Stand-Up Tuesdays is a weekly comedy spotlight written by the wonderfully talented Angie Frissore. Covering both known and unknown comics, Stand-up Tuesdays is your new source for all things funny. This week, Angie puts a spotlight on Robert Kelly’s comedy career. If you or your comedy troupe would like to be featured on Stand-Up Tuesdays, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Friday, January 9, Comedy Central will debut comedian Robert Kelly’s brand-new special, Live at the Village Underground at 12:00 a.m. ET, and we could not be more excited. The beloved Boston native brings his A-game in his newest special, addressing the benefits of being fat and his desire for everyone to fart in a baby’s face before they die. And with a brand new series set to debut later this year, Kelly’s New Year is off to a fabulous start. Kelly recently took the time to chat with UTG about the new special, which bucked the theater trend in favor of a comedy club setting, and was perhaps more long-awaited than fans realize. The special was also directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.
“We were supposed to shoot this thing a year before we shot it,” Kelly tells UTG. “We went on a theater scout; we scouted like eight theaters because I didn’t want to do it in a theater. I wanted to do 200 – 250 seats max, a small place like a club. At the time, there were no clubs available so we scouted all these small little theaters – we were going to make it look like a club. We picked it, and we had everything set and Comedy Central was like, ‘You have to shoot it at the theater.’ So we pulled out. We were right there ready to do it and then we pulled out and had to wait a year. I literally said, ‘Please, Jim Serpico,’ and he was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m paying for it. You invest all your money. I’m going to pay the rest. And then I’ll put it together. We’re shooting at the Village Underground in three weeks.’”
It’s refreshing that a growing number of comedians are going back to their club roots and filming projects in local comedy clubs, as it’s an atmosphere that completely lends itself to the experience of comedy. While theater shows are still entertaining, they often lack the artist-audience interdependency that makes a comedy club successful.
“It’s so funny; you’re right because let’s be real, okay? I’m not a theater comic—I play theaters. I’ve done theaters. I’ve done dozens, but it’s not me.” Kelly cites. “I do clubs. 99% of comics are in clubs every week: small, little, tiny fucking little crappy places where people come in and we fucking make them laugh. That’s where you become funny. That’s where it’s at, you know. I really think that comedy is 200 people or less.
I watch the [theater] specials and I feel like, ‘Wow. What a beautiful pan. And then I watched another special. ‘Wow. That’s the same shot.’ And that guy’s way less famous than that guy! It’s like, ‘Wow. That’s the same—look at the backdrop. That’s amazing. That’s a fucking—a whole skyline. And there’s an airplane.’ It’s like—what are we? Are we fucking rock stars? We’re fucking comedians, you know. Comedy is a brick wall, a light, a microphone, and a little bitty stage, and you’re cocooned around a crowd like jazz.”
One of the many challenges of the comedy club setting is the unknown: crowdwork is a risk, as one never knows where it could end up. Kelly realizes the make-or-break potential in being accessible to one’s audience.
“When I walk out in front of a crowd, I don’t know what that guy’s face in the front row is going to do to me. I don’t know what her fucking hairdo is going to make me want to say,” Kelly states. “When you’re on a stage that’s four feet high and ten feet away, and there’s a shitload of people, you can’t go to the guy in the front row and ask, ‘What’s up with your face?’”
Kelly owns his crowd as he instantly dives in to crowdwork, hilariously riffing on a man who almost looks like a cartoon villain and trying to guess which fat certain audience members are on. “I’m on my sixth fat,” Kelly admits.
And while comedian Dave Attell is credited with bringing his comedy special back to a club setting, Kelly’s had club plans for his special at the Village Underground from the get-go.
“I was going to shoot my special there like a year and half before that; a year before Attell’s thing, but nobody wanted to shoot in a small venue,” Kelly reflects. “Everybody was like, ‘It’s got to be a theater because it makes it look better.’ People think it’s more prestigious. I was like, ‘Fuck off’.”
Don’t miss comedian Robert Kelly in his brilliantly funny new special, Live at the Village Underground when it airs on Comedy Central this Friday, January 9 at midnight. You can also preorder your very own copy today!