Todd Barry's comedy is a refreshing change of pace
At the Biltmore Cabaret on Monday, September 23. No remaining performances
Todd Barry just makes me laugh. Every single time. He did it again Monday without any material whatsoever. That’s how good he is.
Barry’s Crowd Work is not only a great name for a show; he literally just riffed and talked to the crowd for 100 minutes. In a profession where Louis C.K. sets the standard by performing a new hour every year, Barry is killing with a different show each night.
That may not be sustainable over a career—the breezy nature of it might grow weary over time—but for now it’s a refreshing change of pace. The biggest danger is that the 25-year vet might influence a generation of younger comics to throw out their written jokes in favour of a back-and-forth with the audience. Barry makes it look easy, but if you’ve seen enough comedy you’ll know it isn’t. Kids, don’t try this on-stage.
A few times during the show, Barry, in typical fake bravado, told us we were experiencing a master class in comedy. We laughed because the suggestion was ridiculous, but it was kind of true—at least as far as spritzing went. He taught us that a simple look can be a punchline; that listening and being interested lead to the best interactions; that working with the person, rather than against, makes you both look good; and that both reticent participants and annoying wannabe comedians can make for sizzling repartee.
When faced with someone unsuccessfully trying to match wits with him, Barry let him know not to bother trying: “I do all the work,” he told one sap trying to get laughs with unfunny responses. Other comics might lay waste to the guy or shut him down completely, but Barry gets his jabs in more playfully as he quickly and quietly engages the patron until it’s time to move on.
There was a short lull in the set—not every conversation leads to instant rapport—so it would have been nice to see some more riffing like he did off the top rather than an immediate hunt for a new person to converse with. When a woman up front said she was a business analyst, he knew it would be difficult to spin that dreary profession into comedy gold. “Ooh, that’s gonna be rough,” he said. Not for her; for himself. How do you make that funny? But his approach allows him to acknowledge the challenge and comment on it as he goes along. He let us know he was in charge after the exchange went nowhere: “I’ll turn it around; I always do.”
And of course he did. Not that it ever got out of hand. The master kept us engaged and held control throughout. The guy is like an audience whisperer, speaking softly to keep us at bay and attentive.
“I think I’ve proved my point,” he said near the end. “I’m amazing at crowd work.” Sure enough, he was given a standing ovation and brought out for an encore. All without prepared jokes. Yep, pretty amazing indeed.