actor earned 2023 Tony and Drama Desk nominations for his performance as Peanut, drawing laugh after laugh after laugh with Robert Horn's often-hilarious one-liners and zany thoughts in the Tony-nominated new musical Shucked at the Nederlander Theatre. A sample laugh line: "I think when a movie says ‘based on a true story,’ it happened, but with uglier people."
The Houston native made his Broadway debut in The Who's Tommy, and his other Main Stem credits include The Lion King, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Rocky Horror Show, and The Wedding Singer. Off-Broadway audiences have seen his work in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Foreigner (Lucille Lortel nomination), The Wild Party, How I Learned to Drive, and Shaggs. His screen credits include Monarch, GLOW, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Nurse Jackie, Modern Family, The Good Wife, Mars Needs Moms, I Am Michael, and Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
In the interview below for the Playbill series How Did I Get Here—spotlighting not only actors, but directors, designers, musicians, and others who work on and off the stage to create the magic that is live theatre—Cahoon reveals how he was inspired by rodeo clowns and why he is still waiting for that big break.
Where did you train/study?
As a kid, I trained at Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars, Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. And then at 17, I hopped on the plane to study at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and at Circle in the Square.
Was there a teacher who was particularly impactful/helpful? What made this instructor standout?
Ray Baron was that teacher. He was in the original Broadway production of Cabaret and fed all of my dreams into a tangible reality, not only as an artist, but also as a person. A giant inspiration.
Do you have a favorite moment in Shucked for Peanut? What makes that moment/part of the show so special?
Anytime Peanut launches into one of his "I think..." monologues, I’m in heaven. It allows me to connect with the audience in a way that is thrilling and rare. For those few minutes, Peanut has 1,200 people as his scene partner, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I cherish the "I think…..!"
Does the cast enjoy performing Shucked as much as the audience enjoys
watching it? What is it like to hear such laughter each night?
The greatest joy of being in Shucked is listening to the audience experience the jokes, the songs, and the characters for the first time. After a joke, when you have to hold and hold and hold until the audience is ready for the next one, what else can you ask for?! It’s a gift. I’ve done funny shows, but nothing compares to Shucked and the brilliance of Robert Horn.
What made you decide to become an actor? Was there a particular production or performance that influenced your decision?
My first inspiration to be a performer were the rodeo clowns in the Texas rodeos that I grew up with as a kid. Watching these comedians—in the middle of dirt arenas, with their faces painted, having an audience in the palm of their hands, while they were literally being chased by bulls—planted a seed in me that I have never been able to shake. The theatre, the pageantry, and the danger of it all. I was hooked.
Tell me about a time you almost gave up but didn’t.
I can honestly say, I’ve never wanted to give up. I knew at a young age that the theatre was where I was going to spend the rest of my life. When times are trickier than others, I remind myself that the next opportunity shows up when you least expect it, and everyone in the business experiences this. You can have Oscars, Tonys, and be the toast of the town, but it’s all cyclical. Stay the course, stay inspired, and save your money.
What do you consider your big break?
Well, I think I’m still waiting for it! Does one ever feel like that happens? There are markers that you can acknowledge as opening up the next chapters of your career. Winning the television show Star Search at age 13 was one. Tommy, which was my first Broadway show, was another. The original Off-Broadway production of Hedwig and The Angry Inch illuminated to me what I could tackle as an actor and taught me to stand in my own self, onstage and off. Playing Bobby Barnes in GLOW on Netflix was a giant marker for me, as far as television and film goes. Shucked has opened a new chapter and brought me back to Broadway after a long absence, and for that I am so, so grateful.
How did you get your first job in the theatre? How did this current job come about?
My mom enrolled for theatre classes at TUTS in Houston. I auditioned to play the youngest son of legendary Houston restaurateur Ninfa Lorenzo in an original musical about her life. Ninfa! was a giant production at Miller Outdoor Theatre, the first time I ever stepped on a stage, the first and only time I’ve ever been asked to sing in Spanish, and there was no turning back.
I had heard that they were doing a musical based on the television show Hee Haw, and after much begging and pleading, I finally got an audition. I had a feeling there was a place for me in the world of this show if I could just get in the room. Ten short years later and here we are!
What is the most memorable day job you ever had?
I was an elf at Santaland at Macy’s in college. I wore bells. Memorable.
Is there a person or people you most respect in your field and why?
Oh, there are so many, but if I had to get really specific, it would be the actors with longevity. Those that have done play after play, following their calling, and always striving to tell the truth in the most vivid way. Mary Alice, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson ... these actors were/are the fuel in the tank of whatever shows they were in. And then there is Tommy Tune. What a singular visionary he is. The king.
Tell me about a job/opportunity you really wanted but didn’t get. How did you get over that disappointment?
Well, the real gift of this question is when you see someone play the role that you wanted with all of your heart and they are spectacular. To sit back and think, "There is no way I could have done that!" The right person got the part, and I am truly left in awe. Mark Price in All Shook Up, Jeff Hiller on HBO’s Somebody Somewhere, and the genius Jeffrey Carlson in Taboo—now those performances are stunning. Everyone gets what they are meant to get when they get it. Just sit back and wait. Yours will come, and let the others inspire you along the way.
What advice would you give your younger self or anyone starting out?
What they are telling you is a hindrance will become your greatest asset. Celebrate it, cultivate, own it. It’s you. It’s yours.
What is your proudest achievement as an actor?
That I’m still here and I don’t even feel like I’ve begun. I’m still so inspired by the work and the creativity around me. To think about the artist and friends that I have shared rooms, lunches, heartbreak, and triumphs with, I am completely gobsmacked. It’s all about the people. It’s all about the friendships. "There’s no people like show people…" And that is the gospel truth. Every day, I thank my lucky stars.