Robert Kelly: Live at the Village Underground is the comic’s first hour-long special for Comedy Central, but he’s not some young up and comer. He’s been doing this for years. You might’ve seen him on Dane Cook’s Tourgasm show on HBO, or you might recognize him from his role as Louis CK’s fictional brother in Louie. I had never heard his stand-up before, but since he’s loud and from the Northeast and a semi-regular on The Opie and Anthony Show I thought I knew what to expect. I figured he’d be vulgar, aggressive, hypermasculine—the kind of guy who, if he wasn’t a professional comedian, would call up sports talk radio and wind up in a rant about “political correctness.”
Kelly’s definitely vulgar and a little aggressive, but he’s not nearly as angry as I had expected. (Also: no overt politics, which was refreshing.) Sure, he talks about farting in a baby’s face, but that was more of an accident, or at least an act of circumstance. He’s almost always the butt of his own jokes, but his material about his weight or his difficulty feeling emotions is delivered matter-of-factly, with self-awareness instead of anger or misery. He sounds defeated when talking about his struggle with eating, but he seems almost okay with losing that fight.
He deals in some of the same bedrock issues as his friend CK (and, well, almost every other stand-up comic ever), like the differences between the sexes and how men are inherently perverted. The internet has made his bit about men’s conception of sex being warped by porn more relevant now than when Kelly himself would’ve first masturbated back in the ‘80’s, making it both truer and funnier. His observations aren’t especially original, and his material can feel a bit by-the-numbers at times, but he delivers it almost flawlessly, a constant stream of words that never slows down but never really speeds up either. He’s consistent.
Indeed, performance is Kelly’s strength. He flows seamlessly throughout the special, starting with light crowd work that leads directly into an extended dissertation on weight and exercise, transitioning from there into sex and relationships without any awkward stops or segues. Compare it to somebody like Chelsea Peretti, whose material might be stronger, but who often makes no attempt to chain her thoughts together. Both techniques are equally valid (really, all that matters is if the audience laughs, and Peretti and Kelly are both capable of making that happen) but it’s impressive how deft Kelly is at this aspect of stand-up. If it wasn’t for his occasional needling of the crowd it would feel as much like a monologue as a stand-up act.
Kelly is a consummate professional, a stalwart of the two drink minimum circuit who knows how to command the stage and handle the crowd. Live at the Village Underground isn’t revolutionary or something you’ll probably remember that well or quote afterward, but it’s a fine hour of comedy and a performance any aspiring comic could learn from.
Robert Kelly: Live at the Village Underground airs on Comedy Central on January 9 at 12 AM / 11 PM CT.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections.