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Interview With Comedian Todd Barry

Todd Barry.
Courtesy photo

Todd Barry can best be described as a “comic’s comic” known largely in part for his lackadaisical stage presence and scene stealing appearances in shows like HBO’s Flight of The Conchords and the Oscar nominated film The Wrestler, in which he bested Mickey Rourke in every scene they shared.

Barry’s roots can be traced back to South Florida, where his spent his formative years playing drums for several punk bands and also doubled as a substitute teacher while doing stand up at night. With two half hour specials for Comedy Central and three comedy albums to his credit, Barry can be seen headlining clubs across America, while also doing shows with friends like Louis CK, and Sarah Silverman.

With November marking his 23rd year in stand-up comedy, we take a moment to reflect on Todd Barry’s humble beginnings, his thoughts on Woody Allen and what it was like to roast Chevy Chase on national television.

Growing up, who were some of the first good comedians you can recall seeing?

Todd Barry: I liked Steve Martin, George Carlin, Sam Kinison, Andy Kaufman and Richard Pryor. I remember seeing and loving early TV appearances of Bill Hicks and Dennis Miller. I was lucky enough to see Andy Kaufman live as well as Carlin, Kinison, Leno, and others I can’t remember.

Early in your career, I imagine it began part-time? What else did you do for money on the side?

Mainly temp jobs and substitute teaching.

At what point did being a comedian become a full-time job?

I wish I can remember the year. I could probably figure that out somehow, but it would take hours. I’m guessing ten years ago? Maybe more?

Watching a special on comedians, I learned that (at least early on in their careers) comedians will perform multiple shows (up to 5-7) a night. Was that ever part of your world?

It’s still part of my world in New York. Not usually five in a night, but sometimes. On the road I’ll often do two in a night, and occasionally three, which is too many.

Just saw “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But We’re Afraid to Ask” for the first time last night, which made me think; how is Woody Allen perceived in the comedy world? Are you a fan?

I’m a fan and I’d say he’s pretty well-respected. I haven’t seen all of his recent work, though.

Earlier I watched your short, “Borrowing Saffron”, which was great, and also co-starred, to my surprise, Coach McGuirk… err Jon Benjamin. Was that for a short festival?

I just decided to do it for no real reason, just to see how it would turn out. I guess it came out okay, but I can see why someone might not like it.

I saw your bit on the ‘Roast of Chevy Chase’ special on Comedy Central…

I had lots of fun doing that.

So how awkward was Chevy Chase? He was constantly frowning and writing things down… was that anywhere nearly as uncomfortable in person as watching it on TV?

It was definitely more awkward than the final cut. I was hoping they’d release the entire thing, but I don’t think that is gonna happen.

You’ve appeared as a regular or guest in some of my favorite cartoons: Home Movies, Dr. Katz, Space Ghost… Aside from Aqua Teen, all those cartoons have been cancelled! Why do cartoons with GOOD comedic writing get such low priority/attention?

I don’t know that they do, actually. Dr. Katz was on for six seasons, I think. And Home Movies was on for awhile.

You’ve been a guest on Tough Crowd; was that enjoyable? It’s hard to tell, as a viewer.

I always had fun on that show. It really depended on whether I was on with people who would let me get a word in. I think it may return in another form.

What shows, if any, do you currently try and catch on television?

I mainly watch non-fiction stuff. I love Bill Maher’s [HBO] show, Investigative Reports, the National Geographic Channel.

Last comedy film you truly enjoyed?

“Kung Fu Hustle,” which I wasn’t expecting to be a comedy, but it was great.