Todd Barry: Amused to Death

Todd Barry performs April 12th at the Jeanne Wagner Theatre. Photo: Francine Daveta

If you spend any time watching news channels today, chances are high that you might feel bombarded with an overload of information that causes feelings of unease and distress. We all need catharsis. Stand-up comedy is a form of escapism that has enjoyed a level of popularity throughout the United States for decades. From vaudeville to Saturday Night Live, comedians have packed night clubs, rock clubs and auditoriums full of people looking for laughter. In the past 60 years, comedians have gradually become a great source of social commentary, effectively pointing out all of the hypocritical absurdities and inconsistencies in our safe culture and helping us laugh at them and ourselves.

Todd Barry has been on stage for just over 20 years, mocking life’s ridiculousness with his recognizable cadence of mellow, tranquil delivery. His comedy, which he describes as “super flashy with many ‘bells and whistles’ to keep you focused” is not for everyone. He doesn’t yell his punch lines at the top of his lungs, or work up a sweat stomping around on stage waving his arms. Instead, he takes on a role similar to the guy you may have heard sitting in the back of class making sarcastic comments about everything he sees and hears. On stage, he is armed with a verbalized internal dialogue and a feigned sense of importance as a result of his celebrity status. Todd occasionally pays special attention towards some of his more enthusiastic listeners by reading and scoffing at his own show reviews in front of the audience who clearly disagree.

Like most comedians, Todd started from the ground up. “People would say, ‘you’re funny, you should be a comedian,’ but I would always resist.” By taking a chance and facing one of our culture’s biggest fears—public speaking—Todd took the stage. “After watching the open mics, I just got this urge to try it, so I did,” Barry explains simply. “It went well when I started. They used to have open mics during the regular show at the headliner, who was touring in town, and on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, they would throw out five or ten open mic-ers, and the regular audience would watch these people go on stage for the first time. This was during the boom so you could play to an actual real, captive audience that was pretty sizeable.” There’s no telling where Todd’s life would have gone had he not taken the stage one night, “I think I could be all nine Supreme Court justices,” he says.

After moving from Florida, Todd is now among a close-knit comedy scene in New York City where many fellow comedians, such as David Cross, Eugene Mirman and Sarah Silverman, reside. “Most of my peers who are successful, I’ve known since before they were successful. I’ve known Sarah Silverman since she was 19, we used to live in the same building.” Just outside of New York, Todd is also close friends with Louis CK, another comedian who recently spent some time on a USO tour. “I’ve known Louis CK forever,” Todd says, but rumors on the Internet have circulated about a rivalry between the two. “It’s too ugly to talk about, but it’s real,” he explains. Todd’s comedy also reaches into the music scene. When he’s not poking fun at bands such as Third Eye Blind and Sugar Ray, he’s expressing his love for Wilco and opening up for bands such as Yo La Tengo. By the time you read this he will also have performed his comedy routine at SXSW, which is among the largest music festivals in the United States. All of this work has resulted in a great deal of success for Todd but he still keeps things humble. “I live in New York, so I don’t even own a car, but when I’m in LA, I’ll just call up Leno and borrow one of his Studebakers.”

With a new movie, Pete Smalls is Dead, in the works, and already having been in the cast of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords and Darren Aronofsky’s film The Wrestler, Todd has been trying his hand at acting occasionally. “I know Darren a little from New York and I ran into him at a restaurant. He said, ‘I have something for you,’ but was cryptic about it. At first it was an offer of ‘do you want to do it?’ but then I had to do an audition to appease the people paying for the film, but he gave me the part anyway.” By doing a quick internet search, you can also see Todd play as Lucky Number 7 on Sesame Street. Unfortunately, he didn’t keep the costume. “That cape would be perfect in this extra cold winter we’re having.”

See Todd’s stand-up comedy act April 12 at Jeanne Wagner Theatre.

Todd Barry performs April 12th at the Jeanne Wagner Theatre. Photo: Francine Daveta