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He’s not going to make this easy. The comedic sensibility of Medford native Robert Kelly, who is rounding into celebrity status after two decades in the clubs, might be described as a case of arrested development. It’s still leashed to the things that cracked him up when he was 15 — not coincidentally, the brutally young age at which he got clean and sober, and discovered the alternative high of getting strangers to laugh.
Now 44, Kelly, who headlines five shows at Laugh Boston Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, has earned a reputation as a “comic’s comic.” He’s a heavy-duty jokester who treats every gig like a comedians’ hang. He’s completely unafraid to scorch the earth with offended constituencies.
Starting with himself — he’s fat, he says, making no effort whatsoever to summon a euphemism — Kelly plies all the outrageous standby subjects of “working blue.” These include, but are not restricted to, sex, the physical act of sex, having to go number two, mocking a highfalutin figure of speech as “queer,” and the big zit he had on his face while filming an episode of “Louie.”
Add the fact that just about every sentence he utters is peppered with multiple F-bomb modifiers, and Kelly could come across as a crude, unenlightened comic. Or he could simply slay you with his cheerful, headlong lack of propriety.
It’s a Boston kind of comedy, he says on the phone from his New York home, after a brief moment when the call seemed to be lost. (“My fat cheek hit the mute button.”)
“Boston comedy is a machine gun,” he explains. “I’m definitely a Boston comic. You can tell the way I do my [stuff].”
As affable as he is, he started out on a tough road. At 10, he says, he was drinking whiskey; at 13, he was on the streets and getting busted.
After discovering stand-up comedy while attending the International Conference of Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous when it was held at the Park Plaza in 1987, Kelly sought out classic records by masters such as Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby.
Then he started going to Nick’s Comedy Stop, where he saw a show featuring Boston legends Steve Sweeney and Don Gavin.
“I’ve never seen that many laughs,” Kelly remembers, still in awe. “The place was going nuts.” If contemporary comedians often tell elaborate tales or pose mind-bending scenarios, “back then it was just kill ’em all,” he says with an ever-present chortle.
He’s often approached after shows by fans who greet him with some excited version of the idea that they laughed the whole time he was onstage. His response?
“Uh . . . yeah.” Isn’t that the comic’s job?
At the 20th annual edition of Denis Leary’s Comics Come Home benefit last November at TD Garden, Kelly delivered one of the night’s most uproarious sets by concentrating on the night he and his wife conceived their baby boy, Maximus, who’s now 2. When a woman near the front row covered her mouth in sheer amazement at how much she was laughing at Kelly’s dirty mind, he erupted.
“Don’t you cover your mouth!” he yelled, grinning broadly. “Those are my laughs!”
It’s that kind of audacity that endears Kelly to fellow comedians such as Leary, who chose Kelly to play the drummer in his reunited band in the upcoming FX series “Sex&Drugs&
Rock&Roll,” and Louis C.K., who cast Kelly in a recurring role as his brother in “Louie.”
It never occurred to Kelly to call out his friend for stealing his bit on needing to poop while walking on the streets of New York. Kelly had already used that story as part of his act when C.K. recently made the same awful scenario the opener on an episode of his show.
“Ha ha!” Kelly laughs when asked about that, giving his buddy the benefit of the doubt. “I’m sure he’s crapped his pants. He’s probably done it more than me.”
That kind of deeply humiliating self-confession is what makes Louis C.K. a “genius,” Kelly says.
“Louie is a very highly intelligent human being who probably shouldn’t be doing comedy,” he says. “He should be trying to solve water problems in India.”
No one will be solving the world’s troubles in Leary’s new series, set to premiere in July. It features an obnoxious rock band that never quite made the big time, getting back together two decades after calling it quits. Kelly says he learned to play the drums for the part after a guy from Scotland offered to Skype him three times a week to give him lessons.
It’s something he’s wanted to do for a long time. Years ago, his friend and fellow comic Bill Burr invited Kelly over to his house to see his impressive drum kit.
“Billy Burr gave me sticks and a drum pad and told me to do a paradiddle,” Kelly says. “I said OK, and I threw the sticks out. Now I can hop on a kit and play ‘Highway to Hell.’ ”
With his ever-growing circle of comic friends, Kelly hosts the podcast “You Know What Dude,” a wide-open discussion with no agenda that usually features plenty of roasting one-upmanship. He knows it’s become a joke that every comedian has a podcast, but to him it makes sense.
“For a comedian, it’s the only true social media. On Twitter and Facebook, you might be followed by a lot of people, but how many do you truly have?”
When he headlines these days, many in the audience introduce themselves as devoted fans of the podcast.
“That’s who you want,” he says. It’s a far different experience than every comedian’s nightmare: playing to a crowd padded with “a bachelorette party that got comped.”
“The day you fill a room with just fans,” he says, “you’re finally free.”
At: Laugh Boston, 425 Summer St., Thursday through Saturday