Whenever Tony Roberts is on stage, he’s always moving, constantly armed with a towel, to wipe the sweat that continually accumulates all over his bald head. He uses every space of the stage, bringing in chairs and stools as additional props.
The Detroit-born, Sacramento-based comedian works so much for laughs, he started wondering how many calories he burns off during a set.
“You know, I just started doing this, like, six months ago, maybe eight months ago – I started wearing my Fitbit,” says Roberts, 50, calling from San Francisco ahead of his shows this weekend at Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh.
“I really do it at comedy clubs, where I do 45 to 50 minutes, instead of a concert, where there are five to six comics and I’m only doing 15 to 20 minutes,” he said. “So, I did it and I burned about 400 calories from the way I move around … That’s like a Zumba class.”
Roberts – not to be confused with the veteran stage/screen actor of the same name – isn’t just all over the place physically. His hyper, almost ADD-riddled style of observational humor has him bouncing from one topic to another, usually about things that just irk him, like people with bad breath and rappers who rap about nothing. He even came up with his own rap song, called “Colonic Rap,” full of words that don’t have anything to do with each other.
Roberts, who says he’s been called “the black Robin Williams” by a comedy club owner or two, acknowledges that an average stand-up set is mostly assembled on-the-fly.
“If I go onstage and do 45 minutes, 30 of that is kind of pulling (jokes) out of my brain,” he says. “I get to scrambling and see what joke I want to do and what subject. It depends on the crowd and what energy they give me. I know in three minutes what jokes they like and what they want. If they want political, if they want family, if they want real raw, I can tell by the crowd and, you know, looking at them.”
For nearly a quarter of a century, Roberts has been performing, accumulating appearances on “ComicView” and “Def Comedy Jam” and recording a trilogy of stand-up specials. His last one, “Motorcity Motormouth,” which aired on Showtime last December, was shot in his Detroit hometown.
“The only thing about coming back and doing a special is they know me,” he says. “I can’t disguise myself from them. So, I gotta be funny. I gotta show out. I really gotta do it.”
Lately, Roberts has been working on several projects. One consistent gig he has is hosting a daily morning show on R&B station KBLX 102.9 FM in San Francisco. He’s also working on an album filled with comic songs, like the aforementioned “Colonic.”
He also has partnered with the Laugh Out Loud Network, Kevin Hart’s recently-launched, digital comedy service, where he will host two shows: a talk show called “You Need Your (expletive) Beat” and a reality show titled “We Don’t Do That,” where he will take part in things normally associated with white people that black people might not take part in. (So far, he’s done water polo and rodeo activities.)
“Black people are the most grounded, superstitious, plain people in the world, and we don’t do a lot of stuff,” he says. “And I’m gonna find out why.”
But Roberts is still doing his stand-up thing, where he always gives audiences a show – while also getting in a nice workout.
Who: Tony Roberts
When: 7:30 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Goodnights Comedy Club, 861 W. Morgan St., Raleigh
Cost: $21 on Friday and $25 on Saturday
Details: 919-828-5233; goodnightscomedy.com