"People hesitate to book someone because they're low energy. I just always say, 'Are you
running an energy club or a comedy club? If you're running an
energy club, then maybe I'm not the guy."
– Todd Barry
Guy MacPherson: I gotta ask you, what did you do to Louis C.K.'s mom?
Todd Barry: (laughs) Did he tell you to ask that?
GM: He did, yeah.
TB: Oh, that's funny.
GM: You're not going to answer?
TB: Did he really say that?
GM: Yeah. How else would I come up with that?
TB: That's a good point. It's just that we have an on-going insulting relationship. But it comes from a good place.
GM: I'm very tired because it's 9 o'clock here and last night I was looking up on the internet and I got sidetracked on this stupid Icky thing.
TB: Oh, really?
GM: The woman's husband's site. And I had to catch up. It's amazing that these people make television their life.
TB: Yeah. Um, I think he was sort of joking, but he was very thorough. But I was glad because I sometimes forget the story so I can just go to his website.
GM: It is an interesting story.
TB: Yeah, it is pretty interesting.
GM: How old is the woman?
TB: I have no idea. I hesitate... probably late 30s, maybe. I dont know.
GM: You don't perform that show anymore, do you?
TB: I'm actually trying to get a movie version. I just wrote a movie version of it.
GM: Would it be a movie version like your one-man show? Or would it be fleshed out?
TB: Quasi-documentary. Sort of like the one-man show is all based on truth but sort of goes off into a ... Well, you havent seen the one-man show, but it sort
of goes off onto tangents. It's a heightened documentary.
GM: A what?
TB: Heightened? Is that the right word?
GM: I don't know.
TB: Yeah. It's a good word, right?
GM: Very good. Im jotting it down now. So your CD is called "Medium Energy". I think youre exaggerating a little.
TB: You think it's low energy?
GM: I was just wondering, when you were starting out – and when was that, by the way?
TB: Uh, 87.
GM: When you were starting out, did anyone – your friends or others – express skepticism and say, "Hey man, you gotta be more energetic."
TB: That's sort of a battle that I've been fighting. You'll hear that from certain club people, or whatever. People hesitate to book someone because
they're low energy. I just always say, "Are you running an energy club or a comedy club? If you're running an energy club, then maybe I'm not the guy."
GM: It's a battle you've been fighting but winning, I think.
TB: That's the thing. I mean, I feel like, not to be conceited but I've done all this shit. Like, I wouldn't have done all this shit that I've done if I'm
just bombing on stage because of my low energy. It's not like a weird coincidence that these various people have embraced me. You know what I mean? Also, some people see you on TV and they think, "Oh you're not going to be...." They don't know what.... There's a difference between a live show and what you do on TV.
GM: You mean like when you go on Conan and sit down or a set on Letterman?
TB: Yeah. I think that if they see a guy jumping up and down, they think this will whoop up my club crowd. But they don't necessarily know what I can do as far as engaging a crowd and interacting with a crowd if I need to.
GM: You've got this great sarcastic tone where you build yourself up. But you don't see that so much when you're given your seven minutes, or whatever it is.
TB: But sometimes it sort of backfires for high-energy guys because they look sometimes silly on television – not all of them – because TV puts you in sort of a box. And seeing a guy jumping up and down like an idiot just looks more idiotic on television than it would if you were in a club.
GM: I know you're involved with a lot of bands. I don't know if you're involved in any hip-hop bands.
GM: But I was watching Ellen yesterday – because this is what I do in my day – and LL Cool J was on. And this is the thing with rap that I find. Everyone's,
"Put your hands in the air!" Getting the crowd going. And I'm going, "Just perform for me."
TB: "My hands will go in the air eventually."
GM: Well, mine won't. But it's like the high energy comic saying "applaud for this" and jumping around, and you're going, "Yeah, but where are the jokes?"
TB: Yeah. I mean, I'm not anti-energy. You just don't have to be high energy.
GM: Isn't it also be true to who you are?
TB: Yeah. I mean, some people are naturally high energy and they're hilarious that way. To me, you gotta be true to who you are and what happens when you
talk to people who listen and then laugh.
GM: I'm guessing you weren't the class clown.
