Just the Tip isn’t just the name of comedian Robert Kelly’s new Comedy Central album; it’s also where the former Tourgasm star’s career is headed. Ok, and it’s a reference to one of his dick jokes. But there’s a lot more to this tough Boston native.
Robert Kelly is a bit tuckered but in a great mood as we stride through New York City’s West Village on a chilly March evening, blocks from the Comedy Cellar, where he hones his chops throughout the week, along with the likes of Jim Norton, Colin Quinn, Dave Attell and Greg Giraldo. It’s almost 7 p.m. and Kelly’s got four sets ahead of him.
But he’s armed with stimulants: coffee and cigarettes– Camel No. 9s to be exact, the type that are sheathed in hot pink foil and are advertised as being “light and luscious.” They’re not the type of smokes you’d picture a guy like Kelly dragging on. That is, until you spend some time with the bulky Boston native.
Not far below his tough exterior is an amazingly sensitive, endearingly vulnerable core. Thankfully, Kelly’s not afraid to dig that part out onstage. It’s that revealing and brutally honest approach to stand-up that’s on full display on Kelly’s new album Just the Tip, out on April 8 through Comedy Central Records. His half hour Comedy Central Presents special will air four days prior.
Punchline Magazine recently talked with the 37-year-old comedian about his stint on HBO’s 2006 Dane Cook-helmed Tourgasm, his younger days spent in jail and juvenile hall, the importance of therapy and much more.
What’s up with you?
Nothing. I’m just checking my MySpace.
Yeah? Do you have new buddies?
Oh, my God. This thing has to be the most fucked up thing ever.
Yeah. Like every day, you have to check to see who fucking liked you, and who didn’t, and how many friends you got, and how many people want to be your friends. You feel good if you get a lot of people, and you feel like shit if only two people want to be your friends. It’s just a really fucked up thing, you know?
Yeah, it’s good and bad. It’s such a great marketing tool.
It is, it is. You can hire somebody to kind of fuck with your MySpace. They’ll even check your friends and send replies. But I don’t want anyone to do that. I do that. I couldn’t imagine being on the road and having somebody else, like, accept my friends. Fuck you, no way, dude. This is the only pleasure I fucking get in a day, when someone tells me they think I rock. [laughs]
So it’s like validation through MySpace.
Yeah. I don’t even reply to these people, too. I just fucking accept their comments. I should probably start replying.
How many do you get a day, generally?
I have a million a day.
Yeah, a million.
I have 75 million friends.
What? What’s wrong? Don’t get jealous. See how fucked up you got? Is that fucked up, though? You really were like, fuck you, dude.
Yeah, but I’m not a comic, so I’m definitely not competing with you.
Ah, so now you’re fucked; you’re actually projecting, OK. I’m in therapy, dude. I know all these little fucking tricks.
I think most people should be in therapy.
I think all people should be in therapy, actually. You can go to a place one day a week and be completely, 100 percent honest with somebody else, no matter what it is, like you blew a guy for a steak. It doesn’t matter, just to get it out there; then you’re not walking around with secrets.
That’s what I mean. How is that not a good thing? I don’t understand how people don’t want to go to therapy.
Because people go to therapy and they’re not completely honest with somebody. They tell them things up to a point. And then they don’t change, and they don’t get help, because therapy is just you telling yourself what you need to do, bouncing it off another human being who’s neutral– someone who has no effect in your life. You can tell them anything, and it doesn’t change any of the relationships in your life. That’s the problem. You tell your wife or your friends what you really feel, and you’re fucked, right?
How long have you been going to therapy?
I’ve been going for three years now. It’s fucking amazing.
You like it that much?
Look, dude. I’m fucking smart. I think everybody is psychologically, really smart. I think we’re just made that way. Spiritually and psychologically, we’re just smart. You just don’t choose to use that shit. To go to therapy is pretty much you just finding out who the fuck you are, you know? And having somebody kind of guide you down the path. But you’re really just teaching yourself all the shit you need to know.
And I think people go there thinking that someone’s going to be, ‘Hey, do this, and do that.’ And then when somebody doesn’t do that — because you’re supposed to be doing it yourself — they get frustrated. They think therapy sucks. It’s like losing weight. You can’t lose weight in a week. It takes around six months to two years to actually lose weight and keep it off. Therapy’s the same.
