“I guess I have some sort of style, but I’ve never consciously worked on my style,” admits New York-based stand-up comic Todd Barry. “You’re always taking chances. Maybe I’ll work out a whole new way to deliver … maybe I’ll start screaming.”
Soft-spoken, Barry is usually calm and confident on the microphone. He can look very uncomfortable and, at times, sound seethingly sarcastic, but he consistently takes aim at the great targets — like Manhattan hipsters, dumb celebrities, mega-chain stores, and tourists. His furrowed-brow and slow-paced delivery almost makes him seem cranky, and it works well as he delivers his material with hilarious results.
“I force myself to get out there on stage and spit it out there,” he says. “Of course, some things just happen on stage. It’s always much more exciting when you pull something off rather than do something that you’ve done for a while. I just roll with it.”
The last time Barry came to Charleston was for a gig at the Village Tavern in 2005. He did his thing on the small stage to an attentive full-house audience and a few scraggly, harmless hecklers. Quick and polite with the crowd, he made the situation work, killed with every line, and poked fun at the decor of the venue itself, calling it the “Bennigan’s of the punk club circuit.”
Since that rare road trip through the South, much has happened for the comedian — on the road and on television. He recently toured Scandinavia with Swedish indie-pop singer/songwriter Jens Lekman, performed at Carnegie Hall and various Northeast theaters with Sarah Silverman (co-creator and star of Comedy Central’s The Sarah Silverman Program), and gigged around the Northwest with loud-mouthed funnyman Louis CK. Two weeks ago, he co-headlined a benefit show at Union Hall in Brooklyn — an unofficial celebration of his 20 years in comedy.
On the small screen, his most significant gig was in an acting role as the annoying “Todd, the third Conchord,” on the season finale of HBO’s brilliant series Flight of the Conchords. Barry was the pied piper of cool as the self-centered bongo player, ready to “kick some grooves and bang some tunes” with his hapless Aussie bandmates (Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement).
“Yeah, that was a fun show,” Barry says. “I met those guys in Australia in 2003, and we ended up working a couple of festivals and hanging out in New York. I think they basically just wrote a part for me and handed it to me without any audition. It was super fun. We did it in Brooklyn. I think the fact that I played drums — and maybe, played drums poorly — helped me a little bit. I just played it as my own asshole-ish self.
“I read some stuff on the internet where people are actually like, ‘Aw, I fucking hated it!'” he adds. “Almost to the point where you have to go, ‘It was just a character; I was supposed to be a jerk.’ Some people on the street or in the laundromat recognize me and ask me to play some bongos. I dunno … ”
Barry spent most of his childhood in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Before kicking off a career in comedy, he played drums in the mid-’80s in a paisley shirt garage band called The Chant. Moving up to the Bronx in 1987, he concentrated more and more on live comedy work. By the late ’90s, Barry established himself on the scene as a solid performer. He appeared several times on the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and various Comedy Central specials.
His recording debut, a 2002 live album titled Medium Energy, was recorded at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. On his second album, 2005’s Falling Off the Bone, he continued to skewer MTV’s and VH1’s programming, ridiculous rock musicians, tattoo fanatics, overpaid pop stars, and social trends.
“I’m trying to be a little more prolific because I got a little lazy there,” he says of his recent comedic solo work. “I went a long time there where no one knew what I was going to do on stage. I may be wrong about that, though; I’m terrible about talking about what I do.”