Actor and comedian Robert Kelly with his two dogs, post-board interview: "Be yourself, speak when spoken to, realize you are not in control and be sure you or your dogs don’t pee on the carpet."
For five years I rented a luxury one-bedroom in Hell’s Kitchen, which became my favorite part of the city. Once I had reached a certain degree of success in my career as an actor and comedian, I decided it was time to buy.
After seeing what felt like 500 apartments—some with sloping floors, and showers in their kitchens—my wife (then-fiancee) and I finally found the Holy Grail: a first-floor, one-bedroom, 720 sq. ft. duplex in a pet-friendly Hell’s Kitchen co-op building.
It had been my dream for years to actually own in Manhattan, and as a first-time buyer with my financials in order, I naively assumed it was finally about to come true. That dream quickly turned into a nightmare when the board—after finding out I had two dogs--requested to meet with them prior to our “official” board interview.
Being a comedian, I am pretty tough and used to rejection, but in the two weeks leading up to that interview, I was a mess. I was extremely paranoid that somehow my life was going to turn into a Seinfeld episode where I’d somehow have yelled at someone in the neighborhood--possible a slow-walker or annoying Starbucks patron--only to find out they were on the board.
I turned into the nicest person ever, my normally curmudgeonly attitude replaced by an almost Jesus-like one. ‘Love thy neighbor’ became my motto…at least until after successfully navigating this board meeting. Even my wife saw a change in me when I berated her for yelling at a driver who almost ran her down. “What if he is on the board?” I screamed, while she looked at me incredulously. This whole process was putting a huge strain on our relationship.
Prior to the pre-interview interview, my broker prepared me thoroughly, offering psychotherapy more than anything else. I could not have navigated this harrowing process without him. Having been reduced to being a beaten man, I needed all the hand-holding I could get.
I spent the whole day leading up to my dogs' interview trying to will them into being quiet and docile. I walked them many times, so I wasn't worried about them going the bathroom during the interview. If they did I would have lost the apartment but I would have had the best story ever.
My wife, myself and the dogs dressed up. My silky terrier, Kelbee, wore a bandana around his neck, and our shitzu, Diva, had on a pink collar with her name dangling off of it. I was hoping they’d give off an air of sophistication.
The interview was held in the president’s apartment with two other board members.
Upon meeting them, I was relieved to learn the board members were all creative types, two of whom were entertainers like me. I began to realize that the board was not there just to make my life hell, but to ensure that the building’s community-like feeling was preserved, and thankfully I seemed to fit right in with that vibe. It was great to be surrounded by others who valued creativity and understood the business I was in. I felt safe knowing that if I survived this ‘hazing’ process, they’d be there to protect my interests when others wanted to move in.
The meeting lasted about an hour in which they tried to ascertain if my dogs were loud or vicious. Meanwhile, my wife, who babbles when nervous, talked on and on answering questions that weren’t being asked. I not only tried to subtly pinch Kelbee’s neck to prevent him from yapping, but my wife’s.
Then a neighbor’s child walked in to visit the president. I could sense my dogs getting antsy and was in fear they’d start barking and jumping, as they like to play with small children. I couldn’t believe my bad luck, having aced it up until this point. As the little girl inched closer, the dogs started whining and pulling towards her. Luckily they finally relaxed, she exited and we got the hell out of there.
The next interview came a week later and was at the same home with the same three board members, but this time it was way more serious. I know I have a dark sense of humor and tend to be edgy, so while wanting to be light-hearted and personable, I was also trying to avoid putting my foot in my mouth. They delved into our financials, our jobs, hobbies, education, etc. This one lasted an hour and a half, and although my wife yapped on again, I felt it went smoothly. I left feeling like I had just been interviewed to get into Harvard; the scary part of that is I had been a community college attendee.
The next week, waiting to learn of their final decision, was even more excruciating than the pre-interview nerves. I realized I had no control over the outcome at this point and knew if I didn’t get this place I could not go through this again. I’d either have to continue to rent or buy a house in the ‘burbs.
When my wife and I found out we had been approved, we both breathed a sigh of relief. And now that we are happily living in our home I can say it was certainly one of the hardest—but ultimately most rewarding—things I’ve done in my life. My advice to anyone preparing for his or her own interview: Be yourself, speak when spoken to, realize you are not in control and be sure you or your dogs don’t pee on the carpet.
Robert Kelly is a television actor and comedian who lives in Manhattan with his wife and their two dogs. He refuses to let his post-traumatic board interview stress interfere with his national comedy tour schedule and his appearances on HBO, MTV, NBC, and Comedy Central.