Interview: Robert Kelly Discusses TV, Comedy and Life

Comedian Robert Kelly


When Robert Kelly hits Punch Line comedy club this week for a run of live shows, the self-deprecating stand-up comic and actor brings with him the lineage of the early 2000s when he rose to fame the likes of Bill Burr, Jim Norton, Kevin Hart and the late, great Patrice O’Neal. Though some know Kelly first from his 2005 stand-up tour with Dane Cook, Tourgasm (which wound up as a series on HBO in 2006), others know Kelly for his acting stints on Louie, where he played Louis C.K.’s brother for five years, and, more recently, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll with Denis Leary. We recently spoke to Kelly via phone for this interview.

A.D. Amorosi: The last time we spoke was when you started Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll on FX with Denis Leary, and I rapped with the two of you. Everyone loved that show. Are you surprised that it’s gone, especially considering Denis’ longtime relationship with that network?
Robert Kelly: It was a weird thing, because Denis 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 Denis. 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 new 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.: So it got lost in the momentum of the binge-worthy Netflix rush.
Robert: 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. Denis’ show was also expensive to produce.

A.D.: Leary told me it was costing an arm and a leg.
Robert: He 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.: 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?
Robert: 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 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.: And you’re right about the brother thing. You guys were very much of a piece.
Robert: 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.: Judd Apatow and Pete Holmes’ Crashing does the same thing, and you co-starred there, where they use all the comics they can.
Robert: 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.

A.D.: About Louis C.K. Did he come back at the right time, or should he have waited?
Robert: That’s not up to me, or anybody, except him. He can do what he wants. The one thing about being a stand-up is that you are your own boss. Apparently he’s ready and wants to come back. If you don’t think he should come back, don’t go to his shows. He’ll show up to empty rooms. If you want to see him, you will. It’s up to him, and he’s got to deal with whoever loves him, or hates him. Also we haven’t heard from him. It’s going to be interesting to hear what he has to say. Either way, it’s going to happen – it’s like life. We’ll have to deal with it. Some people will be unhappy, others extremely happy, and I’m sure he’s nervous and uncertain as to what to do. You have to think about the girls and what they went through, and I understand the people who say ‘no.’ Others say ‘yes.’ It’s up to him.

A.D.: 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: 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 f--k 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 [Ed: in New York]. 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.: You mentioned looking at topics with a more personal twist as part of your development. Is that reflected in your latest sets?
Robert: 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 this 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 f--kers laugh is what’s great. That’s why comedy is so hard. It’s difficult to make people laugh at tragic things. But you do it.

Robert Kelly appears Sept. 21-22 at Punch Line Philly, 33 E Laurel Street. Show times vary, tickets start at $25. For more info visit

Photo courtesy Robert Kelly

Posted on Thursday, September 20, 2018