Robert Baril’s strategy for becoming a good comedian was pretty solid: watch comics that you find funny, and do what they do.
For Baril, that meant emulating some of the great political comedians of his generation, including Dennis Miller, Colin Quinn, and Jon Stewart. And he did it very well. “The comedians I idolized never really talked about themselves,” Baril explains. “They just did jokes about current events and what was happening in politics. So I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
It worked for a while, and between his hot political takes and his bachelor lifestyle, Baril was able to cook up enough material for his debut album, Sex and Politics, which was released two years ago.
What a difference two years can make. These days, Baril is older and wiser, and far more comfortable talking about who he is as a person. “Eventually I realized that I wasn’t really telling jokes in my own voice,” he says. “I was doing jokes that I thought the guys I was a fan of would do. It could have been any comedian doing that material.”
This weekend, he’ll be recording his sophomore album, Enlist Now, at Sisyphus. He still has plenty of politically charged stuff, but he’s also talking about more personal topics, including his grandkids. “I got engaged to a woman who is a grandma,” he explains.
This is the premise of a bit he started doing roughly two years ago when he started dating his now-fiancee. “She’s got young grandkids, so I’m sort of the acting step-grandpa.”
While major changes to his life were definitely a driving factor in changes to the tone of his comedy, Baril’s personal journey and ability to open up more was a result of something far less positive: “Bombing. Bombing definitely made me rethink things,” he says flatly about failing onstage. “Turns out that doing jokes about policies around trans people in the military or gay marriage don’t always connect with the crowd at a bar in Grand Marais. So I realized, well, maybe I need to throw in some jokes about hunting or something that is a little more relatable.”
By exploring his personal life, Baril says he’s been able to better read audiences and adapt. Plus, it’s allowed him to embrace his inner grandpa. “I’ve always been a grandpa at heart,” he admits. “I could spend all day drinking coffee, reading the newspaper, watching World War II documentaries, and complaining about things. This really isn’t going to be that much of an adjustment for me.”
For the album recording, he’ll have local talent Mo Yaqub opening, a Sisyphus regular who is on the cusp of a breakout year himself. Some surprise guests might show up as well. While he isn’t sure about the timeline, Baril is hoping to get this album pushed out fast, before today’s current events become history.
“I’ve got some Trump stuff that I really want to release, because the way things are going who knows who is even going to be working in the White House by the time this comes out,” he says. “But I’m trying to focus on topics that are a little more broad, so that they’ll have a longer lifespan and people won’t have to remember who Brett Kavanaugh or Michael Cohen is.”
And as for his future? Baril seems to have a pretty good theme in mind.
“The next album will just be Step Great-Grandpa, and then Step Great-Great Grandpa will just be me moaning into a microphone.”
IF YOU GO:
7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, February 16