Arj Barker is a rock star — a rock star comedian, actor, and writer. I was introduced to him late in the game through the HBO comedy series Flight of the Conchords. My husband, however, can repeat some of Barker’s earliest lines from when he started comedy in the Bay Area. Barker will be back on his stomping grounds for four shows at Cobb’s Comedy Club Feb 9-12. His improvisational style makes every show a bit different, so you can go at least twice to get your fill while he’s in town.
Ruth Gerson: How do you write, is it a daily discipline, or more sporadic bursts of inspiration?
Arj Barker: I wish there was a secret to writing great jokes, but if there is, I ain’t learnt it yet! I think I write best not when I sit down and try to, but after I give up — then a good idea is more likely to come to me. But the act of sitting and trying to come up with something, no matter how useless it may seem at the time, seems to prep me subconsciously to spot a goody later.
RG: What do you find to be the most challenging part of your job? What’s the good stuff?
AB: It’s very difficult to keep coming up with strong, original material! In the day-to-day, its seems to accumulate at a snail’s pace, a line here, a line there. But eventually you say ‘oh shit, I just wrote five new minutes in only four months!’
The best feeling is when you come up with a new premise and you just know it’s going to work. Even when it doesn’t work, you still had that happy feeling for a few hours until the show, and nobody can take that away from you.
RG: You bring joy to a lot of people. Do you feel a sense of accomplishment? What are you most proud of?
AB: I’m glad you think so. I guess I do feel happy that I’ve carved out a little career doing something pretty fun and arguably constructive in this world. I don’t feel too proud because pride cometh before the fall. That’s what they say anyway. I always thought summer cometh before the fall, but it’s a crazy ass world we live in, and all is not what it seems.
RG: If you could give instructions to your audience — to make a show great — what would they be?
AB: I wish more people would wear hats to comedy shows. Not something elaborate or too elevated. But just a nice, decent hat. Is that too much to ask? I work so hard to do a good show, it seems like the least people could do.
RG: What could potentially screw up a show?
AB: There are two things I can’t stand. The first is when people in the audience are talking to each other and I can hear them while I’m performing. If I can hear you, then so can many people in the audience. It’s totally unacceptable. You should only whisper if you need to communicate. There’s no gray area here. If I can hear you, you’re being rude. The second thing is when someone releases an agitated wolverine in the front row, and it starts scratching and biting people horrifically. I hate that probably the worst of all.
RG: How do you deal with rudeness and wolverines?
AB: In the first instance, I will politely point out that they are being to loud and ask them quite nicely to stop. If they persist, I will ask again, more pointedly. On the third offense, I will tell them they cannot stay if they persist, and on the fourth I will ask the staff at the venue to remove them. Mind you, this isn’t done for my comfort so much as to insure that the rest of the audience can enjoy the show they paid to see.
In the case of the wolverine, I just run like everyone else.
RG: What’s ahead?
AB: I’m in BC, Canada right now, on a tour which combines comedy shows at night and snowboarding during the day. Its called ‘Snowed In.’ I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was most looking forward to getting up tomorrow and hitting the hill. But on a deeper level, and in the long-term, I’m looking forward to Season 5 of Breaking Bad.