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Friday, September 18, 2009

Arj Barker at the Vogue Theatre, September 17

Man, it's the first day of the comedy festival and I'm already exhausted. But I'm here for you.

I went to the Arj Barker show at the Vogue tonight. Last time I saw Arj was back when the comedy fest was just a little teensy festival on Granville Island and he was the only big name. And he wasn't even a big name then. But he was American so what did we know?

I don't remember specifics of that show, but I recall loving it. The guy was flat-out funny and just oozed charm. Not much has changed in that respect. He's just better known now, thanks to his work on Flight of the Conchords.

As much as I love Flight of the Conchords (the duo, as opposed to the TV series), I kind of resent that established acts who have been around a lot longer than a few years, like Barker and Todd Barry, are their sidekicks. Barker and Barry should have their own respective shows.

Tonight, Barker took a while to really click. He kept second-guessing himself on whether we, as Canadians, would understand his set-ups. In a way, it's kind of refreshing that so many American comics assume the rest of the world doesn't pay attention to them, but even if it were true, we can follow along without knowing specifics. Just do the joke and move on. As a preamble to a bit about Obama and the congressman yelling out "You lie!", Barker said, "I don't know how prevalent the news is up here." Then later interrupted himself with, "Do you guys know about this?" Later, he asked, "Is gas expensive up here?"

But once he realized that we got all his references, it was smooth sailing. He practiced some bits for his upcoming Australian tour, talking about his fear of snakes and being told that snakes are just afraid of us as we are of them. "Really? Are snakes up all night Googling Arj Barker?... 'How can I tell the good Arj Barker from the bad Arj Barker?'... 'Will his ankles hurt my fangs?'"

His humour is decidedly silly. He loves to play the over-confidant pseudo-intellectual by constantly mispronouncing words, like putting the hard 'g' in 'paradigm'. I appreciate his backward approach in making a point, too. In portraying someone who sees conspiracies around every corner, he shows how ridiculous they are. Or maybe he's not making any point at all. That's probably more like it. He just likes being absurdly goofy. And it works.

Too bad Barker won't be around for more nights. One of the treats of the festival is seeing comics playing all the venues, big and small. And it's too bad I won't get a chance to interview him. I read in the Province today where he said when he was starting out, he relied more on jokes about his Indian heritage. He does none of that now. Not even a passing reference to his race. These days, it seems that's all anyone talks about so it's refreshing he just gets up there and talks about whatever. It would be great to get his take on that. Maybe one day.

I wish I could say something about Graham Clark and Alicia Tobin, who went on before Barker, but I was distracted by a late-arriving friend and was jumping in and out looking for him. But the crowd was into both of them. That much I could tell, even if the specifics escaped me.

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