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Monday, February 1, 2010

Comedian Arj Barker discusses his new CD/DVD, LYAO

Posted By on Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 4:06 PM

Arj.jpg
Last week, comic Arj Barker released his debut comedy album, LYAO as a CD/DVD and standalone DVD. The culmination of a 15-year career in stand-up, it finds Barker providing observational jokes about everything from gay marriage to scientology. His sarcastic style of humor and ability to naturally portray a dumb guy really distinguishes his comedic style. Perhaps most famous for his role as Dave, Jemaine and Bret’s dim-witted friend on the HBO show Flight of the Conchords, Barker also co-wrote The Marijuana-logues with Doug Benson and Tony Camin. He phoned in this afternoon from his Northern California home to talk about the new CD/DVD, whose title stands for “laugh your ass off.”

So what inspired you to name all the songs on your new album/DVD with letters?
Just to keep with the theme of the title, which means “laugh your ass off,” which I changed from “laugh my ass off.” The idea of the DVD is that you can laugh your ass off watching it.

Yes, because you have already laughed your ass off.
I don’t even have an ass to laugh off. Then if I was laughing my head off, I’d just be a torso. It’s keeping with that theme of texting and internet abbreviations. We basically hired a 13-year-old girl to do the DVD design.

You make jokes about controversial issues such as gay marriage but your sense of humor isn’t likely to set people off. Talk about how you address such material.
I got asked that recently. They said, “You talk about these subjects but you don’t make it offensive.” The only thing I can think, if you look at the joke, the majority of the time those jokes are that I’m a complete idiot. I don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s what the humor is. I act like I’m going to tell you like it is but I’m clearly backward so I think the joke doesn’t end up being that gay people are unnatural. It’s more that I’m backward and stupid, if anything. The idea for that joke came from when I was reading this book Everything you Want to Know About Sex, which was a big deal in the ‘70s. In that book, it has a chapter that says homosexuality can be cured. It wasn’t that long ago that the line of thinking was mainstream. But the joke usually just ends up being that I’m an idiot and no one has a problem with that.

I like your bit about the pirates. I think it’s even more fascinating that it doesn’t appear that joke will get old anytime soon.
That’s a real situation. I actually bought a book in the airport the other day. It was called Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. It talks about our perception of pirates and is based on accounts of actual pirates who wrote and were captured. A lot of the romantic side is fabricated. They’re just these mean robbers on the ocean who have killed lots of people.

How’d you end up picking the Pantages Theatre in Minnesota as the site to record your album/DVD?
They asked where I wanted to record it and there are a lot of great cities. New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Austin. I got mad love for Cleveland. For some reason, I just picked it. The audiences there are great. The crowds are consistent and courteous and they laugh hard and loud. I had performed there before with The Marijuana-logues years prior and that was just how it turned out.

I like the intro in which you tell a few jokes about Minnesota and the cold and the lakes. Do you come up with jokes about the local culture wherever you go?
I don’t necessarily do that as a rule. You may not have a joke to say. You might open with a current affair joke which is another way to get people’s attention or just a great joke. One joke I always wanted to do was to go up and not do anything and look at your watch and check your phone and say, “as if you guys start working the second you get to work” There are so many jokes like that, I figured it was best to leave it alone. I try not to do anything as a rule. You don’t want to be too set. There’s not one way to do stand-up. It’s an open opportunity to try different things. I mix it up.

I read that your mom was an artist and your dad was an engineer. How did your upbringing lend itself to a career in comedy?
Dude, I don’t know. Our family enjoyed humor together. We used to watch Monty Python. I don’t want to make my dad out to be a serious scientific guy because he has a good sense of humor. Who can understand why we are the way we are. I spent my whole career trying to figure that stuff out. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. I did from an early age discover that it was fun to make people laugh.

You’ve been doing stand-up for over a decade now, is that right?
About 15 years.

How have the shows evolved?
I’ve become more performance oriented. When I started, I was almost like a talking head. Timing is always a factor, but I wasn’t putting much more into it. Now, I do shows in theaters and overseas and to just stand there and talk would not only just be mundane for the audience but for me as a performer. It’s more fun to be dynamic and use a fair bit of the stage and play different characters. You might call it selling the joke. I like the craft of becoming a better salesman. If nothing else, it creates more of a challenge for me. It’s like adding color or making the jokes three-dimensional. I like it. It wasn’t a conscious decision.

How’d you end co-writing The Marijuana-logues?
I came up with the name but I was just goofing around. I said we should do a show called The Marijuana-logues. I mentioned it to Tony Camin and he said it was a good idea. I think Doug Benson was eavesdropping and he said, “Let’s do it, you guys.” He was instrumental in organizing us. We all had pot jokes in our shows and we made up some new ones and based it on the format of the Vagina-logues and there you go.

Is that character you play in Flight of the Conchords close to who you really are and do you ad-lib your lines?
All the characters are to some degree sort of exaggerated, cartoonish versions of the real people. None of us are as stupid as we are on the show, especially me and Murray. We’ve been portrayed unfairly. There are elements. The guys wrote the characters of Dave and based it on the perception of me because when I first them in New Zealand, I was a younger guy and in another country and wanted to meet some chicks. I might have been more like that guy then than I am now. That’s funny to see what they come up. The majority of that stuff is on the paper. We did rip more in some scenes than others. They’d get the script down and if there was time, they’d say just have fun and try something different. Jemaine would really enjoy that and he’s quite an actor and he’d throw out something different and you’d have to react.

The last episode seems like it was the final show.
As it stands, it was. But it was good times. The original Office only went two seasons and as far as I’m concerned, that show is close to perfection.

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