Super pretty hazel eyes: Essential Todd Barry bits
Revisit some of Barry’s finest moments ahead of his July 26 show at the Comedy Club on State.
When Todd Barry last came through Madison for a 2014 show at the High Noon Saloon, he spent the entire time improvising and messing with the audience (and somewhat indulging one crazy drunk guy who charged up to the stage to tell Barry an incoherent story), continuing an experiment he memorably captured in the documentary Todd Barry: The Crowd Work Tour. (The doc was also recently added to Netflix.) Barry is indeed great at crowd work, but at that show it still was hard not to miss his distinctive stand-up bits. As documented on an excellent run of four stand-up albums, Barry picks at the silliest of minutiae with calm, crisp delivery and a sly focus that elevates jokes about mundane stuff like old Old Navy and plumbing problems to a fine craft. So here’s hoping that when Barry comes back for a one-off Sunday, July 26 show at the Comedy Club on State, he’s got some new bits (but still spends a healthy-ish amount of time making fun of people in the audience). In that spirit—and with great restraint considering all the dorky Todd Barry references I could pelt you with, dear reader, because as we have established, it is not a shit-infused water—let’s revisit some classic Barry material from across his discography.
Behind The Music and Fugazi (from Medium Energy, 2005)
Medium Energy is Barry's finest stand-up album, and in the middle of it he hits a great vein of music-related jokes, spanning the Grammys, pricey box sets, and rip-off concert seats (“Stay home? 40 bucks.”). But he’s even more weird and lovable when digging into Behind The Music and its use of the music-journalism cliché of “…and then he went back to his roots,” and breaking down the DIY economics of Fugazi.
On celebrity sightings and how amazing Todd Barry is (from From Heaven, 2008)
Threaded throughout Barry’s stand-up work (and even more so on his Twitter account) are absurdly self-aggrandizing statements, made funny through sheer arrogance and without the balance of overt self-deprecation. At one point on From Heaven, he boasts of being “too damn tall” to shop in a clothing store for short people, but his surreal braggadicio especially shines on that album’s closing track, which covers a made-up date with Julia Roberts, and later a convoluted but punchy closing bit about how spotting a bass player reading Bass Player magazine would be like spotting Todd Barry reading “Amazing Comedian magazine” or “Super Pretty Hazel Eyes magazine."
Beauty products (from Falling Off The Bone, 2004)
Even when it comes to such well-trodden comedy ground as crappy reality shows, Barry finds a little bit of twisted wonder. On his first album, he destroys Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, but his contempt doesn’t prevent him from going into almost loving detail in his hyperbolic portrayal of the show’s stylist: “Let me get this straight. You’re a 60-year-old retired Navy Seal. And you’ve never once waxed your elbows. Not even in ‘Nam? I am flabbergasted.” And as with a lot of his bits, Barry takes the theme through a few iterations, somehow making it funnier as he gets closer to beating it to death.
Neck tattoos (from Medium Energy)
“This is the best Valentine’s Day ever."
Lip-smacking goodness and food stupidity (from Super Crazy, 2012)
No really, if you’re new to Todd Barry, don’t expect esoteric or lofty subject matter. More often than not, he takes what should be the makings of totally hacky stand-up and teases it into a bizarre and revealing shape. On his most recent stand-up album he considers how gross it is to use the phrase “lip-smacking good,” though perhaps the most hysterical moment of that particular track is: “I didn’t come to a Forrest Gump theme restaurant, 27 years after the movie came out, because I wanted to be involved in something that was stupid.” And on the following track, he gets into the possibly cruel territory of making fun of people’s grandmothers, but the bit is methodical in a way that keeps it from slipping over into male-pig boorishness: “You do spend a little extra for Italian food at a restaurant, but for that extra $9, you get a heaping side order of not hanging out with your grandmother. A yum-yum-yum… here’s a million dollars for a plate of pasta. Keep that woman away from this restaurant."
Prairie dogs and also how great Todd Barry is (from From Heaven)
Again with the boasts. On From Heaven, he talks a couple times about what a great comedian he is (“I spend the bulk of my day in New York high-fiving Chris Rock”). But this one might be the best example, what with Barry doing his too-silly-to-be-believed bragging through a complicated metaphor about prairie dogs upstaging pandas. And they are a-dorab-lay.