Featuring some predictable jokes and lazy observations, Barker’s latest show is not the most nourishing comedic experience.
Arj Barker is a Big-Name Comedian. His name appears on big posters in big type, along with a big picture of his face (this time round he looks excited, slightly cross-eyed and vaguely lecherous). Barker’s new show, Go Time, opened with a mock show-tune – an awful complacent thing, where Barker half-heartedly ‘sang’ about the show he was about to do, essentially saying: ‘Will they like it, maybe not, maybe I’ll have to swear until those motherfuckers laugh’.
While much of the audience seemed to appreciate this ‘so bad it’s good’-ness, to me it felt like bad so-bad-it’s-goodness: both obvious and lazy, and not risky in the slightest. Comedians can make people laugh almost against their will by using the Pavlovian punchline of rhyme; we chuckle in recognition (‘ha ha that rhymed’) but it’s not the most nourishing comedic experience.
Luckily, after the song Barker promised never to sing again. Then he got stuck into some solid and very well-rehearsed stand-up palaver. Within a few minutes there were melting eyeballs and weeping workers in Chinese iPhone factories and it was a bit uncomfortable and even slightly funny and the laughter was less forced.
Barker is very, very good at what he does. His timing is spot-on; he can do at least four different voices/personas – normal Arj, sinister baritone Arj, hysterical falsetto Arj and Crocodile Dund-Arj. He is also an expert reader of audiences, even very large ones, and a master of salvaging poorly-received lines with winning meta-gags (‘That joke’s been trying to find a home for years – and you just crushed its dreams.’) There’s a reason this guy sells out Town Halls.
But about halfway through, his material drifted into painfully obvious territory: an extended riff on how spring rolls are really hot and burn your mouth, which while true in some restaurants is not exactly original or interesting. This segued into some rather observational observations, tailored for a Melbourne audience, about how the trams have really quiet bells which sound like someone playing a triangle. It’s nice that he made the effort to include some local content, but even so – tram jokes are really scraping the bottom of the clichés-about-Melbourne barrel.
And then, Barker was on fire again, ripping out some elegant and baroque joke sequences about sex, celebrity and ‘self-cock-blocking’. This stuff was gold, as were Barker’s subsequent meditations on his revolutionary new non-humorous joke structure. Then, some toilet humour. Then an ending that I should’ve seen coming, but didn’t.
Go Time is a pretty safe bet for a night out; it’s guaranteed to make most folks laugh, if not deeply. But the people of Melbourne deserve more than spring rolls and trams.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Arj Barker – Go Time
Melbourne Town Hall
28 March – 21 April
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
27 March – 21 April