Todd Barry bristles somewhat when he’s described as a “comedian’s comedian,” but he is often cited by his fellow comics as a favorite.
“That isn’t always a good thing,” he says. “That’s sometimes a backhanded compliment. It also is high praise, I suppose, if you’re liked by your peers. That’s a good thing. I assume that’s how it’s meant.”
Barry comes to town this week on the Spring Value Tour along with comedian Neil Hamburger, the bizarre alter ego of musician Greg Turkington. It’s a nice juxtaposition of styles, with Barry’s casual manner providing a stark counterpoint to Hamburger’s frenetic delivery. As a bit of a twist, the tour is stopping mostly at what are traditionally music venues, like the Southgate House in Newport.
“Me and Neil use the same booker who is mainly a music booker, but he’s doing more comedy now,” Barry says.
The Rock club setting provides a slightly different audience for Barry as opposed to what he might find at a comedy club.
“When you do a music venue, you definitely play to more people, and people that go and see you at music venue are often people who are more fans of you,” Barry says. “They have to look for you at those places, although the comedy club circuit is quite good.”
Originally from New York, Barry got into stand-up while living in Florida and was part of the same scene that produced the Regan brothers (Dennis and Brian), among others. Barry is now back in New York where he can frequently get stage time and work on new material.
“I spend a lot of time refining material,” he says.
“I try to turn it over, too. I also don’t want to spend a lot of time writing something and not put it out there for people because I’m worried that some small percentage of people might have heard it. It’s always a tough choice when you get rid of things in your set.”
New York, of course, is fertile ground for comedy; the trick is filtering the funny from the noise that is life in the Big Apple.
“That’s the way I write,” he says. “I’m just constantly asking myself, ‘Is that thought I just had something I’m just going to tell my friends, or is that something I can bring to the stage and make universal?’ ”
Over the years he’s managed to train himself to look for those audience-ready bits.
“I really have to make sure that radar is up,” he says. “You’ll have a thought and you won’t write it down, and three hours later you’re like, ‘What was that thought?’ Or you write it down so cryptically you can’t figure out what you wrote.”
Barry finds that some of the funniest people he runs into aren’t comedians or performers of any kind.
“I like just meeting someone who is funny, a store clerk or someone, who just makes you laugh,” he says. “Great comedians make me laugh, obviously, but it’s nice to have an encounter with someone who’s entertaining and funny who’s not trying to make money off of it.”
In addition to doing stand-up, Barry has also appeared in several TV series and films. He also does quite a bit of voice-over work, but he sees that as a nice diversion. He has no plans to move to Los Angeles and finds that his friends from California can be a little annoying when they visit him in New York. For example, they seem to have an attitude about Mexican food.
“They’re very cocky,” Barry has told audiences. When he suggests getting Mexican food, the West Coasters turn their noses up. “You’re Mexican? ‘No, I’m from California. You don’t know what Mexican food is like.’ ”
Barry insists he does.
“New York has 10,000 amazing chefs and, believe it or not, a handful of them have figured out how to replicate the quesadilla,” he says. “You know what else we have in New York? Mexican people. And we let them cook in restaurants. And our food is better than yours, across the board including, and specifically, Mexican.”
Also on the bill with Barry and Hamburger is Brendon Walsh, a comic whose star is quickly rising. Walsh has been on Comedy Central and is the co-host of World’s Dumbest on TruTV. He tries to keep his stand-up simple.
“I just try to be funny,” Walsh says. “I kind of stay away from politics. I was pretty upset about things when Bush was president. I was getting more worked up than funny, so I stopped.”
TODD BARRY and Neil Hamburger, with special guest Brandon Walsh, perform Friday at The Southgate Hous. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.