Billy Kelly Does Stand-Up You Can Take Your Kids To
By LAUREL GRAEBER NOV. 24, 2016
A few years ago, Billy Kelly was participating in what he called a “very edgy” open-mike event when he did something that outraged and offended the audience: He told a clean joke.
“My dog got loose yesterday,” he said. “I had to take him to the vet and have him tightened.”
That bit may remind you of the absurdist worldview of the comic Steven Wright, whom Mr. Kelly, 45, acknowledges as an influence, along with Steve Martin and Ellen DeGeneres. He’s hoping for more enthusiasm when he delivers that joke this weekend at two family shows: in Bellmore, on Long Island, near where he grew up, and in Brooklyn. They celebrate “My First Comedy Album,” Mr. Kelly’s new CD of “stand-up comedy that you could listen to with your 8-year-old in the car,” he said. “Or in your house.”
Enjoying the material together is key to Mr. Kelly’s approach. “People ask, ‘How do you write a joke for kids?’ and I always say, ‘I don’t,’” he said. He added, “I don’t know what comedy for kids would be — maybe a lot of physical comedy and pratfalls, but I don’t do any of that.”
What Mr. Kelly does is wry commentary. His album includes ideas for new TV shows like “Toddler News” — on which the most pressing question is “Are we there yet?” — and a riff on buying eggs, in which he requests instructions “because last time only two of them hatched.”
“That’s an actual thing I did in the supermarket,” said Mr. Kelly, who lives in Lewisburg, Pa., where he and Jacqueline Kelly, his wife, run a graphic design business. (Also a book illustrator, he created his new album’s cover.) He tests his jokes on their two teenage daughters. “They keep me honest and humble,” he said.
But while Mr. Kelly doesn’t consider himself a children’s comedian, he spent years as a songwriter and musician for family audiences. His interest in cross-generational comedy partly stemmed from touring for “Trees,” the Grammy-nominated album he wrote and recorded with Molly Ledford.
“I did a five-minute stand-up of how boring it must be to be a tree,” he said. Preschoolers didn’t get it, “but I noticed that 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds and their parents were laughing.”
Mr. Kelly, also performing this winter at the Peoples Improv Theater in Manhattan, aims for that dual reaction. “If it’s funny and clean,” he said, “I think it works for both audiences.”
(Saturday at 3 p.m., the Brokerage, 2797 Merrick Road, Bellmore, N.Y., 516-781-5233, brokerage.govs.com. Sunday at 2 p.m., Jalopy Theater, 315 Columbia Street, at Hamilton Avenue, Red Hook, Brooklyn, 718-395-3214, jalopy.biz.)