In addition to enjoying international sucess as a stand-up, Arj Barker appeared on Flight of the Conchords as Brett and Jermaine's American friend Dave. His newest album, LYAO, is currently in stores. For information about shows and to sign up for his mailing list, visit ArjBarker.com.
I actually didn’t instigate a lot of my Internet presence. The only clip I’ve ever put up is just a video of me trying to teach people how to putt. That only has, like, 4700 views. Nearly every video of me on YouTube I didn’t put up.
So you aren’t constantly blogging or tweeting.
I don’t always have something to say to Twitter. I’d rather say nothing than share something I don’t care about. I’m lazy, too. Sometimes these things are a little like homework after a while. A voice in your head going, “Have you written on your blog today?” But thankfully I think my work does its own self-promotion. I try to just be a good comedian.
Some people should probably just focus on that instead of Twitter.
I would never comment on other comedians, but I definitely think that most of the good things that happen to me came because I worked hard as a comedian as opposed to promoting myself.
How did you become involved with Flight of the Conchords?
I was over in Australia working with those guys. We became friends, and I guess they liked my comedy because they had a show and they really wanted me to be on it. It was quite lucky and fortunate. Television is really the most powerful way for people to remember you and know you. The Internet can be awesome too, obviously, if something goes viral.
But, in terms of reach, still a distant second to television.
I think people know anyone can go on the Internet and Twitter, but when I’m on television they feel like I must be a big deal. And television has higher production value, which is helpful.
You tour constantly. Do you change your material depending on where you’re performing?
Well, I can’t change my sense of humor or sensibility because that’s just my personality or what I think is funny. The important thing I change is cut and dry references. For instance, in Australia I’ll use “an album of Mr. Whippy’s greatest hits” in a joke instead of “ice cream truck music,” because it’s a national brand of ice cream trucks in Australia.
Australia’s a second home for you. Do you think there’s a reason why audiences there have reacted so well to you and your material?
I don’t think there’s a big secret. I was there at the right time when there weren’t many overseas comics performing yet. Now, it’s a little more common to see an American working at The Comedy Store in Sydney. But because of the timing, I was able to do TV and become a regular on a few talk shows there, and it built up my profile.
It almost seems like you see television appearances as a way to promote your stand-up. Would you ever leave stand-up completely?
I certainly can see myself being really involved in some project and not doing as much stand-up or taking a break, but I do think of myself as a stand-up first. I love being out there on stage and feeling the love of the crowd. It’s not an understatement to say it’s addictive.
People have said that the instant gratification of stand-up is hard to give up.
You don’t get that in acting. In acting, I’m never quite sure: "Did I do that right or is that good?" Stand-up, there’s no question whether you got it done or not. I couldn’t imagine giving up stand-up.
So you feel more attached to stand-up then acting.
Actually, strangely, I like watching myself act more than I like watching myself do stand-up now. It’s weird because I don’t love seeing myself act either. I guess I’m more curious. I know what I look like and sound like during my stand-up, and I always know when I can do a joke better. I’m my own worst critic as a stand-up.
So there’s still some sense of discovery with acting.
When I do stand-up I only can find things wrong with it. With the acting its more the opposite. I’m always surprised – it’s like, “Oh wow, it looks like a really meant that.”
Going back to your comedy, you mix observational humor with jokes about the jokes themselves. How did you develop that approach?
It might have been something that developed from trying to make the comics laugh and trying to make your friends laugh. Comics are the first people to notice if you have something completely absurd about your set-up.
It’s almost a mix of alternative and mainstream sensibilities.
Alternative is a label that’s been created, but I never set out to do anything just be funny and do good jokes. I don’t think of myself as an alternative comedian and I don’t think of myself as mainstream comedian. I just think of myself as a comedian.
That’s probably a healthier approach.
I just set out to be a comedian and get laughs. I like the idea of being versatile. I play in different countries and different styles of rooms. I can play in a theater or coffee shop and have a good time at each of those and everything in between.