"Sometimes you do interviews and they don’t even know who you are and didn’t Google you and have just been assigned to interview you and there’s no real interest in talking to you. It’s just an annoying conversation that’s a waste of your time, you know? And then the article’s going to be terrible, also. I’d rather them just take my bio and preview a show than annoy me with questions that I don’t want to answer and they don’t care to ask even to begin with."
– Todd Barry
Guy MacPherson: Todd Barry.
Todd Barry: Hey, how’s it going?
GM: It’s Guy, how are you?
TB: Good, how you doing?
GM: Good, thanks. Thanks for doing this on such short notice.
GM: How many people have come up to you saying, “Hey, I heard you came out on WTF”?
TB: You know, people do make that joke a lot.
GM: As a joke, but I mean seriously.
TB: I think some people are serious and then some people are doing it… I made a mistake of correcting someone and then they made it obvious that they were fucking with me. It’s hard to tell if they were joking but it is amazing that just based on the same first name…
GM: Because you guys are so similar otherwise.
TB: I know, we look exactly alike.
GM: Yeah, same vocal inflections. So, coming back to Vancouver. Finally. You know, I thought you were going to be a festival regular but it’s been a while.
TB: I think it’s been maybe just a couple of years. I don’t know what kept me from it last year.
GM: But certainly the invitation was offered.
TB: Probably, yeah. I don’t know what happened last year, but nothing controversial.
GM: You’re just coming for a day or two, aren’t you?
TB: I’m coming the 15th, 17th and 18th. I have to bail. I have to fly down to Los Angeles to go to this movie premiere for a movie I’m in.
GM: Oh, lah-di-dah.
TB: I know, I know.
GM: Which movie?
TB: It’s called Wanderlust.
GM: Who’s in that?
TB: David Wayne directed, and Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rud. I just have a tiny part but I thought it would be smart to go to the premiere.
GM: Smart because it’ll get you more work?
TB: I don’t know. You know, probably it won’t do anything for me. But it just seemed like I should go. They invited me at the last minute. I found a way to do both things.
GM: Did you ever train to be an actor or are you just a natural?
TB: (chuckles) Yeah, I’m just… I mean, I took some classes in college but I mean the parts I get aren’t exactly… there’s not a lot of range in them. I’m just always a jerk.
GM: But you get a lot of them.
TB: I get a decent amount.
GM: Did the role in The Wrestler get you more jobs? Because that was pretty high profile.
TB: It didn’t get me… I mean, I thought there might be a flood of offers coming in but it didn’t really… I guess it… I mean, I can’t remember now but I don’t remember it getting me this overwhelming amount of offers. A lot of people saw it and a lot of you’d want to see it saw it. Does that make sense?
GM: Yeah, yeah. Was that a straight audition or was the director a fan?
TB: I know Darren Aronofsky and I just ran into him at a restaurant and he kinda said, “I might have something for you.” He just basically offered it to me but then I had to go in to read I guess for the people who were giving him money, the producers. So I did an audition with him and the producers but right there at the audition he just stopped me and said, “I’ll see you on the set.” So it was a three-minute audition. I mean, it doesn’t always go that way, obviously.
GM: Because sometimes you don’t get the part.
TB: Yeah, sometimes I don’t get the part. (chuckles)
GM: Do any of the parts you get require a range?
TB: I seem to, like I said, get a lot of wise-assy parts.
GM: I wonder why.
TB: (chuckles) But I imagine I could do other stuff if someone gave me a chance. But there’s a lot of people who are… I never assume or expect to get any parts ever in anything. There are many people going for the same part and a lot of them are better than me.
GM: Could you see yourself emoting and crying like Patton had to do?
TB: I auditioned for… what was it called?... Serious Man for a part of a guy who was really unhinged. It wasn’t the best audition I’ve ever done. But if I had to, I imagine I could.
GM: I’ve always thought a great job would be to be a character actor where you’re not inundated, people kinda know you but they’re not sure from where, and constantly working.
TB: Yeah. I mean, I’m mainly a comedian but it’s nice to get these little parts to break it up a little bit.
GM: Do you have dreams to take a lead?
TB: Uh… I don’t… If something came up. I guess I’m not aggressively going for that but I also don’t know that anyone’s going to hand me that any time soon.
GM: I follow you on Twitter.
TB: Uh huh.
GM: I have a low tolerance for comedians on Twitter.
GM: I’ve unfollowed most of them.
GM: Including some heroes of mine. But you never disappoint.
TB: Oh really? Okay.
GM: You consistently make me laugh.
TB: Oh, good. I have been unfollowed by people. I’m sure not everyone agrees with you. But that’s good.
GM: There’s sort of a meta-level to the way you’re using it. Like, you’re using it, you’re being funny, but you’re making fun of those who use it…
TB: Yeah. Probably I am, yeah. I try to just… Yeah, I can’t take it too seriously, but I mean it is fun.
GM: I saw today you were in a coffee shop.
TB: Yeah, I do a lot of coffee shop tweets.
GM: Something hits you and you…
TB: Yeah, it’s the kind of thing where it’s probably not going to be turned into anything I could put in my act so you might as well put it out there. You get this instant sort of curiosity as to whether it’s going to hit.
GM: Like being retweeted?
TB: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s sort of like just being able to do a little show whenever you want.
GM: It’s kinda of like your act when you do crowd work. That might not be something you keep in your act but it’s hilarious in the moment.
TB: Right, right. There are things that work nicely on Twitter.
GM: Those trending topics you participate in: I’ve never followed a trend but do some people get pissed off because they’re serious about it and you’re taking it literally?
TB: People seem to like that I do that, but at the same time there are people that don’t get it. It seems to be popular with teens. They seem to really get into it. Someone told me at Twitter that they like… BET releases a lot of these trending topics so it’s a lot of young black folks that get into it. And annoying white guys like me.
GM: Has Twitter helped you sell tickets?
TB: I imagine it has. People have come up to me and said they found out about the show… When I announce a show you can see if it’s retweeted a lot, then people… It’s an incredibly simple way to just let people know. You have to do it a lot, though.
GM: Did you take to it immediately? I resisted it for the longest time.
TB: No, I didn’t. I didn’t quite get what it was and it seemed silly. And then, I don’t know, at some point I started exploring it more and realized it was fun and sort of found my own way to do it. That was fun for me.
GM: I’m sure I’ve asked you before, but how old were you when you started comedy?
TB: Twenty-three, I think.
GM: Before that, were you a naturally shy guy?
TB: Yeah. I think I still am. But I think a lot of comedians and entertainers in general are. Yeah. Yes.
GM: On stage, I guess you’re overcompensating for being shy. You’re cocky.
TB: Yeah, it’s all bullshit.
GM: Yeah, but it takes some nerve and some balls to take your time on stage.
TB: Yeah, it’s not the sure-fire money way to do it. But yeah, it’s worked for me.
GM: Because it’s who you are. It’s your voice. I guess it comes with years of experience that you’re so in the moment and able to go with whatever’s thrown at you. Like the crowd work stuff.
TB: That I just do because, I don’t know, I just get bored or something or someone intrigues me in the crowd, or both.
GM: You’re so good at it, too. Did that take a while to develop?
TB: I don’t know when I started doing it. I can’t remember when I realized that it was fun to do. I probably didn’t do a lot at the beginning, but maybe I did. I don’t know. I honestly don’t remember.
GM: It’s all a blur.
TB: Yeah, it is.
GM: I’ve heard you on a couple podcasts. You’re not in the rotation – it seems to be the same seven guests over and over.
TB: I think I’ve done a lot of the big ones.
GM: Oh yeah, but a lot of them have the same guests over and over again.
TB: That probably has to do with, also, I don’t live in Los Angeles.
GM: Do you listen to podcasts?
TB: You know what, I don’t listen as much as I should. I just haven’t gotten into the groove. I listen to Maron’s a few times but it’s not in my routine. I should because I’m sure I’d like some of them.
GM: Would you ever do one yourself?
TB: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it. But like with anything I just want to have an idea as opposed to just… I kind of want to figure out an angle that’s not… A lot of comedians seem to just interview each other, which is fine but I feel like there’s enough of that. Unless it’s just different because I’m doing it and I bring whatever I bring to it.
GM: So a format where you might have comedians as guests, but not interview them. Like Who Charted?
TB: Or maybe not have comedians. Maybe have people other than comedians. But then that becomes where do I find these people? And it’s a lot of work.
GM: Interview strangers.
TB: I was thinking of that, as well. But I’m not really good at going up to strangers. I mean, I can do it on stage but I’m not going to walk up to someone in a restaurant.
GM: You go to the park and sit on a bench.
TB: Or the park. (pause) Maybe I’ll do it.
GM: You should. I would listen. And I only regularly listen to Maron’s. The others just depending on who’s on.
TB: Yeah, he’s done a really good job.
GM: Yeah, he has. You’ve known Marc many years, right?
TB: Yeah, yeah.
GM: Twenty years ago would you have guessed that he would be the guy that brings the community together? Because he was sort of a divisive figure. Could you have imagined that then that he’d be this generous figure?
TB: Yeah, I know what you’re saying, but he is skilled at interviewing.
GM: Oh, yeah, totally.
TB: But I’m sure he’s even a little divisive on that show. I’m sure he would not deny that. But he’s really good. He also goes outside the circle of the usual comedians, which I think is good.
GM: Some people just look for the big names they like, but I get just as much from the other ones.
TB: Yeah, because you hear a side to them you’ve never… You just always hear an act from people.
GM: You gotta wonder about the future of podcasts, too.
TB: Yeah, I never know. Like, people ask me to do them and I’m like, should I do this? Are four people listening to this or 50,000 people listening to this? But I’m sure it’s just like anything where some are going to get phased out. I mean, not everyone’s just going to have the energy to keep doing it, I think.
GM: You’re still in New York, but I associate you with that L.A. crowd. It seems everyone’s moved to L.A. What has stopped you from doing that?
TB: Not everyone’s moved there. I’m still here, Louis C.K.’s still here… There’s still some people here. I don’t know. I guess I just wanna live in New York. That’s not the best answer but it’s the answer.
GM: Would you move?
TB: If there was something I really wanted to do. I don’t hate going out there. I still like going out there. And the weather is a lot better. I don’t think I want to be driving every day, though. But that’s just the usual L.A./New York thing.
GM: I read one of your thousands of interviews online. A lot of people in the L.A. scene like to knock comedy clubs, how soul-destroying they are, nobody wants to go there, how cheesy they are. It’s a business for some owners rather than an artistic venue. But you were saying they’re not all like that.
TB: Well, they’re not all like that, but I’m trying to avoid them as much as possible. It’s just a different… I’d rather go to a place and do one show for people who want to see me as opposed to… When you go to a comedy club quite often you sort of feel like you’re working for them. They’ll hand you a bunch of press to do, whether it’s good press or bad press. Like, “This country music station will put all our comedians on.” Whether or not it’s even worthwhile for you to do that, they don’t care.
GM: Do you have to? Could you say no?
TB: Yeah, you kinda have to. That’s the thing. I mean, there’s times where I’ve resisted or questioned it and then they call your agent and they claim that the show didn’t do well because you didn’t go to this light rock station and sleepwalk through an interview. But I understand why they want publicity. I don’t know, it’s just a little less like an event when you… But there are some really good comedy clubs.
GM: What about that Paul F. Tompkins model where you get a certain number of people in a city, then he goes and plays it?
TB: Yeah, I think that’s a smart thing to do because he gauges interest and creates a little hype before the show even happens, which I think is smart. But for the past few years I’m starting to do more music venues and just trying to make sure they set it up well for comedy. You might not play to as many people because you’re not there for four nights but you’re also not playing to bachelorette parties and people who’ve just been given free tickets. I’d rather play for a smaller crowd than have them just start sending an email to people who are on their mailing list saying come see Todd, and then have them hate me.
GM: How do you get those music venue gigs? You set them up yourself?
TB: Yeah, or I have an agent who does that, who kinda specializes in that kind of thing. Those are good but you have to sort of make sure that they know that it’s not a rock show.
GM: No strobe lights.
TB: Yeah. But they’re usually pretty amenable to it.
GM: You’re a stickler in your interviews. What do you think of them in general? You do lots of shitty ones and some fantastic like this one.
TB: Yes. Yeah, I turn down a lot of interviews. If I’m going to a place where I need to sell tickets and I think it’ll help, I’ll do it. Or if it’s someone like you who I know who’s not going to annoy me that much…
GM: Thank you.
TB: I’m joking. But yeah, I’ll do them, but sometimes you do interviews and they don’t even know who you are and didn’t Google you and have just been assigned to interview you and there’s no real interest in talking to you. It’s just an annoying conversation that’s a waste of your time, you know? And then the article’s going to be terrible, also. I’d rather them just take my bio and preview a show than annoy me with questions that I don’t want to answer and they don’t care to ask even to begin with.
GM: You get either the really mundane questions like, “Where do you get your ideas from?” or…
TB: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that kind of thing. Or “What’s your comedy like?” The worst question is “What can we expect from your show?”, which is just the most generic… And it’s just a dumb question to ask someone who just kinda goes up there and… It’s like, you know what a comedian does. It’s not like it’s going to be pyro on this tour or something.
GM: There’s going to be juggling in the middle…
TB: Yeah. I mean, and also why would you review any of that if you’re… It’s just… I had someone recently from a college paper who sounded like she was 11 and she was like, “What’s your comedy like?” And at some point I go, “Did you look at a YouTube clip?” She goes, “Oh, I didn’t have time.” To look at a YouTube clip for an interview that had been set up weeks in advance. And then you just get angry and go what is this doing for me?
GM: If she was 11 then maybe it would be okay.
TB: (chuckles) Then it would be like it was nice that I let an 11-year-old interview me.
GM: I know you like email interviews. Our paper has a policy against them. We’re not allowed to do them. What’s your ratio of email to phoners?
TB: I go back and forth on that. If it’s something I think is going to be… My best interviews, I think, are ones where I do that but then I might spend two hours answering questions. It depends on how high profile it is. If it’s a school paper or something and I think I can burn the interview out in ten minutes, I’d rather do that. But sometimes they’ll send me 20 questions and I’ll answer seven of them, delete the others and send it back to them. I think it works that way. I think it’s better for both parties involved.
GM: As I say, we’re not allowed to conduct them that way. It might come from the news side because with politicians, for example, we don’t know if it’s actually them answering the question or one of their aides.
TB: Okay. I never even thought of that. That’s interesting. But I don’t have anyone that’s going to do that for me.
GM: So podcasts are booming and I’d say comedy is, too. But you’ve been around through various cycles. Do you feel it is, too?
TB: It boomed in the late ’80s and then I think it dropped off a little bit but it’s never gone away. It’s never been like no one’s interested in comedy anymore.
GM: No, not that, but now it seems like way more people are. More people are talking about it, writing about it.
TB: I’m so immersed in comedy that it’s hard for me to know. It’s not like, oh man, people are really interested in comedy now.
GM: Are there more gigs? Or do you figure that’s just a natural evolution in your career?
TB: I’ve been working pretty steadily for a while now. I mean, I get certain things held out but I don’t know that it’s because suddenly people are more into comedy, honestly. Sorry to disagree. But maybe it is. Maybe if I ran a club or something I would be able to answer that.
GM: Are more people trying to do comedy now because of the potential payoff, like with guys like you and Patton and David Cross are getting roles in movies. And there are lots more styles of comedy now, whereas it used to be more jokey-joke or traditional.
TB: I don’t think there’s any more styles than there used to be. There was Andy Kaufman, who was quite huge. There were all sorts of people. Rip Taylor. There’s always been a variety of comedians, I think, that have done a variety of things.
GM: If you’re just going to disagree with everything I say…
TB: I’m not being a contrarian.
GM: Okay, Todd. Thanks a lot.
TB: Cool, man. I’ll see you there.