From Bang-Bang to the Burbs and back again to Bam Bam: Robert Kelly talks Live at the Village Underground, his new Comedy Central hour

Before “Bang Bang” was a catchy summer song of 2014, it was an appetizing double-feature of a meal that Robert Kelly shared with Louis CK and the world at-large on the fourth season of FX’s Louie.

In 2015, Kelly is all about the Bam Bam, as in the name of the drummer he’s portraying in the upcoming new FX series with Denis Leary, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll. And tonight he stars in his first full stand-up special, Robert Kelly: Live at the Village Undergound, premiering at midnight Eastern/Pacific (11 p.m. Central) on Comedy Central. It’s directed by Bobcat Goldthwait and first screened as a concert film last summer at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. You can pre-order the full hourlong uncut/uncensored edition already through Kelly’s site and VHX.

Here’s a two-minute teaser: Roll the clip!

Early in the hour, Kelly also jokes about being on his “sixth fat” now, which probably requires more than the occasional Bang-Bang.

What else is new for Kelly in 2015? For one thing, he and his wife are settling into suburban life in Westchester after leaving New York City to raise their first newborn child. As he explained in an interview earlier this week with The Comic’s Comic, two days after his son was born, he put their apartment on the market. Why so sudden? “A homeless guy kicked my dog,” Kelly said. No further explanation necessary!

So far, the suburbs are agreeing with him. “It’s the best thing in the world, dude. I love it. When you’re a headliner comic, nobody rings your doorbell. In Hell’s Kitchen, I lived in the same building as Jay Mohr, Jim Norton. Dave Attell was on the corner, Lewis Black was on the other corner, and we never saw each other,” he said.

And he’s traded up in terms of surprise attacks. “Last night, I got attacked by a bird,” Kelly said. “I was out taking the garbage.” Definitely different. “I gave up wacky homeless people for birds and cunts who don’t know how to park. In New York you have to be ready to scream at someone, but in the burbs you have to learn to pantomime in your car…you have to learn to make that ‘fuck you’ face.” Driving into the city for weeknight spots at The Comedy Cellar is just as easy, too, as “walking to the train, waiting for the train” when there’s no traffic on a comedian’s commute hours. Even if that timing did conflict with rush-hour, it wouldn’t stop him from making the trek. “You could put me six hours away,” he said. “I’m still doing spots. I’m a comic. It’s a sick disease. I’m coming in for shits and giggles to just tell a joke on a Tuesday.”

An underlying theme of Kelly’s newly recorded hour is an increased comfort level in himself, not only with his weight but also in who he is as a man, husband and father.

Which was easier: Becoming more comfortable with who you are as a person offstage, or how you are onstage as a comedian?

“If you become comfortable with who you are offstage, the comedy all of a sudden follows that,” Kelly told me. “Because before when I used to do comedy, comedy was my thing, comedy was all I had. So I tried to be as funny as I could. For things now, I’m just trying to be as happy as I possibly can in my life, which has made my comedy better, because now I don’t give a fuck. Now I can do comedy because I love doing it, funny shit happens and I can talk about it. But also, too, it’s weird, this special, when I started changing over…getting married, having a kid,…all of a sudden I became a human being, talking about things.”

The secret to that, of course: Timing.

“We were supposed to do (this special) a year and a half ago, and it all fell away,” Kelly said. “We had the theater and everything.” He said “the hardest thing to do was say no…because maybe I’d never film a special.” But he had, he’d have done it in the same theater in pretty much the same way “18 or 19 other comics have done their specials there.”

Waiting allowed him both to film it somewhere he loved – his home away from home at The Comedy Cellar’s Village Underground space – and also add newer material that felt more relevant to him.

“These two hours were getting melded together. I did an hour-30 on both shows we were recording. I just figured blow it out, do it all. This is where I’m at, so let me just fucking do it,” Kelly said. He credits and thanks Jim Serpico with Apostle for helping pay for it. “It was very important to do it in The Village Underground, at a small club,” he said. “I’ve sold 3,000 seat theaters, those are amazing. I’ve done Boston Garden. But when I watch a special, it’s the same thing over and over. Same curtains. Same swooping shots. You see the audience laughing at different times. I want to capture what it is to see me anywhere around the country on a Friday night. That’s comedy to me. That’s where everything starts. That’s where all the big guys go to work new jokes and bits.”

