Photos by Andre Kelley
Andre Kelley is one of the most intelligent comedians in show business. Kelley has appeared at the Outlaugh Comedy Festival and at comedy joints across the nation, his brand of humor literally speaks to all. Kelley, whom originally wanted to be a singer but decided he’d rather be in comedy, got his start performing in college comedy competitions. He was born and raised in Kansas and lived in Chicago for over 7 years before moving to his current residence in Los Angeles. The unapologetically gay comic talked with PrideIndex about his work, influences and his massive arms. (Meow)
PRIDEINDEX (PI): Briefly tell us how you became interested in performing comedy.
ANDRE KELLEY: Actually, I got into comedy during my college years.
Originally, a singer, I segued into stand-up after I realized how much more autonomy and freedom I had in this craft versus music.
PI: When and where did you first appear?
AK: I did a couple of college laugh-offs (comedy competitions) and was enthralled. After that, it was a matter of performing as an opener/emcee with out-of-town performers until my act got strong enough to follow them. That’s what led me to Kansas City and then, Chicago.
PI: Who does your brand of comedy most speak to?
AK: Ideally, EVERYONE. What I love most about my act is that it appeals to literally, everyone.
It’s smart, it’s open, it’s articulate and most importantly, it’s pro-women, black and supremely, unapologetically GAY. I do LGBT events and cruise ships across the country but the vast majority of my shows are with straight audiences. To hetero crowds, I am literally something that very few of them have ever seen before and I love that afterwards, they often tell me that.
One of the best examples of that was recently, while in LA at Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles, a woman and her teen-aged son (Black) walked up and told me what they thought of an appearance on Byron Allen’s: Comics Unleashed. She said (her words) they thought I was ‘Wonderful.’ That made my day and I’ll never forget that I do the kind of stuff a mom and her son can watch together on TV.
I was touched deeply. Especially being a big Momma’s boy myself and knowing how proud she’d be of that moment as well.
PI: Name at least three comics who most influence your style.
AK: The late , legendary Bill Hicks whom I worked with many times. His trademark corrosive honesty made me get to the core of what I wanted to say.
The indefatigable Joan Rivers. Her tenure, honesty and insane drive inspire me to this day. Her book, “Enter Talking?” I’ve read that thing three times.
Roseanne Barr. Not the man-eating creature constructed during her ABC sitcom heyday but the hard-charging, ingeniously-disguised feminist dogma of her core stand-up.
Her classic Tonight Show debut is something I replay in my mind all the time.
PI: Tell us about the hardest crowd you have ever faced and what did you do to win them over?
AK: “Win them over?” Please. I once did a daytime college show in upstate New York. The lunch crowd was NOT having it. One kid stood up and said something about my momma’. I was like ‘Are you serious? You wanna’ play THAT game? With ME? The show immediately went from ‘jokes’ to ALL about his momma. That boy grabbed his back-pack and ran outta’ there.
PI: How do you prepare for your comedy gigs?
AK: I’m very old school in that respect. I NEVER take my notes up onstage BUT I always like to keep them in my back pocket. I have no idea why. It’s just become an old hold-over habit I’ve kept ever since my open-mike days.
PI: Have you ever considered doing a situation comedy? Why or why not?
AK: Are you kidding? That’s ALL I’ve ever wanted to do. But I’m working on something along the lines of the subtle defiance of Cosby, the in-your-face stoicism of Murphy Brown with the casual sophistication of Frasier. It’s coming soon, you’ll see.
PI: Some comics have made a career of poking fun at folks in the audience. What are your thoughts regarding this?
AK: Hey, whatever works for the individual but my thinking is audiences are smarter now than they’ve ever been. Collectively, they can sense if a performer has no act and may react accordingly. That’s never been my kind of thing. I prefer to have a set to work with. If anything pops up during the show, that, I can handle but the audience paid to see me so I’d rather do my act.
PI: In many published photos you’re often shown flexing or showing off your massive guns. What do you do to keep in shape?
AK: HAH! Thank you but that’s just the camera adding pounds. But honestly, I do take staying in shape very, very seriously. As a performer, as a man of color and most importantly, as a gay, it’s something I just have to do. I mean, look I may live in Hollywood but these (Adam & Steve-my chesticles) are real. Insert “Pow! Pow! Pow!” sound effects in post as I flex my pecs alternately. (LAUGHS!)
Besides, chicks dig it!
PI: What do you like to do when you’re not performing comedy?
AK: Writing, dancing, dating and eating. And not necessarily in that order.
PI: When and where can we see you in action next?
AK: Currently, you can catch me throughout the month of April in the Chicago-based comedy documentary PHUNNY BUSINESS: A BLACK COMEDY, on Showtime and The Movie Channel; LOGO marathons of Laughing Matters: The Men as well as the Outlaugh Comedy Festival and nationwide, in syndication on Byron Allen’s Comics Unleashed and Comedy TV.
Click here to see Andre Kelley’s performance at 2012 Montreal Comedy Festival