Meet Todd Barry, a deliciously dry American comedian who is making a long overdue trip to London this week, for a five-night run at the Soho Theatre. His biting, sarcastic outlook on life and deadpan audience banter have lit up comedy festivals around the world.
Although some Brits might not recognise the name, comedy fans will know him from Flight of the Conchords as the bongo player that almost split up the band in the season finale. Or, you may remember him from his sixteen appearances in Dr Katz, or from roles in The Larry Sanders Show, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, the petrifying Wonder Showzen, or even Sesame Street. With a CV like that, you'll no doubt be wondering why you've been missing out on his stand-up for so long. But it's not too late to make amends. Read our interview, go to his website, buy tickets for his show - and then read our interview again!
You're playing four nights at the Soho Theatre. Tell us about your show.
I'm performing for FIVE nights, Chris. June 24-28! Did you subtract 24 from 28? That's not how you figure out how many nights I'm doing.
Wait, it is four. Count it - 24, 25, 26, 27, 2... oh. All right Mr. Maths, you win this one. So what's the show about?
It's not really a "show" in the sense that it doesn't have a theme, there's nothing to be learned, and quite frankly, it's not that entertaining. It's really just a standup show. I'll be telling jokes and probably some of my famous "crowd work."
Most US comics come to London and do a one or two nights at big venues, but you're doing five nights in a more intimate room. Was that a deliberate choice?
Playing to 100 people in a 100-seat theatre seemed to make more sense than playing to 100 people in the 02 arena.
Tell us about working on Flight of the Conchords. Was it fun?
I met them in Australia in 2004. Doing the show was quite fun. We would usually do a few takes where we stuck to the script, then we'd do a few where we were allowed to "run wild."
Tell us something libellous about Demetri Martin.
Demetri already has three libel suits against me, so I better stay mum.
Of all the TV work that you've done, what's been your favourite show?
I was on "The Larry Sanders Show" which was super fun. I also did roast of Chevy Chase. Let's look at a clip!
You've been doing stand-up for 20 years now. What were your first few gigs like?
I started in Florida during the late 80's "comedy boom". There was comedy everywhere, probably too much, so there were ample opportunities to get on stage. Comedy clubs (at least in Florida) would have an "open mic" night at the beginning of their regular headliner show. You could literally decide you wanted to do standup on Sunday and make your debut on Monday. There were also a lot of "one-nighters" where you'd end up doing shows in sports bars and catfish restaurants. Pretty fun now that I look back.
When you go to watch stand-up yourself, what sort of things do you find funny?
I really laugh at a wide variety of humour. Smart jokes, dumb jokes, filthy jokes, observational jokes, etc. When it comes to what makes me laugh off-stage, I'm like most comics: the stupider and viler the better. Is "viler" a word, Chris?
Looks like it. But then, should we believe anything on the internet?
Yes! There is a very strict system of checks and balances that assures us that the Internet provides accurate information!
Have you ever found any differences between the humour of US audiences and UK audiences? Are there any differences in the gigs themselves?
I think in general, the UK is like the States in the sense that — if you get the right group of people in the audience — you can have a great show. I'm sure there are clubs in the UK where I would bomb every night, and there are some where I'd do well. One mysterious ritual we have at American comedy clubs is the "check spot," meaning the waitresses pass out the checks in THE MIDDLE OF THE SHOW, and everyone starts figuring out what they owe while you're still performing. So you could be having a great show, the checks get dropped, and suddenly you're bombing; or if you're already bombing, you're now bombing worse. I prefer the UK way where they have an interval between acts, and the show is not disrupted.
What a strange way to run a club! Have no comedy clubs ever thought of having an interval, or of doing the check spot after the gig?
There are a handful of comedy clubs that either wait until the end, or have you pay for your drinks as you get them, but most clubs are so terrified of people walking out on their checks, that they'd rather fuck up the show a bit.
Did the lady that wrote you the fan letter ever write a follow-up? When you read out her letter, was there part of you that was doing it in the hope that she might?
I actually hesitated to read that aloud because the gig was pretty close to Philadelphia, where she's from. Some friends of mine think she wrote it because she had a crush on me. I'm not sure about that. Wait, of course I'm sure about that!!!!
You're in the business of making people happy. If you had the power to make one change to make the world a better place, what would you do?
If I could get people to use their napkins to wipe up any residual food juices off their fingers, as opposed to slurping each finger individually, the world would be a much better place. For me, anyway.
Todd Barry is at the Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, W1 from 24-28th June. Tickets on line, or call 0870 429 6883.