Todd Barry: The Crowd Work Tour
Todd Barry points to a flattering article in The Guardian previewing this show, which spoke of how he doesn’t do the clichéd ‘what’s your name? What’s your job?’ audience banter. ‘That inaccurate,’ he says with typical dryness. ‘That’s ALL I do.’
And true to his word, he works his way through the first couple of rows, asking after their professions and giving them each a gentle ribbing. When the graphic designer says he specialises in directional signs for buildings, Barry wryly observes: ‘You mean arrows?’, cutting through linguistic bullshit. He also gets to the nub of the issue when meeting the classical violinist who’s been practising since he was seven. Failing to be impressed, the never emotive Barry instantly brands him ‘weird’.
There’s little disguising that the show boils down to the comedy-club cliche of telling people they have shitty jobs, although putdowns are delivered in a distinctively quiet and unhurried way. ‘I just destroyed you,’ Barry sardonically says of even the mildest rebuke. His own lack of status is so often the joke – whether mocking his shortcomings as a vicious attack comic or ironically aggrandising his smallish role in the 2008 Mickey Rourke movie The Wrestler.
But that shouldn’t belittle the sharpness Barry has developed over the two years he’s spent on this Crowd Work tour, abandoning his sardonic scripted jokes for what amounts to a talk show where the punters are the guests and the host hasn’t done his homework.
The audience tonight certainly brings some offbeat and interesting jobs to discuss, to the extent that Barry’s astonished when he finds a boring old software engineer, where there are usually dozens of them. As well as the musician, the Soho Theatre’s eclectic crowd includes a professional gambler, the occasional personal assistant to an 87-year-old Russian pianist, a retired pro triathlete and a man who organises a German-style beer festival in Britain.
Oh, and one of the key cast of the new Star Wars movie.
Although Kelly Marie Tran, who has spent six months in the UK filming her first substantial role, is contractually obliged to remain tight-lipped about the blockbuster, her revelation does at least deliver a dramatic climax to the chit-chat.
For however quietly enjoyable Crowd Work is, or however on-point Barry’s banter, here’s ultimately no disguising that this is essentially more than an hour of compering, which wants for something more substantial once the premise is established.
Barry is not the sort of comedian who ad-libs elaborate scenarios from audience input that build and build to a spectacular climax, like Ross Noble or Jason Byrne – he’s far too mild-mannered for that. Instead, the rhythm is stop-start, with a few wry jokes about each target before moving on to the next, so building momentum is definitely an issue. ‘I’ll just keep doing this til it ends,’ he acknowledges of the show’s structure, or lack thereof.
On the credit side, though, the audience cut him plenty of slack for having the cojones to go on stage with not a line of material – while the fact that each languid quip has been freshly minted, and will never be repeated, lends an added piquancy to the comments.
And there’s no doubt that although his delivery is slow, his mind is quick.
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