Let’s talk about your album. This is a big deal for you. When did you record it?
I recorded it a little over a year ago in Boston. We actually recorded it one time in Miami, right after Tourgasm aired. It was stupid. I have nothing to do with Miami. So I actually changed it up and moved it to Boston, to the Comedy Connection in Faneuil Hall.
But the reason why it’s taken so long to come out is because, I got [president of Comedy Central Records] Jack Vaughn — who is probably the fucking coolest human being on the Planet Earth — to hire a film crew to follow me around for the week before I went to Boston. So I was in New York, hanging out with Colin [Quinn] and [Jim] Norton, and I went down the [Comedy] Cellar. I wanted some type of video with to go with the album.
But I didn’t want to put my stand-up with it, because I didn’t want to give that away. But I didn’t have a special or anything. So it turned out to be a DVD of the making of an audio CD.
It actually came out better than I thought it would. And then Comedy Central was like, ‘We’re doing half hours, do you want to do one?’And I was like, ‘Fuck yeah. Can we throw it on the CD?’ So, it comes with the 50 minutes of new material. It comes with the 45-minute documentary, and it comes with the half hour special.
Five years ago, would you have thought Comedy Central would be releasing a Robert Kelly album?
I don’t know, dude. I didn’t think Comedy Central Records would be into releasing a CD of mine. I just figured I’d be doing it again, just myself.
But after Tourgasm, I met Jack Vaughn and he was great. A lot of people don’t want to put a CD out through a label, because you’re giving away everything. You’re giving away all your material. A lot of guys will put out their CD by themselves. Then they own the material. They own everything. And they hope that they’ll hit and pull a Dane Cook. And then they own all the rights, and they make all the money.
But when you put an album out yourself, you don’t have that marketing machine behind you.
Right, exactly. People don’t understand that a guy like Dane Cook hit because his album hit. He sold 80,000 copies in the first week. He had a bunch of people behind him at Comedy Central, pushing and putting his name out there. That was my decision. I need to get my name out there before I worry about making it big.
When bands sign their first record contract, they’re not making money off of their album. They’re recording that album for marketing reasons, so they can tour and make money on the road.
That was my thought. I think it’s a three-CD deal. I listen to my first CD now, and I’m like, fuck me. I think I’m going to give it away for free, like on iTunes or something.
And even in this CD. If I could redo the CD today, it would be even better. I’m just a better comic now than I was a year ago, two years ago. But it’s all material that wasn’t on my first [self-released] album. And now I’ve got to write a whole new hour, which I have five minutes of so far.
Now that you’re going to have a well-distributed, well-promoted product out there, do you feel more pressure? When you headline on the road, I’d imagine you don’t want to do the same hour that’s on the album.
I was actually talking to Louie CK about this. You definitely want to do a new hour. You don’t want to be out there for the next two years doing the hour on that CD.
But there comes a point in a comic’s life, where something opens up, and you find your voice. And material just starts pouring out of you, where you can just take any subject and you can write about that subject, whatever it is. Louie said it took him 20 years to get to the point where all of a sudden, just hours of material are coming out of him. And only in the last couple of years has stuff just come out of me.
How do you write material? Do you actually sit down and bang it out on a computer?
I’m trying to figure that out, too. You gotta understand, for a long time, when you do comedy, it’s like school. You go to preschool and you go to high school.
Right now, I feel like I’m starting college. I’ve got a couple more years of college before I can be a stand-up stand-up, you know?
But that’s why I envy writers, because writers have this built-in mechanism to sit down and write. Comics expect to go onstage and perform. But you have to find your way to write and discipline yourself, because you’re not getting paid to fucking sit down for three hours to write.
But yeah, I sit down, I watch videos of me if I can get them, or I listen to a tape, and I write down the funny stuff in it. Then I try to just go back and redo it, just keep going with it. Like yesterday, I just sat in Starbucks and listened to a joke, and just paused it, and wrote every little point down that was funny and added some stuff that I thought might be funny. I’m also trying to write every joke — not crystal clean — but kind of so that it can be television-friendly.
Isn’t it difficult forcing yourself to do something that’s not natural?
Well, you know what? I think it’s my responsibility. I’ve been headlining for six years. But only for the last year have I legitimately been headlining where people are actually paying money to come see me. When people are paying money to come see you, it’s a whole different fucking thing. And my responsibilities have changed. Stand-up pays my mortgage. This is what I do. This isn’t some fucking dream anymore. This isn’t to get pussy. It’s not to get the accolades anymore. It’s not to hear, ‘You were fucking great.’ That shit will get you nowhere.
