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Stand-up Fri Jan 18 2013

Interview: Comedian Todd Barry

comedian Todd BarryBy Doug Rapp

Todd Barry is a comedian who comedy nerds know and the casual fan might recognize from his acting on "Louie" or as the prickly grocery store manager in "The Wrestler." He's recorded four albums, and the title of the first one — Medium Energy — sums up his stage presence. His comedy has been described as dry, deadpan, concise, at best put out, subdued. Barry's always done some crowd work, including on his last special, "Super Crazy." Now he's on a short tour doing crowd work exclusively — no material, just back and forth with the audience. That's a bold move for a comedian who usually tells tight jokes on mundane topics without a word out of place. If any town can appreciate a comedian improvising an entire show with the audience, it's Chicago. Barry will be performing at Schubas on Wednesday, Jan. 23, and Thursday, Jan. 24. Both shows are at 9pm. Tickets are $14.

I emailed the New York-based comedian a few questions and he kindly replied.

You've done a bit of crowd work before, and there's some on your last special, "Super Crazy." Why did you decide to do whole tour of crowd work and why now?

I don't know. I guess I was worried about having a special out, then going on the road and still doing some of those jokes. I've always done crowd work in my shows. It seemed like an interesting idea to do a whole tour of it. I'm scared and excited about the whole thing.

A lot of comedians have a wordier, storytelling style that seems suited for crowd work. But your style seems very measured with an economy of words. How does that translate when you don't know what you're going to say next?

You don't need to be wordy to do crowd work, you just need to be quick on your feet. Anyone can say a lot of words. And If you get a good conversation going, it tends to eat up a lot of time.

How have you been preparing for this tour? Have you been doing any all crowd-work shows around New York or anything?

I haven't really prepared. Not sure how I could do that, actually. Probably best to just dive in.

Chicago is known for its improv comedy. Have you ever tried improv or would you?

There was an Improv troupe here that used to book a comic to do a set, then join them for some improv. I did that a couple of times. Not easy.

You did a bit about the Kansas City airport's lack of food options and how the airport's PR team responded on Twitter. Any suggestions for O'Hare airport (or Midway)?

O'Hare is a stressful airport, but they do have those automatic toilet seat covers that disintegrate after each use. Such a great idea, but I've never seen them anywhere else.

You've performed at many different venues around Chicago, but why are you at Schubas, which is more of a music club, this time?

I've been performing at music venues for years. You throw some chairs down in a music venue and it becomes a comedy venue.


Doug Rapp is a writer and ESL teacher.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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