“So you’re mellow and tense?” quizzed Seinfeld in trying to appraise Barry. Barry is part of the rich vein of East Coast American comedians who prize timing and a sarcastic view of the world. His slow drawl and delivery often has you smirking before the punchline leaks out.
Barry came of age with many of America’s stellar comedians. He’s known Sarah Silverman since she was 19 years old, and is a regular on his old buddy Louis CK’s hit TV series, Louie. He got his start as a stand-up back in 1987 as a 23-year-old when he took the plunge at an open mic night at Coconuts Comedy Club in North Miami Beach, Florida.
“I used to go to these open mic nights, and I would watch these other comedians,” he says. “At some point, I got this little urge to do it, a little poke from someone, some internal advisor of mine. I just wrote some material and signed up. The first one actually went really well because the audience was pumped and I was prepared. I’m sure I’d be mortified if I saw a tape of it.
“There was a lot of open mic nights. I remember recording my set on a cassette and popping it in the car. That’s how un-jaded I was at the time — where you’d want to hear your set right after you’d recorded it. Now I can’t imagine anything I’d want to listen to less than that.”
Barry has featured in a few of his own half-hour shows on Comedy Central Presents, and tapped into a cult audience with his turns as Todd the video store clerk on Flight of the Conchords, and more mainstream crowds with his appearances in films such as The Wrestler. He’s done all the big American chat shows over the years, and was perhaps one of the first people to get an inkling that David Letterman, who will retire in 2015, was going to call it a day while doing a set on his show a while back.
“There was one time I did The Dave Letterman Show and there was like a minute left on the show. Between commercials, we were chatting. I goes, ‘How are you doing?’ He goes, ‘I’m tired.’ I said, ‘Oh, well, you did two shows today.’ He said, ‘Ah, I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’m just tired.’ It was a funny conversation to be having on The David Letterman Show.”
Barry has seen some odd things over the years on the American comedy circuit, including Andy Kaufman getting booed at a gig in a basketball arena in Hicksville. Barry, who once got to introduce Robin Williams on the bill at a show, remembers seeing Williams while Barry was studying English Literature at the University of Florida in the mid-1980s.
“He did this gigantic pep rally in a football stadium. His material was dirty or ‘blue’. There was an outrage. It was an alumni event. There were parents, grandparents and students at it. The next year they booked Bob Hope.”
Todd Barry performs at the Sugar Club in Dublin on October 23 and at the Vodafone Comedy Carnival, Galway, 25 October 25. www.toddbarry.com.