Todd Barry: Medium energy, maximum comedy
The comic gets laughs without seeming to try very hard
If there’s one word Todd Barry is probably sick of hearing by now, it’s “deadpan.” But he has no one to blame for that but himself. The comic perhaps best known as the bongo-playing Todd from Flight Of The Conchords (or Mickey Rourke's asshole boss in The Wrestler) is funniest when he’s at his most, well, you know, whether he’s dryly promoting the awesomeness of Chipotle or debunking “fake liberal fuck” stereotypes of the South on 2008’s uproarious comedy album From Heaven. In advance of his show on Sunday at Turner Hall, the “borderline respected” Barry spoke with Decider about how he got started in show business with Larry The Cable Guy and Carrot Top and whether he can be friends with unfunny people. (Those questions weren’t necessarily related.)
Decider: You got your start in the late ’80s, which was a boom time for comedians. Is it harder to break into comedy today?
Todd Barry: Well, that was probably the easiest time to break in. I also started in Florida, which is way different than starting in New York. Because when I started, there were clubs everywhere in Florida, and they had open-mic nights, which were usually on a Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday before the regular show with a headliner. All you had to do was call them and say, “I want to go on.” My first time onstage was in a really full comedy club, with maybe 90 or 100 people. So it was an actual show, as opposed to an open mic in the back of a bar with 30 comics waiting to go on and, like, two regulars.
D: Did you want to be a comedian when you were a kid?
TB: No, not ever.
D: What led you to try it?
TB: I used to watch it on TV, like the young, unknown comics on shows that people aren’t going to know when I mention them, like Merv Griffin and The Tonight Show.
D: How long did it take for you get good?
TB: That can almost change daily. There are still times when I go on and I’m like, “That was terrible.” But it takes years. I see some people that have the confidence two weeks in. I find that sort of unappealing.
D: Larry The Cable Guy and Carrot Top also came out of the South Florida comedy scene. Did you know those guys?
TB: Larry The Cable Guy drove me to one of my first shows. Carrot Top, he didn’t come around as much, but he was in the scene. I would see them do really well, but I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that Dan Whitney would create a cable guy character that would play hockey arenas now.
D: Could you ever be friends with a comic you didn’t think was funny?
TB: Yeah. I mean, on some level… No one’s ever asked me that. Ideally, you want your friends, if you’re a comedian, to be funny. But I imagine there are people who I’m friends with that I don’t love.
D: Who’s the funniest person you know?
TB: Oh man, I don’t have a single person I could pick for that. Dave Attell is hilarious. Louis C.K. is hilarious. Sarah Silverman is hilarious. Andy Kindler is hilarious. There’s a lot of people. Patton Oswalt, too.
D: Are those people are just as funny offstage, too?
TB: We’re probably funnier with each other. Sometimes people meet comedians and they’re disappointed that we’re not on fire when we’re just hanging out at a bar or something. But some people are relieved when you’re not like that. People either expect you to be on or crying into your drink.
D: You put out a really funny album, From Heaven, last year. Do you ever have a problem with people shouting out a punch line before you get the chance to deliver it onstage?
TB: I don’t have a lot of problems like that. I’m not at the level where I have a handful of signature bits. There are jokes that people like and will occasionally request. But it’s not like I’m a band that has to do their hit. I kind of wish it was like that.
D: How often do you introduce new material?
TB: I’m always trying to, as fast as I can. It’s really difficult. Even if you write something new and it’s great, it could only be another 30 seconds in your act. I always think that for everyone that has your album, there’s a whole lot of people that don’t have your album. But the people that are the most vocal are the ones that have blogs. Some of them don’t quite get that not everyone has seen comedy as much as they have. I’ll do a show that I remember being really good, and the review will say, “I heard him do that joke a week ago.” I could do a completely new show every time, but it’s going to be the worst show you’ve ever seen in your life.