Arj Barker is a picture of positivity. Whether it be his goofy cameos on Flight of the Conchords or his appearances on the once-adored Thank God You’re Here or his almost 30 years of stand-up alone, the man simply knows how to put a smile on your face and keep it there. His show for this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival is no different, dousing his audiences with just as much goodwill as unrelenting mirth.
Kicking off proceedings by humouring Australia’s quickly revolving political hierarchy, it doesn’t take long for Barker to jest life’s technological gridlock. Children are often the blueprint of many digital age critiques, but this doesn’t refrain Barker from springboarding off such an ideal. Brains are turning to “mush”, and the classroom is the primary setting for such debilitation – attention spans are thinning as the desire for screen time amounts.
Technology has also strangled conventional taxi services and the rise of alternative rideshare options has fostered impatience, Barker says. You used to be happy if a taxi arrived in under “11 minutes”, now if you get an Uber and it says it will take longer than six minutes you’re furious. GPS ride tracking has also seen cars become interplanetary ships riding high above buildings and doing 360s at every intersection. It’s a brisk start from Barker – relevant theories are explored with astute remark and the crowd quickly finds themselves at home.
Across the years, Barker’s ability to seize and apprehend his crowd comes not just through quick wit but also his vocal dexterity. The comic has a knack of bending and twisting his enunciation to exalt any pedestrian remark into the comedic limelight. He has two techniques of doing this, one of which is caricature.
In We Need To Talk, Barker segues from talking about marriage and how it caters for greater freedom in the capacity to wear camping pants in public. Highlighting the lack of desire to impress, functionality comes to the fore and as Barker mimics a fallen soldier stuck under a tree, he cloaks himself with hyperbole. Cringing in pain, suddenly the seldom-used pocket halfway down the pant leg is Barker’s saving grace.
Another of Barker’s comedic tactics is to distance his mouth from the microphone as if he’s yelling at someone across the road. Used to prove a point, there’s no way of pinpointing a particular example – such is the regularity of the exercise – but if it doesn’t have you laughing on the first occasion, it will on the next.
Barker is a 30-year career comedian and it shows. He’s more comfortable on stage than a tuckered-out border collie in their kennel after a huge day at the beach. He’ll keep selling tickets purely based on reputation alone – for everyone’s sake, let’s hope his imagination doesn’t sell out too.
Highlight: The Uber gag – so accurate.
Lowlight: Sitting alone.
Crowd favourite: Uplifter stickers – he was dishing out sticker packs for free.