Get ready for Go Time
Talented comedian Arj Barker has built a reputation for a solid stand-up routine that is both socially precise, and extremely funny, Paul Berrington found out what makes this charismatic American tick, why he chose to be comedian, and learned a few surprises in the process.
Arj Barker has endeared audiences in New Zealand and Australia to his cool and collected stage presence, and has been described by the Scotland Times as “slick, talented and completely in control,” but is that how it really feels when he’s on stage, “Not always, definitely,” he responds, “there is always some good moments but it’s never a sure thing, but that’s what is kind of exciting about it. I’m only in control of what I say and do. I’m not really in control of the audience reaction, but I feel as though if you do a good show the audience does their job and just laughs and sits back. That’s why I don’t get heckled to often, I think.”
Over the last decade, Arj has built up a loyal following due to appearances on our television screens, and also from getting to know us a little: “Well I I dunno how popular I am, I’ve done well in Australia for sure, but I don’t know about New Zealand so much,” he says, before adding, “I have spent a lot of time in this part of the world, and just put the time in I guess, especially on TV”, he pauses for a second to consider his statement, “I don’t claim to be any expert about it. I’ve come over here and just done shows the way I like them to be done.”
Spending so much time in this part of the world has its bonuses, and it is clear that Arj enjoys his time here: “I’ve made some good friends at this point, and you know it’s rewarding to play to bigger audiences for sure.”
So how do stand-up comedians source new material for their shows? Arj confesses that it’s not as simple as you probably think, “Well, very slowly actually, it’s hard to write, it’s hard to come up with new gags that I like, that I really like, because the best ones kinda came naturally. If I kind of force write jokes I might come with something, but my favourite ones are the ones that are more like, have an organic source, and you can’t really force those, you just kinda have to be patient.”
With his new show, Go Time, Arj believes he has developed something that is both extremely funny, but also carries some positive messages.
“Well it’s a good show, it’s mostly stand-up, but it’s got a real positive aspect and points to it,” he pauses, “I mean it’s not heavy, it’s not a heavy message or anything, it just has a positive theme to it, about living, and living your life. I’m surprised by how much people have responded to that part of it, cause I always go for laughs, that’s my priority.”
So what made Arj want to be a comedian? It seems that it is something he tried without much ambition.
“I didn’t put a tonne of thought into it, I just tried it. I didn’t really think much further than that; I didn’t even think I’d become a comedian when I tried it. I was like, ‘this will probably fail’.”
There is little doubt that Arj is an expert in communicating with his audience on stage, yet sometimes the craziest things that happen during a show happen in the audience.
“Just not long ago in Vancouver a guy started choking and one of the people behind him gave him the Heimlich Manoeuvre and saved him,” we both laugh before he continues: “and supposedly he choked cause he was laughing so hard and his asophacyx inverted or something. Actually I could have taken credit.”
Surely every comedian has had that moment where they realised they’re funny enough to do stand-up, well according to Arj, it was never strictly a single moment: “I never really had that moment because when I did it, I had a lot of doubts, you know. I didn’t think I’m gonna get this done, you know, I was never that cocky. I thought I might. I thought I had moments when I was funny because I could make my friends laugh, or whatever, you know, turn the TV on, turn the sound off, and dub the TV for laughter , and crank calls, but I never had the confidence that I’d be good enough for stand up. I just tried it against my doubts.”
Given that the examples of his character Dave on Flight of the Conchords, or his own cult series, Arj and Poopy, were so funny, can we expect anymore television projects in the near future?
“Yeah eventually. Nothing eminent, but eventually I’ll do something more on TV I’m sure.”
So what does a stand-up comedian do when they’re not being funny? For Arj, it seems he has a lot going on.
“Let’s see, I have a few new hobbies. In Southern California I might be mountain-biking or golfing- I like golf. I’m also learning to hang-glide which is pretty cool, I’ve always wanted to do that. I’ve done two solo flights, and I’m learning to DJ. I wanna learn to produce electronic too.”
We talk about software programs for a second, and it’s clear that Arj is excited about the prospects making music offers: “Yeah, yeah it’s fun.”
The busy touring schedule of the international comedian may not be everybody’s idea of fun, but Arj uses an approach that stops him from becoming overwhelmed.
“I just try to not think about it, take just one day at a time. It’s overwhelming if you look and go, ‘I have to go here, here, here, and here’, but if just go, ‘where do I have to go today’ and you just get there, then you can build on it.”
Although Arj’s career has provided plenty of highs so far, he feels as though there is still a lot to achieve in the future: “Well I would like to open up the markets. I’d like to find an audience more in the States and perhaps the UK, like I have in Australia. I can get work there but it’s harder to draw a crowd and that can be a little frustrating. It would just be nice to have the choice to, you know. It would be great to be able to be on the same level out there, but you know, I haven’t given up yet.”
That doesn’t mean that life has been impossible, and Arj admits that he has always managed to make living out of what he loves doing.
“It hasn’t been that hard to get by, for many years I was getting by and then when things started to pick up in Australia I managed to save a little money and bought a house and stuff. I haven’t been, I mean for, well at least for the first half I just made enough to pay rent, get a few hundred, drive a crappy car, but I was never like broke, I always got by, renting a room and house, you know, nothing fancy, roommates, that kind of shit.”
There’s no doubt you’ll little be sharing some laughs with this modest and likeable comedian when Go Time shows at the International Comedy Festival: “Yeah well I’m looking forward to seeing you guys, I’m coming out there for a few shows, not too many shows, so I hope people can make it out. I do believe in the show because I’ve done it now for two months in Australia, so I was just using Australia to warm up for these shows in New Zealand.”