TB: I was probably the quiet class clown. I think I was probably semi-funny in school. I always took it up to the point... I never wanted to get in trouble. So I
was sort of the gutless class clown.
GM: The Gutless Class Clown! There's the name of your next album.
TB: That's funny, yeah. I do have a new album coming out December 7th, by the way.
GM: And what's this one called?
TB: I don't know. I'm still thinking about that. But it's coming out on Comedy Central Records so it'll be a wider distribution.
GM: Your last one was long. Is this all new material?
TB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's weird how many people ask that question.
GM: "No, I'm going to release the same material."
TB: That would be funny. Imagine the e-mails I'd get. "Thanks for letting me hear these jokes in a different package."
GM: "Well, the inflection is slightly different." How did you start out in comedy? Was it a big step for you to get up on a stage and talk to people?
TB: I started in Florida during the big American comedy boom. Or probably, I guess, North American comedy boom of the '80s. There were just clubs
everywhere. I imagine it was that way up there. It was just one-nighters and comedy everywhere, in every
restaurant. So there was a sudden need. It just happened to be when I started. So you could call up – especially in Florida – and just go, "Can I be on your
open mic night?" And they'd go, "Come in tomorrow" basically. So that's what I did. And then I just built up an act.
GM: Was it nerve-wracking for you?
GM: Are you a shy guy?
TB: I can be shy. I'm probably not as shy as I used to be. Yeah, I can be shy. But back then, yeah, I was probably shyer. But that doesn't... I mean, there's a
lot of shy people in show business. Yeah. I don't know what else to say.
GM: Seeing the credits with all the shows that you've been on, like Letterman and Conan... Have you been on The Tonight Show?
TB: No, I havent.
GM: I guess in five years that'll be fixed.
TB: I actually could have been on it once. But Letterman, they were interested in me, so I had to make a choice. But I think I could probably do both.
There's just gotta be space between them. I think. Unless youre a huge star. Tom Hanks can go on any show he wants to. But I can't. And there's sort of a
loyalty thing. They don't want you doing The Tonight Show if they sort of think they brought you or introduced you, I guess.
GM: Isn't Letterman now more like – for comics, anyway – like Carson was. Not the same impact, though.
TB: Yeah, I mean, I imagine if you ask comics... I don't know. There might be more prestige or something in Letterman, I don't know. I don't know how to answer that.
GM: Without ever getting blackballed from The Tonight Show.
TB: Yeah, yeah. Cancel that.
GM: So what do you think about Conan being the next...
TB: I think it's great. I mean, his show is great. I hope they don't make radical changes to it.
GM: They did, kind of, with Letterman, didn't they?
TB: Yeah. It seemed like it. Personally I don't know why. I feel like it's an hour earlier but it's still 11:30 at night. It's not a kids' show. But I can't see
him lowering the quality of what he does.
GM: Do you spend a lot of time in LA?
TB: I haven't been there in a while and I want to go out there. But I go out there usually once or twice a year.
GM: Would you ever consider moving out there?
TB: I would if I had a great job. I mean, I love going out there and visiting friends and doing shows out there but it's so stressful out there. I just don't
want to drive every day for hours and park and cry. You know what I mean?
GM: Your relationship with the bands, Yo La Tengo, They Might Be Giants: How did this all start?
TB: A lot of those people are comedy fans. Like Yo La Tengo I just met because they come to shows. And They Might Be Giants...
GM: They're funny, as well.
TB: Yeah, yeah, they're funny as well. Most musicians, I think, are pretty funny. I met John Flansburgh's wife and then met him. It's a New York thing as much as comedy and music. And I think musicians seem to like comedy.
GM: When you think of the history of comedy, most of the comics are pretty zany and high energy. Who were your influences?
TB: I just remember people I liked when I was buying comedy records. Like Steve Martin, George Carlin. I liked Andy Kaufman a lot. Bill Hicks. No one too shockingly like, "Oh my God I can't believe you liked that person." The usual people.
GM: And now that you've been in the business as long as you have, have your tastes changed where you go, "I can't believe I liked that person!"
