Arj Barker is arguably Australia’s favourite American comedian. In recent years, he has spent more time in our country than his own and has come to understand our culture, perhaps better than we understand it ourselves. We chat to the comedian ahead of his upcoming regional shows.
Hi Arj, thanks for chatting to Forte. Tell us, what made you get into comedy, did you ever have a natural instinct to be funny as a kid?
Yeah I think I was. I think really early on I was, you know, naturally drawn towards using humour to deal with everyday situations in life. I don’t quite know the reason why that is, but that is something that came naturally to me. So trying stand-up comedy was a fairly logical progression.
Could you ever see yourself doing anything other than comedy?
Yeah, sure. I mean, I’m not sure what but definitely having done comedy now for, coming up on three decades, and doing other things along the way. I’m interested in other art forms that aren’t necessarily me trying to be funny, like I love playing music, even interested in a little bit of drawing, photography, film-making, so I find a great satisfaction in being creative, so I could branch out into other areas. I don’t think I would ever become a professional artist, or anything other than comedy but that’s ok, because I just do it because I enjoy it.
What’s your favourite part about performing on stage?
It’s a real thrill when the audience is behind you and your getting, you know, you look out and you see people laughing hysterically, and that’s a real thrill, and it does give you a rush and I think I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s not as big of a rush as it used to be, but it’s more of a steady drift of enjoyment. But it’s not like, oh my god I can’t believe I’m getting laughs you know what I mean? After doing it for quite a long time, just like doing anything, there is a lot of diminish return. You just have to adapt into whatever your reality is and then it suddenly doesn’t become so unique any more, it’s good and bad really.
How do you go about creating new material for shows? Do you ever test them out on people to make sure that they are good enough to make the cut?
If I’m excited about a joke, I’ll run it by someone I trust, you know, maybe by someone who knows me well, or shares my sense of humour. I don’t go crazy and just try and tell anyone, it could be damaging if you tell someone. If you’re working on a new idea that’s not quite ready, and you tell somebody and they don’t laugh they just stare at you, it can destroy your confidence for that joke, so I may well just try it on an audience for the first time if I’m really excited about it.
Do you or have you ever found it hard to come back with a new show, after your last one was such a hit?
Yeah, I mean there is always a lot of insecurities trying to launch a new show, and I worry about if it’s going to be as good as the other ones. And when you sort of have a reputation, hopefully a good one, then you want to live up to that and you sort of set the bar, hopefully you set the bar high and so you have to, well you feel like you have to live up to that, or be a the least just as good or even better. There is always that fear that people are going to say oh, this one’s not good. But, you learn that this fear is pretty normal, and I have learnt to accept that this fear exists, and I’m able to sort of forge ahead. You know, maybe one day a show will be a dud – but it hasn’t happened so far.
‘Organic’ is your tenth show to hit Australia, and you were here earlier this year at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, what is it about Australia that makes you keep coming back?
Well, I’ve got my best fan base here to be honest, even probably more fans than what I have here in the United States, and so it’s very motivating to want to come back and want to make new shows. I’m delighted that people enjoy it, and I think that that’s the number one reason is that there is an interest there. I don’t take it for granted, so I’m really happy to work hard and come back here time and time again. The more I do it, the more I want to do it so it’s sort of a self-servicing circle.
When & Where: Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo – August 25; Paramount Theatre, Echuca – August 26; GPAC, Geelong – August 31; Lighthouse Theatre, Warrnambool – September 2 & Her Majesty’s Theatre, Ballarat – November 22
Written by Sophie Barker