Todd Barry is as about as decorated a comedian as you can find. He has 3 Comedy Central specials and several appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman under his belt. Most recently he's been a regular on the hit FX series Louie and appeared opposite Mickey Rourke as his boss in the Wrestler.
Todd's crowd work has become a legend among comedians. Audiences have been treated to a glimpse of it here and there, and have always been left wanting more. The comedian has decided to share more of his audience work magic with fans in his groundbreaking tour, Todd Barry: The Crowd Work Tour, coming to Chicago this Wednesday and Thursday at Schuba's at 9 pm (3159 N Southport).
How do you get the idea for the tour?
I thought it would be interesting. I had the means to book the shows. Sent out some emails, and people responded pretty quickly.
Is your crowd work a response to the crowd? Or something you look to do?
Sometimes I think it's just my attention span with my own act. I get a little bored, not bored, but I feel like drifting. And I drift and start talking to someone. It just breaks it up for me, it kind of energizes the set a little bit.
Are you more comfortable doing crowd work than working on your own material?
Working on your own material isn't necessarily fun, but you have to do it. I don't want to be the crowd work guy necessarily, but as a goof maybe I'll do it a couple tours. I'll see how this goes. If it goes great and it's super fun and people love it, I'll take another swing, do another area of the country. But I don't want to stop being thought of as a joke writer.
Is the way you're depicted on Louie reflective of your relationship with him?
Yeah, on some level. It's all love, but yeah. He talks to people that way too... To be fair.
Is that how it is being a comic in New York? A lot of goofing on each other?
There's some of that, but it's not like 24 hours a day. If you go to the Comedy Cellar it's not just nonstop people busting each other's balls, there's some of that, but it's not like this war zone of people attacking each other. It's mainly friendly.
How do you start a crowd work show?
(Laughs) I don't know yet. But we'll see.
Who are your comedic influences?
A lot of the people everyone likes for the most part. Steve Martin, George Carlin, I liked Andy Kaufman. And I liked a lot of the younger comics when they were unknown. I used to see David Letterman on TV way before he had a TV show, Dennis Miller, Bill Hicks. So the sort of unknown comics as well, or the lesser known comics.
Was getting your 1st Letterman a big deal?
It's a big, surreal deal. It's stressful probably as much as it's fun. The goal is to try to make it fun. I've done it a number of times and it still is very nerve-racking, but it's always better when you're like, "Oh I'm having fun with this now, I'm being playful." As opposed to, "I just have to get this over with."
It's well known that along with Louie C.K. and Dave Attell, Todd is a comedian that many younger comics style themselves after.
Do you find people emulating you annoying or flattering?
If they're emulating and not stealing, it's flattering. I haven't seen a whole lot of it, I've seen a little of it. It's probably best for them to not do it, because people are just going to say they're doing me. I don't think it's like a rampant problem.
Do you think technology will stop people from going to live comedy shows?
I hope not. Because it's just not the same to listen to a CD or watch a special, you can enjoy those things a lot, but just being there and having it in front of you is completely different. It's effecting it if people are secretely filming you and getting your stuff out there before it's ready for mass consumption.
There are little moments that are blown up because of the internet and things that probably would have just quietly gone away that seem to become scandals.
Can clubs prevent that from happening?
If someone really wants to get secretive and have stuff burried in their coat there's nothing you can do, but if a guy is holding a camera up you can certainly police the room and make sure that doesn't happen. I think also if you explain to the audience ahead of time that it's not cool, enjoy the show and what's happening, a lot of them will rise to the occasion.
Do you have any goals for the near future?
I want to do a new special if I can come up with a new hour. I just kind of go with the flow.
Would you consider taping your own special and putting it on your website like Louie C.K. ?
That's not something everyone can do. He had the financial means to do that. I would have lost money if I did a $5 special. If you know you're going to sell 100,000 of them or 200,000 of them then you'll end up making more than you would if you sold it to HBO. And you can still come off as "It's only a $5 special."