Todd Barry: "I don't want to be known as 'the guy who doesn't have an act' or something like that"
For many comedians, the thought of going onstage without any prepared material is the stuff of nightmares. Todd Barry is not one of those comedians. In 2013, the quick-witted standup veteran of over 25 years headed out on what he called the Crowd Work Tour, leaving his jokes at home and relying entirely on passing a microphone around and interacting with audiences. The shows went well, so he did another tour later in the year, this time followed by a camera crew for a documentary that Barry's friend Louis C.K. produced and recently released on his website. The special, the second that C.K. has released by someone other than himself, follows Barry through all seven shows of the tour. It has it all: the good, the bad (mainly people in the audience trying to be funny), and the hilariously awkward, like when he had to stop making fun of an audience member who was not only serving in the military, but had also driven 200 miles to be there.
Barry has decided to do one last Crowd Work Tour, which includes a stop at the Cedar Cultural Center this Wednesday. Dressing Room connected with him ahead of the gig to talk about the two previous Crowd Work Tours, the special, and some of his other roles and projects.
How have the shows been going through the first two tours?
Todd Barry: They've been really fun, especially the second tour where I got a little more used to doing entire shows like that. They've been fun, and I hope they are still fun for this upcoming tour.
Did you decide to do the Crowd Work tour as a way to challenge yourself, or was there another line of thinking?
I don't know, I just like to shake things up and I get a little bored. I try to find an angle to make a tour a little different. I did a tour once where I just played cities I've never played before, and I called it the 'Cities I've Never Played Before Tour' and just knocked off all these cities.
Compared to a normal show, do you find yourself more nervous beforehand?
Well, I'm relaxed because I don't have to prepare anything, but that's also what makes me nervous. So it's a double-edged sword. It doesn't help to be nervous, it's best to just get up there and see what happens.
At the shows do you take volunteers or pick who you want to talk to, or both?
I do both. I pick and then if I run out I see if someone wants to talk to me.
Do you have any suggestions for someone who ends up with the microphone at one of the shows?
Just be cool, I'm not going to be mean. Just give me straight answers. Don't try to be funny yourself, unless you really are funny.
Why are you ending the Crowd Work shows after this tour, do you feel it has run its course?
Yeah, that's one way of putting it. I just want to go back to being a comedian that tells jokes. I don't want to be known as 'the guy who doesn't have an act' or something like that.
Were you already planning to make the Crowd Work Tour special before Louis C.K. offered to produce it?
I was poking around to maybe find someone to pay for it, and then he just happened to call me to say hi, and I told him about this, and right there on the phone he's like, "Will you let me do this?" It was a nice break.
What has the initial reaction been like for the special?
It's been really good, it's the most positive feedback I've gotten on anything I've done in a long time.
Are you going to be making any appearances on the upcoming season of Louie?
Yeah, I will be on Louie, in at least two episodes.
You've been doing your weekly podcast for almost a year now, do you see yourself keeping up that pace?
I don't know. This is the first week where I haven't done one -- I think it's the first week -- but its just too much for me now. I might be a little more sporadic with the podcast.
IF YOU GO:
Todd Barry: The Final Crowd Work Tour
8 p.m. Wednesday, April 16
$17 in advance/$20 day of the show
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