Todd Barry is funny. He's also a comedian. As anyone who's ventured out to a comedy club more than once or even just watched enough late night TV can tell you, those two don't always go together. Often they don't even live in the same neighborhood.
But no one in comedy today does deadpan like Todd Barry — I'm talking to you, Steven Wright, and your caricature-of-a-sad-sack ass — and he'll prove it on Tuesday at Juanita's as part of a solo tour in support of “From Heaven,” his laugh-a-minute third album on Comedy Central Records.
If my seal of approval doesn't convince you, consider Barry's resume: The 43-year-old Manhattanite has done Letterman and Conan, guest spots on “Aqua Teen Hunger,” “Sesame Street” and “Sex in the City” and appeared in the cinematic milestone that is “Pootie Tang.” Lately, he's getting recognized on the street as Todd, the bongo playing third wheel in “Flight of the Conchords.”
In anticipation of his visit, Barry applied his cool, dry wit to the keyboard and answered questions via e-mail on Gator pride, whether baldness is funny, his role in a new Darren Arnofsky film and more.
Did you have any bongo experience prior to your guest spot on “Flight of the Conchords”? Drum circles? Bongo symphonies? Jam band guest spots?
I've played non-bongo drums for a while, but not particularly well. And my bongo skills are even more lacking, but perhaps that made my role on “Flight of the Conchords” funnier.
Your new comedy album, “From Heaven,” is your third release on Comedy Central Records. Is that association, with Comedy Central, a huge boon?
I think it helps. They run ads for my CD when they run my special, and they have a quite a good roster of comedians.
You've toured with quite a few indie rock bands — Yo La Tengo, the Shins, Jens Lenkman, Aimee Mann. And you recently did several shows at SXSW, and you've done Bumbershoot in the past. Do you think there's a particularly big crossover appeal between your comedy and indie rock?
I guess I do a few jokes that appeal to indie rockers, but I want fans of all types of music to like my comedy. Even classical.
How's life on the road different for comedians and musicians?
Comedians don't “rough it” quite as much as far as accommodations. Not a lot of sleeping in a van, even if you're a relatively unknown comedian. But being comedian is probably lonelier. Boo hoo!
When you're opening for bands, obviously, you're doing music venues, but Tuesday, on this solo tour, you're playing Juanita's, a music spot, not the local comedy club. Are you doing a lot of nontraditional venues on this tour? Are comedy clubs passe or cheesy somehow?
I'm playing Juanita's because they asked me. That's a good thing, because I've never done a show in Arkansas, and I'm curious. As far as the venue, it really depends on how it's run. There are some super cheesy comedy clubs out there, but doing a show at a club that doesn't usually do comedy also has its challenges. But I have a good feeling about Juanita's.
You grew up, for a while, in South Florida and graduated from the University of Florida. What's the most school-spirited thing you've ever done? The Gator chomp? Interpolated less-than signs ( “<” ) in your signature?
Hardly a day goes by that I don't do the “gator chomp.”
Is baldness funny?
No, Lindsey, it isn't. (Hint, hint.)
Does geography have anything to do with humor?
I find most of my act translates no matter where I go. There are, however, a handful of New York-specific jokes that don't travel well. And if I tour outside the U.S., I have to make some adjustments.
Is comedy intuitive? Or is it something that can be taught? If it's the latter, does delving into the philosophy of comedy appeal to you?
I occasionally get inquiries from people who are studying the “science of comedy” or something like that. I usually don't get involved in those, because it just doesn't sound like fun. I do think comedy is intuitive. If you're not funny, then taking a comedy class at the local community college isn't really going to help you.
Have you ever dabbled with props or worked with improv troupes?
I've done improv a handful of times and done a couple of stage shows that are more scripted. I'd like to experiment more with comedy that isn't just straightforward stand-up.
Can you tell me anything about “The Wrestler,” the film you just wrapped with Darren Arnofsky (“Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream”)? He's a director who doesn't really have a resume that screams humor.
Darren makes intense films, but he is a fan of comedy and comedians. “The Wrestler” is not strictly a comedy, but the scenes I'm in are funny. I play Mickey Rourke's boss. He plays the wrestler. I don't play the wrestler.
Beyond the film and this tour, what other projects do you have coming up?
That's about it. I need a vacation. Are there any good spas in Little Rock?