Todd Barry Comedy Bar, Toronto ON, August 1
Published Aug 02, 2015In his new hour, Todd Barry took on one of the toughest endeavours in the stand-up world: a show of nothing but crowd work. Despite his unexceptional opener, he effortlessly entertained the late show audience at Comedy Bar within the boundaries of this fantastically spontaneous format.
Barry began his performance by riffing about his opener momentarily forgetting his name during his introduction, then continued the hilarity by talking to an elevator project manager in the front row. When Barry asked him if he enjoyed his job, the man replied with his only elevator-related joke: "It has its ups and downs." Despite its cheesiness, this one-liner got a big laugh sheerly because of how surprising it was to hear a decent joke from the audience. Barry also cleverly used it later in the show as a callback when talking to an air traffic controller about whether he likes his job, then got another witty reply: "I'd say it's more hit or miss." Though Barry was so proficient in crowd work that he didn't need any help from his audience, it was delightfully unusual to get such smart people in the crowd.
In general, the simultaneous thrill and downside of a crowd work show is that although the comedian's talent is what makes or breaks the show, the difference between a good hour and a great one is entirely determined by how interesting the people in the crowd are. Fortunately, most of the audience members had at least one thing for Barry to mine comedy from. Over the course of his set, some of the individuals that Barry spoke to included a bassist for a pop punk band called Bruise Willis and a country folk band called King Cuddy and the River; a Todd Barry super-fan; a nerd with a fledgling Dungeons and Dragons podcast; and the cofounder of company that makes brain-sensing headbands to help people focus during meditation. Additionally, Barry skilfully derived similarly great humour from some less interesting people, such as an unemployed girl who used to work in retail and a graphic designer who was vague about whether he was self-employed.
However, not every part of the show was outstanding. Despite Barry's incredible effort, the substitute teacher and his friend in the second row briefly weighed down the momentum of the performance by being relentlessly bland. Moreover, opener Tim Gilbert was uninspiring. Though I've seen him do well in the past, he was unfortunately absentminded in his delivery, and his set was forgettable despite his comical closing joke.