“Back off, Australia’s covered”: an interview with Arj Barker

6 years ago
Til Knowles

American comedian Arj Barker is doing yet another show this year. It’s called “Get In My Head”, and hopefully it’s going to be just as excellent Barker’s previous shows. Insightful, irreverent and hilarious, Barker is both an international act and a staple of the Australian scene. It’s going to be a captivating and ponderous  adventure, as he explains:

“Together we’ll contemplate everything from the social evolution of humanity, to the intriguing and elusive nature of non-sexually derived boners. I’ll even mention fondue at some point, and that’s a promise. So take a load off your mind, and get into mine already!”

We asked him to explain a little further…

ARJ BARKER09-14-5057

Does “Get In My Head” have a central theme? Do you prefer forming a narrative with your comedy, or do you let your jokes stand alone?

This show doesn’t have a central theme, but most of the subjects flow into each other, like the Himalayan tributaries which join up to form the Great River Ganges. Or something like that.

You’ve said previously that you lean more towards written and developed sets rather than improvisation. What’s your writing process like? Do you frequent comedy rooms to test material?

I tend to work on new material at gigs. Even if I’m doing a show I know back and forth, I’ll allow myself to throw in a new idea in the middle somewhere and have some fun with it.

You’ve been doing the Melbourne International Comedy Festival pretty consistently for the past 10 or so years – how have things changed?

Like most comedy festivals around the world, it’s become larger and more international acts are coming out. I think it makes for a better festival and more variety but I sometimes I get afeared from all the competition! So many funny people, and I think, “how can I keep up with that?”

What’s the best MICF experience you’ve had (either onstage or as an observer)?

I really liked partying in my early days of doing the fest. Maybe you ain’t supposed to admit it, but fuck that was fun. I still have a few drinks here and there, but really don’t go big anymore in that department. It’s not good for my brain, so I had to stop. But I miss it sometimes.

What’s the best way to unwind during Fringe and MICF?

I like to play frisbee golf.

At this point, you’re a big name here. What’re your fans like?

I know everyone say’s this but I swear, I have the best fans!! They all seem to have one thing in common: superb taste in comedians. And I respect them for that.

What’s touring like?

Touring can be very tiring and depressing UNLESS you tour with a good pal. Then it’s sometimes still tiring, but always fun. Even being stuck in traffic can be fun with the right person. Friendship is everything!!!

How do you find the Adelaide Fringe crowds compared to the MICF ones?

They tend to be in a different part of the country.

Is your experience here different to your experiences overseas?

Yes, it is. In fact, Australia is the only country where I’m sort of known. There I said it. I can get work in other countries, but the carriage turns into a pumpkin as soon as I leave Oz. That’s not to say I don’t have fun overseas. In fact I still love touring in North America and in Europe, but it’s like I’m at a different stage in my career out there.

You’ve spoken before about the reasons for your success here, and part of it comes from audiences here viewing you as a big deal given your status as an “international act”. What advice do you have for overseas comedians looking to break into the Australian scene?

Back off. It’s covered.

Your schedule’s pretty busy – are there any acts at Fringe or shows at MICF you’ll be making time to see?

I always go watch this guy called Harmon Leon. He’s very different. Sort of deconstructive. I like his show, and he always gives me a free ticket, so it’s a killer deal. Also, I’m excited to see Tripod’s new show.

What’s your favourite televised comedy show at the moment?

I can’t get enough of Metalocalypse. It’s an animated show about the biggest death metal band in the world, called Deathklok. Its simultaneously, stupid, silly, badass, and even moving at times. Mainly the first three though.

Arj Barker will be at the Adelaide Fringe Festival: Fri 13 Feb – Sat 14 Mar 2015, 7pm (no show Mondays) See their website for tickets and information.

He will also be at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival: 26 Mar – 19 April 2015. For tickets and times, check out the MICF website.

Arj’s website: http://www.arjbarker.com

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