Published Jul 19, 2014For a preview weekend of this fall's annual JFL42 festival in Toronto, veteran comic Todd Barry rolled through for a bunch of shows to demonstrate that his recent tour and Louis CK supported special The Crowd Work Tour have revitalized the veteran comic.
For all the adjectives that get thrown at Barry's style — deadpan, stoic, sarcastic, quiet, all of which could be adjectives for boring — he seemed revitalized on the first night of six shows over this July weekend. "I was gonna start by saying how useless it was to have me in for six shows," he opened with. "Then they all sold out. Now I'm wondering why the fuck you didn't just book one theatre show. I could take all the money and get the hell out of here."
The balance between current material, riffs on Toronto, JFL42's complicated pass system, and some of his "vaunted" (as he put it) crowd work is where Barry now finds his sweet spot. [Ed's note: Mr. Barry has reached out to say that he has never said the word "vaunted" in his life and questions if it is a word. Since he doesn't remember what he actually said, vaunted it is.] At his JFL42 appearance two years ago, his self-deprecating tendencies were aimed at his own act: jokes he was sick of telling, material that he felt didn't have life in it any more. But after taking up the challenge last year of doing an entire tour without any prepared jokes, relying entirely on his ability to riff on stage and play with the audience, seems to have brought him some new energy.
By combining off-the-cuff current topics, crowd work and his material, Barry blurs the lines (for the audience) about what's preordained, and that lends the show a sense of specialness that audiences appreciate. We know that he's making the same "best crowd" comments to the people waiting outside to file in for a second performance; we know, even as he's telling us that there's no such thing as two good Thursday night comedy shows, that he'll tell the next batch that they are the ones who rock much harder than Shelbyville — we buy what he's selling not just because it makes us feel special, but because he sells it well and that's all we ask.
So sure, there's the woman who posts comments online that Barry's sarcasm (which she interpreted as arrogance) has led her to stop supporting male comics from the U.S. and Canada. ("As I continue to not get jokes, I'll be adding more countries to the list," Barry quipped), but the rest of us are thrilled to be in Barry's comedy sights for an hour, and are armoured for the zingers that'll come our way.