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Deadpan Laughs

Todd Barry, Club Congress, May 15, 2012

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Todd Barry doesn't like looking back.

He has good reason to do so; after all, he's having the kind of career that most standup comedians would kill for. But instead, he just keeps moving forward: acting, touring, filming standup specials and even making it a point to participate in trending topics on Twitter.

A recent sampling: "I will now participate in the trending topic #ThingsWeDoAtTheMovies: point to actor on screen and say 'I auditioned for that, pretty fucked up I didn't get the part.'"

Somewhere in there, he also finds the time to post odd things on his website—mundane quotes about mundane topics, as well as a collection of receipts, complete with commentary such as this, for an item marked "pot for two": "When Todd received this receipt at an Manhattan tea shop, he got really excited for a certain segment of his fan base: filthy, disgusting potheads."

That's his style: deadpan, intelligent and absurdist observations. (On an album of his, 2004's Falling Off the Bone, he claims that Ohio is the birthplace of anal sex—in 1913, and that it's "truly the only all-American form of sex.") It works for him, thanks to his low-key demeanor.

He started doing standup at open-mic nights in '87, a year after graduating from the University of Florida.

Barry, who comes to Tucson next week for a show at Club Congress, is hard-pressed to name any real comedic influences, aside from those he's worked alongside in the New York comedy scene, though the comics he listened to growing up provide some clues.

"When I was a kid, I listened to a lot of the same people everyone else did: Steve Martin, George Carlin, people like that," Barry said. "I used to watch the talk shows too, like Merv Griffin and The Tonight Show, and see some of the younger comics, like David Letterman, way before he had a show."

Seven years into his career, Barry got the opportunity to perform on Letterman's show. Since then, he's toured clubs nationally, done performances on the late-night TV circuit, and filmed two Comedy Central half-hour specials, with a full-hour special set to air July 21 on Comedy Central.

He's also worked a number of international comedy specials, such as Montreal's Just for Laughs, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Ireland's Cat Laughs Comedy Festival.

Even with those to his credit, Barry doesn't like to think that he's truly made it.

"You never want to think that you've completely arrived, or you get lazy," he said. "Though I guess there was a point where I realized that I didn't have to work a day job. That was a good feeling."

Barry has also dabbled in acting. He's been seen on TV, including Chappelle's Show, Louie and Flight of the Conchords. His films include Louis C.K.'s Pootie Tang, the long-lost Mitch Hedberg production Los Enchiladas! and 2009's The Wrestler, in which he played the deli boss of the character played by Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke.

"Usually, I get things when my friends are doing something—Louis C.K.'s put me in a lot of his stuff," Barry said, noting that he's known C.K. for about 20 years, having come up together in the New York comedy scene.

He also had a role in the recent film Wanderlust, directed by Stella alum David Wain and starring Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston.

"That was a lot of fun," Barry said. "I got to fly down to Atlanta for a few days and work with those guys, playing around and going off-script."

That's how Barry describes most of his acting work—an opportunity for him to go out and enjoy something else.

As observant and wry as he is when performing, he doesn't seem to be as openly introspective offstage. For one thing, he doesn't have much to say about his work, outside of mentioning that he simply enjoys what he does.

"I don't like to say that I'm proud of anything, really," Barry said. "It's just cocky, I think."

He has that right, of course. But with a résumé that includes being named one of the Top 50 comedians in New York, a Jury Award from the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, tremendous praise from comedy hit-maker Ricky Gervais, and the fact that his 2001 album Medium Energy was called one of the best comedy albums of the decade, it's probably fair for him to be a bit cocky.

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