Though actor Kyle Gass was a familiar face to comedy fans throughout the 1990s and 2000s with appearances in "Shallow Hal" (2001), "Elf" (2003) and "Wild Hogs" (2007), he approached something akin to superstardom as one half of Tenacious D, the satirical rock band he fronted with actor Jack Black. Gass shared writing credit on the band's outrageous parodies of rock tropes while serving as the serene onstage counterweight to Black's operatically manic vocals. Their blend of broad comedy and high-volume music earned them a Top 40 album and major world tours, though their feature film, "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny" (2006) was a considerable flop before finding a second life as a cult favorite on DVD. The popularity of Tenacious D allowed Gass to enjoy steady work as a bit player in features and on television while moonlighting as an ironic rock hero - an enviable status that even the biggest screen idols could not claim as their own.
Born Kyle Richard Gass on July 14, 1960 in Castro Valley, CA, he began acting and performing music at an early age, learning to play guitar and flute at the age of eight while making his screen debut soon after in a television commercial for 7-Up. After graduating high school in 1979, he enrolled at UCLA, where he met fellow future performer Tim Robbins. The pair would later join forces in Robbins' theater group, where Gass would also meet Jack Black in 1989. Initially, Gass was at odds with Black's larger-than-life persona, but the two soon settled their differences, with Gass teaching Black how to play guitar and Black returning the favor by aiding Gass with his acting skills. They soon formed a musical partnership, which was initially marked by covers of Bobby McFerrin songs. While performing with Black, Gass also began landing his first screen roles, beginning in 1990 with the low-budget science fiction thriller "Brain Dead" (1990), produced by Roger Corman. More bit parts in features, including "Jacob's Ladder" (1990) with Robbins, preceded Gass and Black's official debut as Tenacious D at a 1994 show in Los Angeles.
In the audience that night was comedian David Cross, who would go on to produce "Tenacious D: The Greatest Band on Earth" (HBO, 1997, 1999, 2000), a series of short comic episodes co-produced by Bob Odenkirk, Cross' partner on "Mr. Show" (HBO, 1995-1998). The series, which followed the misadventures of Black and Gass as they pursued fame with their bizarre acoustic approach to arena rock, lasted only six episodes, but helped Tenacious D develop a large national following. Appearances in the Foo Fighters' video for "Learning to Fly" (1999) and opening slots on tours with Beck and Pearl Jam also boosted their profile, while Gass benefited from Black's ascent to comic stardom by landing bit parts in many features, including "High Fidelity" (2000) and "Saving Silverman" (2001). That same year, Gass and Black released Tenacious D's self-titled debut album, which broke into the Top 40 on the Billboard albums chart. During this period, Gass also fronted a second comic music act called Trainwreck, which featured members of Tenacious D's backing band. The group released a live album in 2004 and a studio LP, The Wreckoning (2010) before appearing to bring the project to an end.
The widespread success of the record led to increased film and television appearances for Gass, including small but showy turns as a mugger in a 2003 episode of "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004) and a children's book author in the holiday classic "Elf" (2003). The following year, Black and Gass were top-billed in the much-anticipated "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny" (2004), a broad, sprawling comedy about the duo's search for the title object, which would ensure them rock stardom. The film pared poorly upon its release, but would eventually become something of a cult favorite on DVD. A world tour to promote the film and accompanying soundtrack album saw the band make their debut at Madison Square Garden in 2006. Following the completion of the tour, Gass worked steadily in features, ranging from major releases like "Wild Hogs" (2007) and "Kung Fu Panda" (2008) to low-budget and independent pictures like "Sex Drive" (2008) and "Year One" (2009).
However, Tenacious D remained his primary showcase, despite his interest in bringing the project to a close at the height of its popularity. After promoting various new songs at major concerts like England's Reading Festival and Bonaroo, Gass and Black released a six-minute comic short called "Tenacious D: To Be the Best" (2012), which brought followers up to date on the band's activities since the failure of "Pick of Destiny." The short concluded with a vow to record the "greatest album ever," which appeared to come to fruition with the spring 2012 release of Tenacious D's second album, Rize of the Fenix, which was met with largely positive reviews.
By Paul Gaita