Don’t be fooled by the laid-back Californian drawl, Arj Barker is a comedian who genuinely cares about his craft. Checking his dictaphone repeatedly upon arriving on stage, Barker explains that he records his shows to constantly improve.
And a carefully constructed show it is. Barker has worked hard on Organic – he tells us various times throughout – including a number of weeks testing and finessing jokes in Melbourne in late 2015 and touring the material significantly over the past year.
The result is a routine which treads the familiar ground we’ve come to expect from this comedy festival favourite, but with a new level of sophistication as he weaves themes throughout, leaving audiences to join the dots.
Barker has always had an ability to identify the idiosyncrasies of Australian culture but with an affection developed through his own familiarity with the country. And he does so once again in Organic. He notes the frequency with which Australians include the word ‘shit’ as part of our vernacular, particularly in our sayings, whilst attempting to add his own versions to the mix.
He cleverly selects subjects which resonate well with local audiences. Uber v taxis, the ‘red headed hatred’ taking over politics (both here and internationally) and the city’s sometimes fraught relationship with the Melbourne Cup.
Also on his topical hit list are paleo diets and going gluten-free (hence the title of the show). But as Barker grows up, so does the subject matter. The challenges of living with a spouse gets significant airtime, along with the concept of marriage and adjusting to life with a nephew. Throughout Organic, Barker intertwines lighter subjects like Game of Thrones obsession and spoiler alerts with the more mature content to ensure no member of his fan base is left behind.
What is different to the Arj Barker we’ve seen in the past is a distinguishable self-awareness and contentiousness, making sure the 1200 strong crowd at the Town Hall knew that their presence wasn’t taken for granted. We would expect nothing less from the Californian nice guy but ultimately, what we (and any other comedy festival audience) are most interested in are the gags.
By Nicole Ryan