With a bunch of voice acting credits on Home Movies, Tom Goes to the Mayor, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Dr Katz: Professional Therapist, you’re probably familiar with Todd Barry’s trademark dusty drawl. But having reared his head with increasing frequency in mega-hit shows and movies such as Flight of the Conchords (as the compulsively soloing bongo player in “The Third Conchord”) and Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (in a memorable turn as Mickey Rourke’s surly supermarket manager), chances are you’re growing accustomed to the Manhattan comedian’s face.
Todd’s has been an enduring presence in American comedy. In the past decade-or-so alone, he’s popped up in everything from The Larry Sanders Show and Pootie Tang to Sesame Street and Chappelle’s Show. His one man show, “Icky,” describes the savage bashing he took after running afoul of a Conan O’Brien online community. Three albums, a one man show, numerous late night appearances and an extensive North American tour currently underway speaks to his ability to not only survive, but thrive in the often fickle comedy scene.
Despite currently being on tour, Todd took the time to answer a few questions by e-mail (which he apparently much prefers to speaking on the phone) about his snowballing fame, cartoon voices, his upcoming projects and lots of “whatnot.”
First off, you’re obviously busy these days and getting you on the phone may be tricky, but I’ve also read you prefer e-mail interviews. Why is that?
Because my e-mail answers are much, much, much, better.
So post-The Wrestler, and even following your work on Flight of the Conchords, is Todd Barry on the cusp of being a household name?
I have no idea. That kind of sounds scary, actually. I’m pretty comfortable with my level of “fame” right now.
Has your recent move into pseudo-stardom resulted in any particularly funny stories? Any sycophantic weirdos recognizing you at places where you were once at peace?
The Flight of the Conchords appearance has increased that sort of thing, but most people of the people who approach me are nice.
How do you react to that kind of thing?
If the people are nice, which they usually are, then I’m fine with it. It really depends on where it happens. If someone approaches you after a show, it’s a lot easier to deal with than if they start talking to you when you’re buying a tub mat at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
You’ve done a lot of work on animated shows. Is this something you like doing? What’s the difference between the type of comic performance you bring to voice work and your stand-up or “live action” TV show appearances?
I like doing cartoon voices because it’s pretty easy and quick, and they generally let you stray from the script. And since you’re not seen, you don’t have to dress snappy.
Speaking of “live action” TV shows, why’d that bit from season one of Tim and Eric Awesome Show (where you promise to take us on a picnic at midnight), get cut? Because it’s hilarious. What was it like working with those guys?
I actually just got the DVDs for that, so I haven’t even watched it. I believe it got cut because for technical reasons, something to do with lighting.
Let’s say I’m some average lightweight comedy fan trying to woo some boring date by taking her to a stand-up show. What kind of stuff could we expect to hear in your set? The usual: airplane food, the cost of popcorn at a movie theatre and whatnot?
Lots of “whatnot.”
Is your stand-up at all ad-libbed, or do you go up there with the pacing and everything pretty well plotted out?
I want my jokes to be tightly written, but I generally like to be my show to be pretty loose.
Do you find you can pack a lot bigger rooms now? Do any of the fans show up expecting you to play bongos or something?
I pack huge, gigantic rooms. Occasionally someone will request bongos, but I would only do that if I was actually performing with Flight of the Conchords.
What else have you got on the go right now? Movies? TV? A new album? Please a new album?
I just filmed a movie called Pete Smalls Is Dead, which will probably come out next year. I’m hoping to do a one-hour special at some point. And lots more touring.
In terms of comics coming up that may not be exposed, who should we be keeping an eye on?
Rachel Feinstein, Myq Kaplan, John Mulaney, Natasha Leggero, Tig Notaro, Dan Mintz, Tom Ryan, and others I can’t think of.