Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Todd Barry's Crowd Work Tour

Usually when a comedian interacts with the audience, it's in the uncomfortable context of shooting down drunk hecklers or filling stage time when the jokes run dry. Todd Barry, the funniest comedian on the scene today, has embraced this perilous paradigm of audience interaction and turned it on its head.

He's become the self-admitted king of "crowd work" and has devoted entire tours to audience banter. To those who might think this is a cop out from telling prepared jokes, you need to buy his new special from Louis CK's website for $5, like I did, and see it's actually far more challenging than doing a nightly routine of the same set.

Barry is the quickest wit out there and he can spin funny out of the most mundane questions, like: "what do you do for a living?" A digital marketer?  Software programmer? He can work with that. Barry will resist temptation to skip to the next person with a more interesting story and instead dig deeper until he strikes comedy gold.

The special was filmed by Lance Bangs, whose comedy credits are impressively extensive, including specials for Marc Maron and John Hodgman, during a West Coast run last September that started in San Diego and wrapped in Anchorage. Bangs keeps the between-show footage to a minimum, except for exposing Barry's heightened germaphobia with a scene that will make you reconsider where you keep your toothbrush in a hotel bathroom.

The penultimate stop was here in Vancouver and of course there's a disgruntled actor in the audience. Barry's short back-and-forth with him is a prefect microcosm of Vancouver's acting community - they are generally a hard-done-by bunch. Barry shows him sympathy though, as he does with most of his subjects, who reluctantly tell about their jobs and interests. A shallower comedian might rip apart the shy dog-collar artisan in Portland (where else?), but Barry treats everyone with respect. He will only shut you down if you try and steal the show, like the loud-mouthed free range egg lady (also in Portland, of course).

Barry's final date in Alaska is probably his best work on the tour because the variables are so different. Here's a Manhattan guy shooting the shit with a boozy crowd of pipe-fitters in a small club called Chilkoot Charlie's. Yet he never loses the room and it exemplifies Barry's widespread appeal to disparate audiences.

Barry is getting ready to embark on what he's calling his Final Crowd Work Tour and you can find the dates and ticket info at his website. Word of caution: if you're a musician and in some kind of fledgling band, do yourself a favour and don't sit in the front row. Barry will sniff you out and put a laugh target on your chest. Same goes for artisan dog-collar makers.

No comments: