Moontower Extra: More Talk With Todd Barry
Veteran comedian, actor, and voice actor Todd Barry is staying plenty busy at this year's Moontower Comedy Festival: five appearances between Wednesday and Saturday, including two Friday. Here's more material from his interview with the Chronicle.
Austin Chronicle: In addition to being characterized as deadpan, dry, snarky, economical, and refined, you were described in the New York Times last year as being “the Laurence Olivier of sarcastic twerps with inflated egos and few lines.” How did that strike you?
Todd Barry: Uh, I’m sure the guy enjoyed writing it. That’s very fancy writing. It didn’t particularly offend me. I liked being compared to Laurence Olivier …
AC: It seems like a backhanded compliment…
TB: Yeah, there were a couple of them in that article. But overall I guess it was a good article.
AC: You’ve mocked yourself on stage for your perceived place in the comedy food chain: juxtaposing your status with Chris Rock’s and Jerry Seinfeld’s, for instance. Is there a part of you that every truly yearned for that level of fame, or is belittling your own career done purely for laughs and not to be read into?
TB: I’m fairly self-deprecating … (but) I don’t belittle my career because I’m somewhat successful. Yeah, I mean, if it happens, it happens. I don’t know that it’s gonna happen or if I’m gonna be a huge arena act or a big theatre act.
AC: Divisiveness can be great fodder for comedy. Are you ever tempted to cross over and wade into politics or social issues with your material? Or would doing so seem like a contrivance or clash with the style you’re know for?
TB: I try to stay away from politics because I sort of have an aversion to anything that even approaches preachy. I have an aversion quite often for celebrities to shit their mouths off, because I feel like a lot of them just know, like, five percent of what they’re talking about; and I know less than that, so. I try to stay away. I guess there’s certain social issues that I might be able to weigh in on, but I always think it’s gotta be funny, because occasionally you’ll see someone just say the right thing, but it’s still supposed to be a comedy show.
Overall, political comedy isn’t my thing. But if something struck me and I think I could make it actually funny, I would attempt it. That urge just doesn’t hit me very often. But I wish it did, because I would love to have more sources.
AC: As comedians go, I’d imagine you’re secure enough with yourself at this point, but when was the last time you felt you had a bad show? And how did you cope with it?
TB: A bad show that was my fault or a bad show that wasn’t my fault?
AC: A bad show that you felt was your fault.
TB: I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve had one where I’ve been disgusted with myself. But I guess I’ve had a few lately. Not terribly interesting to talk about, but where I just felt a little disjointed, not really on the mark; sort of, not really in a well-paced show. But sometimes that has to do with maybe trying some new stuff out.
AC: I had Marc Maron in mind with that question. He’s the kind of guy – and he says so on WTF – that if he feels like he’s bombed, he starts chastising himself and feeling pretty down. I’m wondering, if you feel like you had a bad show: Do you just brush it off or the opposite, where you’re cursing at yourself?
TB: If I really think that I just did a bad show that was my fault, I would want to be hard on myself for that. Otherwise, you don’t care; and I want to care.
AC: At the risk of hurting some people’s feelings through omission, who are some contemporary comics you would pay to see if you weren’t comped all the time?
TB: That’s well-phrased because I always do leave people out. Whenever Doug Stanhope is in New York, I go see him. I crossed paths with him on the road not too long ago, and I just went and watched his whole show. I don’t pay to get in, but, I would pay.
Dave Atell … people who are always gonna surprise you and always do a little something different every show, sort of in the heat of the moment. Who else is great? Maria Bamford’s great. But I would never pay to see anyone. No, I’m joking (laughs) — I know what you mean, though. Brian Regan … I know I’ll leave a lot of people out.
AC: Whether it’s “Todd, the Video Store guy” on Dr. Katz, “Todd,” the bongo player on Flight of the Conchords, or “Todd” on Louie, what makes you so adept at subsuming roles of guys named Todd?
TB: Yeah, I know, I seem to … There was a time I guess on Delocated and Louie [that] I was sort of playing myself on two simultaneous, concurrent running shows. I guess I’m literally playing a heightened version of myself. I guess that should be easy; although that might be more challenging. It could be more challenging to a real actor.
AC: In your experience, is voiceover work more improvisational than people would think?
TB: I guess it would depend on who you’d work with. Generally, when I’ve done it – and I’ve done it with a limited amount of people, and sometimes the same people over and over again – they’ll usually have some plot points they wanna hit, so it’s not like, just go in there and run wild. For example on Dr. Katz, they would have actual lines they’d want me to read pretty much the way they were written, and then they would have an outline, and they got the lines first so they could have that locked in to keep their story in place, but then they would sort of just let you run wild a bit with the story. And a lot of good stuff came from that because it was unscripted – just improv, basically.
AC: How’d you get the part of Mickey Rourke’s boss in The Wrestler? That was a meaty role in a sports drama. How’d that come about?
TB: I know Darren Aronofsky a little bit, and he just had me in mind for it and basically gave it to me. He offered it to me, and then I had to do an audition just for the producers so they could see what they were in for, and he just stopped me in the middle of the audition and said, "See you on the set." It was a lucky break.
I don’t remember exactly how I met him; but through comedy shows, which I’d see him at once in a while, and he’s a neighbor of mine as well.
AC: Do you have any upcoming projects you can talk about?
TB: I might wanna do a podcast … and I bought a microphone, and I have Garage Band on my computer. Someone bought me Podcasting for Dummies as a present. So, it’s all there. All the elements are there. I might wanna do that. I don’t know what else I wanna do – just do some more shows, write some more jokes.
Todd Barry appears with Matt Bearden on Friday, April 26, 8pm, at the Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th; on the WTF Live podcast Friday, April 26, 9:45pm, at Stateside at the Paramount, 719 Congress; and Saturday, April 27, 10:15pm, at the Velveeta Room, 521 E. Sixth. For more information, visit www.moontowercomedyfestival.com.