JT Kelley & Robert Carfer: Comedy Calls

May 23, 2021

Photo Credit

JT Kelley & Robert Carfer

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Richard Goodwin

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I like to think I’m a rel­a­tive­ly low-key, healthy indi­vid­ual; it’s my modus operan­di to just take most things in stride”. So when JT Kel­ley, who – along with Robert Car­fer – sat down to talk with Valerie Lopez this week, it forced a recall of one of the moments that real­ly spiked my oth­er­wise nor­mal blood pressure.

In 2020, when we were run­ning the online Iso­la­tion Com­e­dy show, I was behind the scenes work­ing the tech”. When Kel­ley came on I was focused sole­ly on keep­ing the pro­duc­tion mov­ing. Then I noticed that unlike most per­form­ers who per­formed in front of a wall or for the more adven­tur­ous in front of a vir­tu­al back­ground, Kel­ley stepped out of a restau­rant and pro­ceed­ed to drop his pants on cam­era. While his trousers hit the floor, I began the process of pick­ing my jaw back up from it, and mak­ing sure we didn’t acci­den­tal­ly vio­late Twitch stan­dards. Thank­ful­ly, Kel­ley had a…let’s call it a covering…safely in place, and ulti­mate­ly the audi­ence only hears a great deal about his body ver­sus actu­al­ly see­ing the whole pack­age. For research pur­pos­es, you can find the Novem­ber 13 edi­tion of the Iso­la­tion Com­e­dy Episode with JT on our Youtube channel. 

Car­fer and Kel­ly do a (ful­ly-clothed, we assume) pod­cast togeth­er, with the high-brow name of The Fart Lock­er. On it, the duo sit down with a per­son­al­i­ty (includ­ing come­di­ans and a com­put­er hack­er, so far) and cov­er every­thing from prank calls, to lock­er room show­er rules, and – yes – fart stories. 

I mean, I don't want water. I don't want food. I want people to pay attention...Look at me. Look at me or I’ll cry!
JT Kelley

The medi­um-risqué nature of the pod­cast is a bit of a snap­shot of the friend­ship between Kel­ley and Car­fer. When the pair orig­i­nal­ly met, Car­fer appre­ci­at­ed the no-holds barred com­e­dy and per­son­al sto­ries Kel­ley shared, and want­ed to col­lab­o­rate. But he knew that the col­lege cam­pus shows he ran weren’t well suit­ed to Kelley’s mate­r­i­al. Yet he knew it was just the kind of open­ness and shar­ing that audi­ences would con­nect with. 

Kel­ley describes his writ­ing process as going up and talk­ing, prac­tic­ing”. It’s a skill honed from many years of per­form­ing, from in front of the fire­place man­tel as a child, to the stages where we see him today. He’s very blunt on the rea­son why he per­forms, as well. I mean, I don’t want water. I don’t want food. I want peo­ple to pay attention…Look at me. Look at me or I’ll cry,” he (most­ly) jokes, com­par­ing it to the need that Tin­ker­bell has for the claps of her fol­low­ers” to keep her thriving. 

Carfer’s style and per­son­al­i­ty play the role of polar oppo­site to Kelley’s, down to their vocal vol­umes in the inter­view. His com­e­dy back­ground, built on ear­ly expo­sure to and love of Chap­pelle, Gaffi­gan, and all things Com­e­dy Cen­tral, turned into a true love of the form. The self-pro­claimed band geek” who could make [his] broth­er and dad laugh” felt he could have the most impact on the com­e­dy scene by focus­ing on book­ing per­form­ers vs being one full time. He piv­ot­ed from a path toward Engi­neer­ing and mar­ried his love of music with the busi­ness [club] stuff” he had been spend­ing his time on in high school. 

With Kel­ley per­form­ing as much as pos­si­ble, and Car­fer work­ing gigs like pro­gram­ming asso­ciate for Austin’s Para­mount The­atre, COVID of course took a toll on both of their lives. As many of us did, their thoughts turned to how best to con­tin­ue to work on their pas­sions while the world stood still. 

It's gonna get uncomfortable..you're gonna have to...reestablish yourself...try a little bit harder.
Robert Carfer, on the changing Austin comedy scene

The pair had a eure­ka” moment when Car­fer real­ized his love of prank-call­ing (and Kelley’s increas­ing­ly numer­ous and crazy calls at the begin­ning of the pan­dem­ic) would serve as a germ of con­tent gold for a pod­cast. Kel­ley (who wax­es briefly on the nuances of prank call­ing legal­i­ty in Texas), had tried to land the con­tent on oth­er Austin pod­casts with no suc­cess; with The Fart Lock­er he instead gets to open his own episodes with the calls, includ­ing such top­ics as whether a strip club will admit some­one with an iron lung. It has shades of bench­mark prank call acts like Jerky Boys, but is a style and for­mat com­plete­ly its own; Car­fer says he will usu­al­ly describe it to new­com­ers as a vari­ety show…prank calls and interviews”. 

Lock­er is a project almost per­fect­ly mat­ed to the dif­fer­ing styles of Car­fer and Kel­ley. While Kel­ley applies his end­less ener­gy to (lit­er­al­ly) work­ing the phones, Car­fer uses his pro­duc­tion and com­e­dy expe­ri­ence to deter­mine which ones will actu­al­ly res­onate with lis­ten­ers. Like with so many per­form­ers and busi­ness­es who had to switch things up dur­ing COVID, they look for­ward to the changes and new begin­nings com­ing to the Austin com­e­dy scene, while acknowl­edg­ing that it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly going to be a smooth road back to the new normal. 

It’s gonna get uncomfortable..you’re gonna have to…reestablish yourself…try a lit­tle bit hard­er,” Car­fer notes. Kel­ley men­tions the dual­i­ty of his excite­ment of get­ting back to the stage, played against the influx of new tal­ent flood­ing the area (and the new real­i­ty of open mics that have 100 peo­ple sign­ing up to try to get time). With the new per­form­ers and clubs also comes a con­tin­u­ing­ly diverse venue clien­tele, often from out of town, that can have dif­fer­ent expec­ta­tions: They’re not there to see JT…pull his shirt up and play with his bel­ly but­ton”, Car­fer jokes. 

Hav­ing expe­ri­enced just such a thing live (on Zoom) and in replays (dur­ing edit­ing), I can assert that there are def­i­nite­ly plen­ty of peo­ple that will have a great time see­ing that. For JT Kel­ley and Robert Car­fer, nav­i­gat­ing the chang­ing scene will no doubt result in con­tin­ued cre­ativ­i­ty and suc­cess; my blood pres­sure is just thank­ful I won’t have to be rid­ing the cam­era con­trols while they do it. 

JT Kel­ley and Robert Car­fer can be seen and heard:

  • The Fart Lock­er — week­ly podcast


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