Look, I’m a piece of shit. I’m dirty. I come from a fucked up situation in life. But to get that across to people, I don’t have to be a piece of crap, dirtball on stage. All my stuff is personal. I’m not up there using setups, punches, tags. Everything that I’m talking about happened to me, or is personal to me. I talk about wanting to fucking punch my wife in the face because I owe $40,000 in taxes. That’s not a comfortable thing to bring to the stage. Once you say that, you’re revealing yourself to people. Like, ‘Wow, he owes $40,000 in taxes? I’ve been there, dude. I’ve been in that shit situation.’
Yeah, superficially, onstage your persona is kind of tough and hard. But there’s always an underlying vulnerability. Where does that sensitive side come from?
It probably goes back to therapy. In the last year, I’ve been able to bring the stuff I talk about in therapy up to the stage. I was talking to Louie about this: Onstage, I could call my wife a cunt. I could say onstage that I had nothing my whole life. I was fucking poor. No one ever gave me anything. I can say to my wife: ‘Your mother gave you everything. You never wanted for anything. I moved out when I was 13. I was in fucking juvie hall. I worked my way out, I got a fucking house, and you fucking blow it, you fucking cunt.’
And I can say it on stage and have every woman in the place laugh. Everybody laughs, because the reality of it is, I didn’t say that. I was like, ‘Baby, we’ll work it out, me and you together. We’ll get through this with love.’ But I can call my wife a cunt, and everybody laughs? That’s a fucking crazy thing. And the only way they’re going to laugh at it is if it’s fucking true.
At least, that’s where I’m going with my comedy. I don’t judge anybody. You can do whatever the fuck you want. Comics ask me advice all the time, and it’s like, the best advice is no advice. It’ll evolve. I don’t know what kind of comic you’re going to be.
I talked about pussy and I fucked a stool for 10 years onstage. And I made money. It just got to the point where all my friends were becoming really good stand-up comics. And I was like, ‘Fuck, I want to become a better stand-up comedian.’ The only way I’m going to become a better is by adding that vulnerable shit to my stand-up, to actually be up there, telling them the real deal and being honest with it. In reality, I love my wife. I love her. I love being married. I love the people in my life.
When you say you come from a fucked up place, what do you mean?
I was in juvie hall for the first time when I was 13.
How did you end up there?
Well, I think it was pretty much what happens to a lot of kids. I just got caught. I was a runaway, I was doing drugs, I was drinking, hanging out with a bunch of people. And you know, it was just fucking ridiculous shit, dude. I ripped off a pizza store.
Yeah, but everything that I’ve done, as far as crime, wasn’t really that bad. We took the money and left. My friend went into the back to one of the cooks and said, ‘Look, I’m going to beat the shit out of you and I’m taking the money.’
I was just trying to get a date with this chick from my geography class– big nosed Italian bitch with tight Jordache jeans. So I was talking to her; I was shitfaced. And my friend came out, and was like, ‘We’re taking the money.’ We took the money and left. The place was owned by the Mafia.
Good choice, there.
Yeah, I got arrested and went to juvie. My bail was $10, and my mother didn’t pay it. She went to the judge one day because I was getting in all this trouble. The judge said, ‘Just let him go, let the system take him; the only way you’re ever going to help this kid is to let him feel the consequences.’ So I went to fucking jail; I went to juvie jail.
How long were you there?
Well, that’s the thing. You only go for a couple months, and then you go to like a rehab and then you go to a foster home, and then you’ll go home. So it might take six months to a year. But I did that three times. I got arrested for stealing a gumball machine in upstate New York. I stole two gumball machines. I almost got shot, because it was one of those hick towns. The guy put a shotgun to my head, and took me to jail.
How old were you then?
I was 15 the last time I got arrested. But then I went back to jail in Massachusetts, because the state owned me. And then I went to a drug rehab for a year. I got sober when I was 15.
What were you trying to get sober from?
