Stand-up comedian Robert Kelly goes beyond Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

robert kelly

Robert Kelly is one of my favorite all-time stand-up comedians, a graduate in the rowdy class of the early 2000s that saw him sharing stages with the likes of Louis CK (whose Louie series Kelly co-starred on as CK’s brother), Dane Cook (they travelled together as part of 2005’s Tourgasm live showcase), Bill Burr, Jim Norton, Kevin Hart and the late, great  Patrice O’Neal. Add to that, Kelly’s resume as an actor with a big deal FX stint on Dennis Leary’s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, and Kelly could teach a master class on what it means to be part of every aspect of the comedy game.

Still, stand-up is his kingdom, and in April 2023, Robert Kelly is down-and-bound for Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium (Tuesday, April 18), Austin’s Moontower Just for Laughs (Thursday, April 20) and Point Pleasant, NJ’s Uncle Vinnies (Friday, April 28).

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Robert Kelly and A.D. Amorosi spoke right before the pandemic hit about his life and love of stand-up comedy.

A.D. Amorosi: The last time we spoke was right before you started Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll with Dennis Leary. I rapped with the two of you. I loved that show. Everyone loved that show.  Are you surprised that it got cancelled especially considering Dennis’ longtime relationship with that network?

Robert Kelly:  It was a weird thing, because Dennis was involved with making FX the success it became. But. If you look back, that network was all The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, Rescue Me, which was Dennis. It was all this alpha-male awesomeness that set cable apart from regular network television. FX was the first network to have balls. But then they changed again. We need diversity, we need other shows. They went toward Baskets, and Louie’s show. It was also at the start of the revolution, where you could either watch a dozen shows at once or three months later.

A.D. Amorosi: So, you believe that Sex & Drugs got lost in the momentum of the binge worthy Netflix rush.

Robert Kelly: I think so. That show was great, and fun, but it came during a weird transition. Remember too, that’s when FX also split into FXX. Shows we loved got lost. Dennis’ show was also expensive to produce.

A.D. Amorosi: Leary told me it was costing an arm and a leg.

Robert Kelly: They wanted to do things right. It’s sad. It was one of the best gigs I had, not just because of Leary, but also because, for a fat guy to get wear cool clothes – that was fantastic. They normally put me in a XXX Henley or a cop outfit. On that show, I got to wear a vest, and a shirt with an eagle biting an apple on the front.

A.D. Amorosi: You acted before this, but where people truly discovered your acting chops was on Louie. How do you think that his show changed the game for you? How was it working with him?

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Robert Kelly: It was weird with Louie. He put all the comics to work, which was a great thing The roles started off small, just me and him on a car ride. A few lines. That was it. He liked it when he saw it, so he wrote something else for us, then he liked that, and wrote even more. He was inspired, or he inspired himself. Some of the stuff that people didn’t get a chance to see, was when he just rolled tape. We had a very older-brother-younger-brother dynamic, a great dysfunctional relationship between us that was very real. That’s some of the best stuff I have done in terms of acting.

A.D. Amorosi: And you’re right about the brother thing. You guys were very much of a piece.

Robert Kelly: Right, even though he’s this chunky redhead, and I look like a fat Samoan dude.  We looked like we came from different continents.

A.D. Amorosi: Judd Apatow and Pete Homes’ “Crashing” did the same thing, and you co-starred there, where they use all the comics they can.

Robert Kelly: Yeah, they do. They allow comics to be themselves, literally. Judd and Pete know us and work out how we fit into that They could cast actors, but they give comics a shot. Comics can all kind-of act.  Few of us miss the mark. I do love that they haven’t given Rich Vos a gig. That’s great.

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A.D. Amorosi: You came up with an interesting crew between Boston and NYC: Bill Burr, Patrice O’Neal, Dane Cook. What’s your outlook on that initial moment, and how you all have grown?

Robert Kelly: That was an amazing thing, the bunch of us all at once. But you have to remember there were Philly guys coming up with us too, like Kevin Hart and Wanda Sykes. The Jersey cats like Vos and Jim Florentine.  There was Jim Norton. This was like a bunch of murderers hanging out in the same place, at the same time. You were sort-of forced out of your own bullshit. If you did something on stage that was hacky, you’d get Patrice in the hallway going ‘blech.’ We used to really beat each other up. I used to fuck a stool in my act until they made fun of me so much. When I moved to LA for a minute, I discovered that everyone just kept getting better. It was Patrice who made me move back to New York. I think my comedy is better because of that moment now, more personal and personable so to live up to those guys standards.

A.D. Amorosi: You mentioned looking at topics with a more personal twist as part of your development. Is that reflected in your latest live, stand-up comedy sets?

Robert Kelly: Where I’m at right now is what I’m talking about – this weird transition from being a young guy playing the field into being tis husband-father-caretaker. Life changes, you don’t realize it, then all of a sudden, everything is different. I’m talking about that now. I’m going to more funerals and weddings, than I am parties and orgies, you know? My 20s was one long party and all I do now is collect ‘save the date’ notices and obituary cards on my fridge. But to find the funny in that – it sounds terrible – to make all you fuckers laugh is what’s great. That’s comedy is so hard. It’s difficult to make people laugh at tragic things. But you do it.

    • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

      A.D. Amorosi is an award-winning journalist who, along with working for the Philadelphia Weekly, writes regularly for Variety, Jazz Times, Flood and Wax Poetics, and hosts and co-produces his own SoundCloud-charting radio show, Theater in the Round for Pacifica National Public Radio station WPPM 106.5 FM and WPPM.org.

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