Kathy Kinney was born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, the daughter of Marian and Harold Kinney, an automobile dealer, and grew up in an Irish American family. She attended the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, and in 1976 moved to New York City, where she found work as a secretary at WCBS-TV. Her boss enjoyed hunting, and sometimes she chatted with him about his hunting trips, occasionally quipping, "So, did you kill anything this week?" She used this experience to inspire her for the role of Mimi. During this time at WCBS she also worked nights at New York comedy clubs to improve her improvisational comedy skills. This eventually led to a job teaching improv classes. One such class had in its attendance Bill Sherwood, a director. He later wrote a part for her in his 1986 film, Parting Glances.