TB: It's kinda hard to sit still and watch comedy. I mean, you end up watching... You get exposed to a lot of it anyway. But the idea of like sitting and
watching an hour and a half of comedy is not... There would be a handful of people I would watch. I don't know if it's jaded, but it sort of is, I guess.
GM: Do people still make you laugh?
TB: Yeah, it's not like I'm... Yeah. There's lots of... Theres guys, peers of mine, who make me laugh.
GM: There are going to be some good comics coming here.
TB: Yeah, it's a really good line-up. Whoever's booking it has some pretty quality taste.
GM: This will be your first time in Vancouver?
TB: Yeah, I've never been.
GM: Does the line-up influence you at all or is it just pay me and I'll come.
TB: In the big picture, there's always going to be people... You always hear comics complain. I mean, I talk about people I don't like. But it's sort of an
individual thing. It is an individual thing. So you do what you do. And they do what they do. But it is nice to work with people where you can... It's always nice when I'm on a show with other comics where, not that I know anyone in Vancouver, but where I can invite people. Like if it's in New York, I can say, "Well, this is a good line-up. You're going to really dig it." Rather than, like, say, "Come an hour late." It's always great to work with people that you like. It
brings a better creative... It's an obvious thing, I guess.
GM: This is a real departure for the Vancouver festival this year. In the past it's always been very small. But there's a new director this year.
TB: Was it an all-Canadian festival?
GM: No. It wasn't all Canadian, but a lot of street people. No, not street people. That's a different word. Um, street performers. And small. But this year it's
downtown. It should be quite good. Also, they have a show here of comics from Last Comic Standing. Is that something that you'd ever do?
TB: I mean, they sort of asked early on if I was interested. Personally, I wouldn't do it.
GM: Why wouldn't you do it?
TB: It's just not interesting to me to do. I think it's a good thing. There are certainly comics who've done it and I think it's great that they did it
because they've been kicking around for years. And ultimately it's a good thing that they're now exposed. It just helps with them.
GM: It's that guaranteed audience every week on network TV.
TB: Yeah, it's just as far as doing live work you can say, "I'm on this show" and he will get booked. Whereas if you're just not on it, it's just harder to
GM: How many weeks a year are you booked?
TB: I don't know. It's never like a set amount. But this year's been more. It's probably like four or five months.
GM: And the other time you spend writing?
TB: Um. I mean, I do a lot of shows in New York. I do hundreds of shows every year.
GM: How disciplined a writer are you?
TB: Not at all disciplined.
GM: So the ideas just come when they come?
TB: Yeah, I wish I was more disciplined, but I'm not.
GM: The receipt museum on your website, did this come from an anal disposition, or just because you thought it would be funny?
TB: It just came into mind. I normally wouldn't save those receipts. It was just an idea that came to my head. And people seem to like it.
GM: Do you still add to it?
TB: Yeah, I'm going to try to do a massive website update, hopefully in time for my new album.
GM: Are you still reading that Sarah Vowell book?
TB: Actually, it's embarrassing. It just takes me forever to read a book.
GM: She's one author that I hear nothing but good things about but I haven't met anyone who's read her. But is it good?
TB: Yeah, it is good. She's very funny.
GM: I still intend to, one day, pick up a Sarah Vowell book.
TB: They have great careers because they get to get speaking gigs. She's like a rock star now.
GM: What's your ultimate goal in comedy? A lot of comics want to write movies or...
TB: I mean, I'm always a standup before I'm anything else. But I'd like to do some film work. And I like to do acting. I'd like to make a film.
GM: You've been involved in a couple.
TB: I've been in some sort of independent films. I was in Road Trip. That was the biggest movie I was in.
GM: I didn't see that one.
TB: And I was in Pootie Tang. I don't know if you saw that.
GM: No, I didn't.
TB: Louis C.K. wrote it. I guess he talked about that. Yeah, those are my major motion pictures.
GM: Are you a sitcom-y guy?
TB: Not really. If I could do something like an HBO sitcom... But I've done guest-starring roles.
GM: You've had a lot of work on some quality TV shows.
TB: Yeah. I like to do good shit. I mean, sometimes just for the experience, you gotta do something... I
haven't done a whole lotta shit that I'm embarrassed about. Except on stage, maybe.