Booze and drugs. I pretty much did whatever they put in front of me. I did coke, and weed, and fucking Valiums, and Percocets. Whatever the fuck I could get my hands on. And I drank every day. At 13, I could drink a pint of Allens 101 Peppermint Schnapps by myself. I’d drink half the bottle in one sip. And a rack of tall Budweisers. I wasn’t doing that shit because I was taught how to do it. I was doing it because everybody else did it. I didn’t want to drink fucking peppermint schnapps. It tastes like shit. That’s why I drank half of it in one sip. I just wanted to get drunk, like everybody else. I did all that shit to just belong.
It was getting to a point where it was like all my friends stink, nobody gives a fuck about me. So that’s when I decided to go into rehab, and say, fuck drinking, fuck alcohol, fuck my friends.
So ever since then, you’ve been sober?
Yeah. I’ve been sober since then.
Who raised you? Was it just your mom?
I had a second stepfather– a stepfather that used to beat the shit out of me for five years, from like first grade to fifth grade. And then she divorced him, but by that time, it was too late. I was already done. And then she got remarried. But it was too late. At 13, I was gone. I was history. I was in and out of jail, in and out of foster homes, so no one really raised me. I kind of raised myself, actually. I’ve been on my own ever since.
Do you have siblings?
I’ve got two sisters and a brother. I have a huge Irish Catholic family from Boston. When we all get together, there’s like 50 of us.
You’re half Italian, though, aren’t you?
I’ve got a little Sicilian from my real dad. Thank God. At least I have nice, juicy lips and great skin. I would hate to have my family’s thin little lips and red hair, and freckles. Fuck that.
I wanted to talk about Opie and Anthony a little bit. You’re on the show quite a bit. What’s the best part about it?
The best part is that I’m Bob. I’m Bob Kelly. I’m not the guy from Tourgasm. I walk in, and I sit down, and it’s like, ‘What’s up?’ That’s it. I mean, you’re just sitting there. You can talk, or you can not talk. It’s a hang, you know? There’s no pressure to be funny. But when you’re not funny, somebody will call you out for not being funny. But everybody bombs, and nobody’s safe.
We’ve slammed Anthony, we’ve slammed Opie; we’ve slammed Norton. I’ve gotten slammed. It’s the most honest fucking show I’ve ever been on, because you have to be honest. If you’re not going to be honest about something, they’re going to be honest for you.
Is there any negative aspects to being on O&A?
If there was something on there that was fucked up, or that was bad for me, I wouldn’t do it. I mean, you do see stuff on the show sometimes that will desensitize you. Like oh, fuck, do I really want to look at two girls shitting in a cup?
Yeah, I heard you vomit for the second time the other day.
I can watch the whole thing, but people cutting their balls off [in the Pain Olympics] — I think it’s awful. But I mean, to be honest with you, dude, there’s no negative about being on the show. Nobody is the top dog there. If you do Stern, he’s the fucking man. I mean, there’s a hierarchy there. I can’t just go hang on Stern.
Tell me a little bit about the name of your album, Just the Tip.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a joke at the end of my act. I do this whole thing about how I used to be around 10 years ago, you know, sexually and physically. I was just fucking gorgeous. I was a gorgeous human being– abs, and long curly hair, and just a bum chin.
And now that I’m married, I finally got my shit together as a human, as a man. Every aspect of my life is kind of on the right page and I just feel bad for my wife. I met her 11 years ago, when I was just amazing, physically. And sexually, I was just fantastic.
So that’s good. She’s seen the physical de-evolution and she seems totally fine with it.
I don’t know if she’s totally fine with it.
But she married you.
Yes, she did. But like now, the things she wants, especially sexually, I really can’t do because of cramps or my hands. There’s a joke that I do, about how sex was back in the day. And now it’s just awful. She dismounts me like she’s getting off a dirty bicycle. And comes back in and cleans me like a wounded elephant. And back in the day, I used to get fully naked, and I used to walk around like a panther after sex, and used to get a sheet and make a cape. And I used to use just the tip.
I did this thing where I used to use the tip of my– you know, thing, and that’s all I would give her. It’s a joke at the end of the album; it’s kind of a dirty joke. But it’s a double meaning, because it’s really also just the tip of my material. Now, I’m starting to talk about actually being in jail onstage. For the next album I’m working towards talking about some of the stuff about where I come from, and why I’m like the way I am.
So it’ll be even more personal?
Yeah, this album coming out, it’s got good jokes. But this is just the tip of what’s going to happen and what I’m going to be able to do. So this album is kind of like that turning point in my comedy.