Tony ‘T-Robe’ Roberson makes fun of everything — but in a nice way
Just like a lot of other comedians, Tony “T-Robe” Roberson stays away from politics in his routines.
He says he wants to give listeners a brief respite from some of the grim realities of life, and he doesn’t want to be a divisive force. But that doesn’t mean he sugar-coats the things he does talk about, as audiences will find out during his shows Sept. 27-29 at the Pittsburgh Improv in Homestead.
“My show is family oriented, but I do swear a little bit,” the Aliquippa native and Penn Township resident says about his act. And there is some bite to it.
Roberson says the comedy club, by necessity, should be a place where the rules of political correctness are relaxed.
“I stay away from gay jokes and I don’t use the N-word on stage, but in comedy, anything and everything goes,” he says. “Comedy is pain. If you don’t have a sense of humor, a comedy show isn’t a place you should be.
“Comedy has taken a turn for the worse because everything is so PC,” he says. “You can’t put a cage around an art form. We have to be able to laugh at all of our shortcomings. We all have something that can get poked fun at.”
Roberson says he connects with his audience by telling stories about his own family. His 22-year-old son is a Slippery Rock University graduate now living and working in Atlanta. He also has a 6-year-old daughter with his wife, who teaches at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
“My wife is white and I’m black, so our daughter is biracial,” he says. “I talk about how my wife does white stuff with her, and I do black stuff with her.
Roberson says his Improv audience also can expect some iteration of his best-known “strained up” routine. If you’re strained up, you’re basically in trouble.
The bill is $60, but you only have $50? You’re strained up. You’re a thug wannabe but you’re ticklish? You’re strained up.
“My tag line is ‘strained up,’ but I have to keep making up new punchlines,” Roberson says. “If I don’t do it, people are asking, ‘Aren’t you gonna do strained up?’”
Giants of comedy
Roberson counts at least two comedy giants among his mentors.
“I’ve done about 20 shows with Dave Chappelle, but I did about six years with Gary Owen,” he says.
“If I’m in a bind, stuck on a joke, I’ll call (Owen),” he says. “I’ve had several conversations with Dave on how to get to the next level professionally and knowing my worth, the business side of things.”
Roberson says the title of his current act is “T-Robe … Still Ain’t Famous,” but that’s debatable, since he performs all around the country and has shared the stage with other comedy giants, like Kevin Hart and Charlie Murphy. He’s appeared on Shaquille O’Neal’s “All Star Comedy Jam” and is collaborating with Terry Jones on “Light Up & Laugh,” a web series coming this fall.
He’s hosting the Pittsburgh Improv’s “Stand Up Pittsburgh” comedy competition, with upcoming dates Oct. 2 and 16, semifinals on Nov. 13 and 27 and finals on Dec. 11. In between, he manages Robey Entertainment, providing comedians and DJs to organizations doing fundraisers.
Roberson also has a gig that Western Pennsylvanians would pay big money to see, if only it were open to the public. It’s his annual training camp roast of Steelers players and coaches.
The target one year was the formidable former linebacker James Harrison.
“James is a good friend of mine, but I got on him pretty bad,” Roberson says. “(Coach) Mike Tomlin came up to me later and said, ‘Dude, I never laughed so hard in my life.’ ”
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter .