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Arj Barker: Let Me Do The Talking

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Arj Barker is probably the biggest draw at the Melbourne Comedy festival, playing the 1,500-seater main Town Hall room in the plum 9.30pm slot almost every day for three and a half weeks. That’s what being on Flight Of The Conchords will get you. That and a dedication to returning to Melbourne year after year to build an audience.

His style has evolved over the years, too, as his stoner San-Franciscan drop-out mentality has softened while he edges slightly more mainstream. These sensibilities are expressed less directly; instead he adopts an arrogant, stereotypical American swagger, and undermines it through irony.

His take on the environment, for example, is that it’s not our fault for ruining it, but the environment’s fault for not being able to cope with humans’ sheer awesomeness – a message pushed home with the sort of passion only possible from those unable to see any alternate point of view. It’s Barker by name and barker by nature as he delivers short, forceful sentences in a big performance for the big room.

But he’s not always driven by maximising the laugh rate, and there are some relatively extended sections without any big punchlines. Rather he’s happy to establish a wry, witty landscape at his own pace, building trust and rapport and making for a richer comedy experience.

His material about the Australians’ recklessly relaxed use of language helps enforce that empathy, as do the local references. Not that he needs to pander, as his piece about snakes ably demonstrates. Though it starts from obvious comments about the deadly antipodean wildlife, it becomes an impressively original train of thought, simultaneously whimsical and punchy.

A few routines are less convincing – pornography making men feel inadequate was an uncharacteristically pedestrian segment, and the closing song was a definite anticlimax – but Let Me Do The Talking is a generally impressive exercise in making the offbeat accessible.

After winning our confidence, Barker even manages to talk, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, about the illuminati and the shape-shifting lizards who control them. Our only defence, apparently, is his patented AQUA approach: Always Question Unvalidated Authority. It’s a big concept, but with Barker’s light touch, it becomes a fanciful routine in which a text message is given human characteristics – and it seems to be an impatient New Yorker.

But Barker’s as impressive talking about hotel towels as he is exposing the hidden agenda of the New World Order. I’d recommend the show – but don’t take my word for it. You should question such authority.

Review date: 31 Mar 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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