It’s a busy time for veteran comic Todd Barry. His first hour-long special, Todd Barry: Super Crazy recently aired Comedy Central. The uncut, uncensored version of the special is available now on DVD and CD, iTunes and he’s also embarking on a tour in support of the new special and album. I caught up with Todd to talk about his latest crop of material, how he stays fresh onstage, and stuff that pisses him off in coffee shops (and some other stuff too).
How did this special come about? Was it something you were consciously working toward for a while?
I guess I’d always wanted to do an hour special. I’d never really had a chance to. And I guess I hounded — not hounded — but asked Comedy Central if they were interested in doing it seriously, and they gave me it.
Where did the title Super Crazy come from?
You know, titles are always hard to come up with. I think it’s just something I used to say to people, just being silly, you know, ‘Super crazy!’ I was just trying to think of dumb phrases I’d said before. There’s no real context for it. I think it’s just something dumb I used to call myself. ‘Super crazy.’ It’s really just silliness.
A lot of times someone will use a line from a bit as their title, and I was going back thinking I missed it.
Yeah I’ve never done that. I mean or sort of half-ass tried to think of a line from the special that would be good for a title.
How did you get ready for the taping?
I tried to do a lot of headlining shows, and just running around to every room, small and big or whatever that I could get. I just didn’t want to be up there at 48 minutes and be out of material. I guess I just went on a little bit of a writing tear, relatively speaking. But you know, I’m not the fastest writer. My stuff isn’t that longwinded. I can have 10 new jokes and it might take up six minutes.
Do you write stuff down when you’re coming up with new material?
I wish I did. I mean, I write key words down, or a key phrase. Sometimes I forget to do that and it goes away. And then I’m asking people, ‘What was that thing I said?’ And then I get mad at myself. So I mean, I think if you can work stuff out at home a little bit it’s good, but it just always comes out more natural onstage.
A lot of your material comes from stuff you observe when you’re out and about. Do you ever go out to coffee shops, or restaurants or places like that, in search of material?
Nah. I mean, Leo Allen has that funny joke where he goes on a ‘premise walk.’ (laughs) But, I’m sure if I did that I wouldn’t find anything good, though I might get some coffee out of it. But I’ve thought about that. I have to find jokes that aren’t about, ‘Someone said something stupid to me,’ because, you meet plenty of stupid people, but not enough to get an hour– at least not in less than three years or so.
The great thing about that though is that it can be something you saw one person do once, but chances are it’s something everyone has seen someone else do.
Yeah, it’s always pretty cool when I can just say, ‘This is a thing that happened to me’ and make it… I mean I don’t consider myself a storyteller, but I guess actually I’m a short storyteller. Very short stories. But I don’t go, ‘Hey, let’s find some jokes.’ That would actually be a good idea if I just opened up my radar a bit. But I guess I sort of am thinking that way.
A lot of your tweets in particular come from behavior you observe in coffee shops. What’s a seemingly obvious piece of coffee shop etiquette that you see violated frequently?
That’s an easy one. The huge pet peeve, there’s this one restaurant that I’m tempted to give the name of — I won’t, no — near my apartment, where there’s like four tables, and there’s a line around the block. And some asshole will come in and throw his shit down on the table, and basically snag a table when there’s 15 people in line ahead of him. That’s a huge one. That just purely makes me mad. I think I even tweeted about that. I don’t remember what the tweet was, but it was, you know, ‘At Todd’s coffee shop. We saved a table.’ Something bad happens. I forgot what it was.
Coffee shops are funny. You see all these different kinds of people, all in “hang out” mode.
Yeah, you hear a lot of meetings, pitch meetings going on, like, for “projects.” Not that that’s wrong, it just seems… Maybe it is the perfect place to do that. But I do see a lot of things where you just sit there and you try to figure out what, like, they’re pitching a new social marketing, or a new social media type thing. You see a lot of meetings and projects. A lot of screenplay meetings. A lot of producers. And you see job interviews… You also get a lot of, it seems, Match.com dates, or just people walking around with that, ‘Oh, I’m looking for Freddy. Where’s Freddy?’ That look in their eye.
Also on Twitter, you often participate on trending topics…
Yeah, I do. It’s probably annoying. It’s just easy. Some guy said I don’t participate in these trending topics, I ruin them. (laughs) Which I think he said affectionately because he always retweets me. I sometimes think, ‘Oh, I should back off that because it’s getting tiresome,’ but it’s fun to just make them as stupid as possible.
Well it’s always a topic that anyone who follows you knows you would never sincerely participate in. Do you have a favorite one that you’ve used?
There was one I did, let me see if I can find it…
A lot of them tend to be kind of urban.
I think BET is really into those trending topics. There’s a show they do… I think they introduce a trending topic and then come back and show what people contributed. You see a lot of young black kids.
And then you.
And me, yeah. (laughs) There was one, basically, I don’t need to give it exactly, ‘Songs That Cancel Each Other Out.’ And I think I did, like, “‘I Love Chinese Food’ by The Beatles,'” and then “‘I Don’t Like Chinese Food’ by The Rolling Stones.’”
I would almost believe that those songs actually existed.
I don’t know if I’d believe The Stones did a song called ‘I Don’t Like Chinese Food.’ The Beatles might. The Beatles I could see doing that.
You do a lot of crowd work. Has that always been a part of your act?
I don’t know when it started actually. It is something I definitely do. I don’t recall whether I did it way early on. I think I do it ‘cause I get bored. I like to do it in a way that doesn’t fuck up the room. It’s also different if no one’s going on after me. It is risky, it’s just, to me, it kind of loosens me up sometimes if I’m feeling stiff. And also, just sometimes I’m curious about people. And it’s just, you get bored. Sometimes I feel like it’s good ‘cause it’s like, ‘All right, something happened that is only from this show.’ But then I feel like, sometimes, ‘Oh, I didn’t get any work done.’ But then again, it doesn’t always have to be about getting work done. But, I feel like I wasted a set, because I did too much crowd work.
What do you mean by ‘get work done?’
Generating new, actual material.
You performed on Letterman recently. Do you still get nervous for a set like that?
Yeah, yeah, I get really nervous.
You’ve done the show a number of times. Do you have any kind of rapport with him at this point?
Nah. You really get very little contact with him. I mean, he comes over. Basically what you see on TV is what you get. And then, you know, sometimes you’ll hear, ‘Oh, he was laughing a lot.’ And occasionally you can hear him laughing. But quite often, it’s such a surreal thing to do, that I feel like you don’t even remember what happened.
Did you feel like this latest one was a good one?
Yeah, it was a good one. I mean, I watched it. There’s always like, you look and go, ‘Oh man, my sleeve’s too long on my shirt… Was I looking one way too much? Did I look to the right too much? Did I look down too much?’ Stuff like that. But then, you know, if you get some nice feedback, from strangers especially, then it’s good.
IMDB says you’re acting in a movie starring Alicia Silverstone called Vamps. Can you tell us anything about that?
Yeah, I believe it’s coming out Halloween. I play Sigourney Weaver’s right hand vampire. It’s about two kind of modern-day vampires who… I don’t know a whole lot about vampires so it’s hard to sort of get the technicalities of it. But, it’s essentially sort of a modern-day, two young vampires in New York City situation.
You’ve played yourself, or just a dude name Todd ,on Louie, Delocated and Flight of the Conchords. Is that flattering? ‘Todd’s such a character, let’s have him do Todd.’
Yeah I mean, it is funny that I play, especially on Delocated, I think I play Todd Barry. I mean, it’s nice that people let me be on their shows. Yeah. It’s weird that there are shows where I actually do play myself. I mean, with Delocated it’s really a heightened version of myself, where I’m more of a jerk than I hope I am. But yeah, I am playing a comedian. I am playing myself.
You’re also an experienced drummer. You’ve played with a number of cool bands.
I don’t know if ‘experienced’ is a way to describe me. I’m good enough where you go, ‘Oh, okay.’ I’m good for a comedian, as someone described me. And even, there’s better comedian drummers.
Who’s been your favorite band to play with?
Anyone who lets me do something that sort of, indulgent, they’re all my favorites. I’ve probably played with Yo La Tengo the most, because I do their Halloween shows and some other shows with them.
What tunes have you been listening to lately?
The last album I would say is this band Metric that I like. There are songs where when I’m in a restaurant, I’ll hear something and go, ‘What is that?’ I like Sharon Van Etten. Her new album’s really good. Regina Spektor, I just started listening to her.
Do you like doing comedy on shows with bands?
It can work. Some people just do it arbitrarily. To me, it’s gotta be something thought out. You know, sometimes you get offers to do these shows, and it’s just like, ‘Hey, there’s gonna be a bunch of bands and a bunch of comedians.’ And it’s like, okay, well that’s not gonna work. ‘Yeah, you’re gonna go on between bands.’ Oh, that sounds fun. They hear a band for 45 minutes, then they want to talk. Then they throw me up there, while they’re changing drums behind me. Striking a drum set behind me. Tuning a guitar… But, I think if you can do a variety show, which, I’ve certainly done a few of them… They sort of have to be contained or, I think they sort of have to be at a smaller place. Or, somewhere where they know ahead of time that they’re gonna see comedy and they’re gonna see music.
You’ve done all kinds of shows– clubs, festivals, theaters, bars. What setting would you consider your ideal gig?
That’s a good question because, I guess on some level, I get excited about doing a big theater, but it’s far from the optimum place for comedy. I think I heard Patton Oswalt say comedy should never be performed for more than 150 people, or, maybe I’m paraphrasing him incorrectly. But essentially that’s the ideal sized audience. Yeah, I think I’m probably at my best in a small room. But I think everybody is.
So, like a packed club?
Yeah, a packed club. It’s probably the best, the loosest you can be. Or the loosest I’m gonna be.
Todd’s tour starts on August 15 in South Carolina. Check out his website for more dates. You can buy his special (and his three other albums) here.