No one does deadpan like Todd Barry.
Sure, there are other comics out there who specialize in dry wit, but no one’s delivery can compete with Barry’s. He’ll stand on stage, reciting a joke, with just the hint of an expression on his face. Then a slight pause, maybe a raise of an eyebrow. And the audience will either explode with laughter or stare uncomfortably back at him, wondering if this is when they’re supposed to laugh.
Most of the time, these days, the audience laughs. Barry was once something of a cult comedian, but after spots in TV shows like Flight of the Conchords and movies like Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, and regular appearances playing himself on Louis C.K.’s Louie, Barry has become, if not yet a household name, someone people know. It’s been a long slog for the comedian, who first started performing in 1987, but with his recently wrapped first hour-long stand-up special for Comedy Central, Super Crazy (with an accompanying CD/DVD for sale), Barry’s having a moment.
Of course, the consensus among pop-culture critics is that comedy’s having a moment. See: the ubiquity of comedy podcasts, the critical praise lavished on Louie, the way in which liking certain comedians has become as hip as liking certain bands. But Barry dismisses the idea of a current “golden age of comedy” as nonsense.
“There was a big comedy boom in the ’80s.... I don’t think comedy ever went away. I don’t know that it’s bigger [now],” Barry says.
Barry also shrugs off the concept of there existing an alternative comedy scene, in which indie comics exist in opposition to mainstream comics.
“I don’t consider myself an alternative comic. That’s ridiculous,” he says. “People use that [label] for me, and I tell jokes about buying a shirt at J. Crew. That’s not alternative.... Nobody doing comedy today is doing anything as alternative as Andy Kaufman did. I just think there’s a self-congratulatory attitude there that I don’t embrace.”
Barry’s talking to me from his apartment in New York, when he’s lived since leaving Florida in the early 1990s. He came of age with comedians like Sarah Silverman and Louis C.K., but Barry says he doesn’t consider himself part of any specific New York scene.
“I just try to be a comedian. I’ll play anywhere they’re nice to me,” he says.
In real life, Barry is just as dry as his onstage persona suggests. He speaks in the same soft voice that just barely hides a smirk. But Barry’s sardonicism isn’t bitter—he may make fun of everything from fraternities to restaurants to his own critics to members of the audience, but, unlike some other comedians, there’s no misanthropy there. Under it all, Barry’s a pretty nice guy.
I ask Barry about the controversy that erupted in the comedy world and blogosphere earlier this summer after comedian Adam Carolla told the New York Post, “The reason why you know more funny dudes than funny chicks is that dudes are funnier than chicks.”
“I occasionally hear something like that, but I hear it as often from women as men,” Barry says.
I express my amazement. “You’ve really heard women say that, that they don’t think women are funny?”
“I really have. It’s only the men who make the news when they say that,” Barry says.
“Why do you think that is?” I ask.
“Maybe it’s just a history of being told they’re not as funny? I don’t know. I know women are less interested in doing comedy.... But there are definitely loads of funny women and loads of unfunny men.”
He names Silverman, Natasha Leggero, and Tig Notaro as some of his favorite women comedians, and mentions Dave Attell, Doug Stanhope, and Ron Funches as other comedians he’s a big fan of.
Barry’s currently touring the South with Neil Hamburger and Brendon Walsh. He says he’s toured with Hamburger—Gregg Turkington’s tuxedoed and patently offensive anti-comedian act—before.
“He’s certainly an incendiary act, if that’s the right word,” Barry says. “The best time I saw him was at this festival in Dublin.... Half the audience was loving him and half the audience wanted to kill him. The room became the show.”
The trio will be playing both an early and a late show at Pilot Light on Wednesday. In a change for the venue, both shows will be seated, per Barry’s request.
“I like to have chairs now. That’s what I’ve brought to this tour—the need for chairs,” Barry says. Deadpan. Of course.