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-risque 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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