Making his special a film first also held paramount importance.

“When you shoot a special in a small place, you have to have really great people involved to know about making shit, producing shit,” he said. Of Serpico, Kelly said: “He knew visually what he wanted to do. And then fucking add Bobcat Goldthwait, who is an amazing director and comedian. It was a no-brainer.”

“We wanted a cinematic vibe. We wanted something you could put on a (movie) theater, even though it’s a small room, it could look pretty epic. If you look at most specials, it’s four shots, just go back and forth,” he said. “I miss those days when you had ‘Live at The Purple Onion.’ The club was a character, too. Some of these specials, they don’t even tell you where it was filmed! Why? Because everyone else has filmed there. Nobody gives a fuck.”

You know what dude? Kelly does care.

And I’m not just talking about his podcast, You Know What Dude. Some comedians have completely transformed their stand-up after starting podcasts, but Kelly’s YKWD isn’t like your interview or confessional comedy podcasts. He told The Comic’s Comic that podcasting hasn’t changed the way he approaches live audiences.

“No. I think some guys have really learned a lot from doing their podcast. I do more of this comic hang,” he said. “I’m not doing interviews. I’m not spouting opinions by myself, ranting to myself. There are certain guys who are great at it, and have learned from it. (Bill) Burr. To sit there by himself and riffing. I’ve tried that and I wouldn’t listen to me. I’m repetitive. I flip-flop. My show is more of a hang. It just goes where it goes. It’s just this weird thing that happens, one person says one thing and all of a sudden two hours later, you’re done. But podcasting is the best social media for comics. I have almost 80,000 people on Twitter @RobertKelly. I should sell out every show I do. But podcast fans have to actually do something. They have to download you and listen…they have to do work to do that. Twitter you just have to hit follow.”

If “bang-bang” was your contribution to TV culture and catchphrases in 2014, what do you have up your sleeves for 2015 on TV as “Bam Bam”?

“Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll: That was fucking nuts. That was my first time ever being one of the regular cast members. I was on the show. I’ve done a lot of stuff in the business. But this is big. Denis Leary. John Corbett. I learned how to play the drums. I had this guy, Billy Underwood from Break the Butterfly, he became a friend, but he wanted to teach me over Skype how to play the songs for the show, and they hired a drum teacher for me. Not only did I have to learn lines every day. But I also had to learn drums.” How’d he do? “I can lip-sync the drums like a motherfucker. I play an overweight bald drummer who was in this band that never made it. Leary plays this old rock star who looks like Ellen DeGeneres now. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. And it’s fucking funny, too.”

You might want to set your NSFW DVRs for the seventh episode of the 10-episode first season to see perhaps Kelly’s most memorable TV moment of this year.

“Episode 7, my grandmother can’t watch. Episode 7 is a no go. What I did on that show, when I read that, there’s no way this is going to make it. I turned to Serpico and said, ‘I don’t know.’” But he left it in. Editing left it in. Just wait and see.
You already can pre-order to quicken the wait-and-see for his uncut and uncensored hour-plus version of tonight’s special, too.

“You can pre-order it. For $5. Or whatever you want to give. One lady bought it for $50. My fans can do whatever they want!” Kelly said owning the special as a film gives him comfort, and selling it to Comedy Central is even more comfort. “Now we have enough money to do the next one. Let’s go. You want people to come up and show up for you, and buy your stuff,” he said. “That’s how you become comfortable enough in your own skin to be as creative as you want to be. Just go be funny. Relax. I love that we own it and they can go get it, the night it airs.”

“Robert Kelly: Live at the Village Underground,” debuts tonight at Midnight ET/PT on Comedy Central. It’ll be available tomorrow on the Comedy Central app, as well.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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