On a weekend in which the Count Basie Theatre is scheduled to host a couple of local-kid dance recitals, the ever-eclectic auditorium also will be sounding a blue note or three, as a trio of standup guys jack the stage for a program that could only be called Comedy on the Edge.


You’re gonna need a 64-ounce bag of V-chips to shield yourself from the vitriolic vibes Friday, when Patrice O’Neal, Robert Kelly and Mike DeStefano appear in this three-headed monster of a bill, presented by AM Productions and featured under the banner of this weekend’s TriCity Arts Tour.

Call it “art” if you must, but those of us who recall Comedy Central’s long-defunct Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn remember O’Neal and Kelly as just two of the opinionated lugs who made that refreshingly loose roundtable into something like the McLaughlin Group, minus the decorum. Collectively, the comics have logged considerable man-hours on the late-late talkfests, premium cable specials and Opie and Anthony shows. To say nothing of quickie cameos in movies that star their bigger, scarier friends — a sore point, one would have to reckon.

Calling from the L.A. home of his pal Dane Cook — with whom he was about to embark on a road trip that would take them (plus Al Del Bene) from Caesars Las Vegas to the sands of Iraq — Boston-bred Bob Kelly filled redbankoRBit in on the pet peeves of the road-warrior wiseass, and life trouping for the troops in a world without (Bob) Hope.

Warning: F-bombs ahead.

Thanks for calling, Robert. We’re doing a little something to advance your upcoming show in Red Bank, New Jersey, and I have to ask whether or not you’ve ever been to the Count Basie Theatre…

I never played Red Bank; I’ve been at other places around Jersey. I did the Virus tour (at PNC Bank Arts Center) last year. Jersey’s a fucking great comedy town, I guess you could say. And any theatre gig is the SHIT! I mean, clubs are cool, but someone’s always ordering wings or a quesadilla in the middle of your set; someone’s dropping a check and arguing about the $87 tab…

Now might be a good time to mention that they have a bar at the theatre.

They have a bar? Oh, that blows it all to fuck then; they’re all gonna be shitfaced.

So you’re warming up for the Jersey audience by doing the Iraq trip, with Dane Cook as Bob Hope, and you as…what? Joey Heatherton?

It’s pretty cool; it’s my second tour over there. I went there three years ago with Colin Quinn and had a blast. One of the best shows ever.

That was a package of guys from the Tough Crowd show. You and, especially, Patrice did a lot of hard time on that set. Was it as unruly as it appeared at home on TV?

It was a really great show — kind of fluid, not overly professional. Basically, it was a bunch of comics at a table, talking the way we talk after the show. It’s what we’re actually like… and sometimes we’re not that funny.

The thing about Iraq, though; I feel bad for our guys. You know, they can’t drink, can’t get any porn — all the things we take for granted. We’re like their first real entertainment in a while, out there in the desert.

What kind of a show do you get to put on; do you play it loose or is there a set of protocols you have to abide by?

Things have gotten a little bit politically correct over there. A lot of born-agains; a lot of bigwigs keepin’ close watch over everything. We can’t say shit about the Iraqis in our set. A couple of guys got into trouble for going a little too far in their act. But our soldiers are really put through the wringer. You know, they take these guys, a lot of them teenagers, and they can train these guys to kill, but you’re not allowed to tell ’em a good fuckin’ sex joke. What are we supposed to talk about, fuckin’ PUPPIES?!

Well, what do you talk about?

I clean it up a little bit; kind of do an edgy, TV sort of a set — a basic-cable set, you could call it. Every now and then…. well, I did a show for the reserves, and there was a four-star general there with his wife. Thank God they left before I did my show; I could talk about vaginas and stuff. All the nooks and crannies; the English muffins…

So then, assuming you all get back in one piece, what can we expect to be subjected to when you hit Red Bank?

We get back from Iraq the day before we play New Jersey. It’s gonna be great. Patrice is one of the funniest fucking guys around. Mike DeStefano’s an up and coming guy —I think of him as a really hilarious creep. The kind of guy who will do race-related stuff — anything. And me, who’s a self-deprecating hunk of shit. You’re getting three different kinds of edgy!

Tickets for Friday’s 8p show are priced from $25 to $65, and can be purchased online from the Count Basie Theatre website.

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