It’s testament to Arj Barker’s universal appeal that someone still known to most as “That guy from 'Flight Of The Conchords'” can warrant three weeks at the Brisbane Powerhouse.
Though American by birth and accent, Australia holds a soft spot for Arj’s inclusive approach to stand-up, prompting regular touring here.
Joel Ozborn was the handpicked support act for the night (1 October), a long-time friend of Arj whose conversational style has a lot in common with the headliner.
It’s been over 15 years since Joel toured the US with comic magician The Amazing Johnathan, indulging in a more surreal, physical form of comedy. Though his approach now is far more observational, there are hints of the past that still comes through whenever channelling a character through a thick Aussie accent. The odd combination gives Joel a unique angle that can often catch you off guard. Though his set is short, he manages to leave a lasting impression.
Arj has framed his latest tour around introspective life lessons framed around his grand, old age of “thirty twelve”. He covers the internal conflict between relevance and despair at the intricacies of modern life. Arj switches between a comedian’s perspective and meta reflection on the current goings on frequently, giving the whole thing a comedic-tragedy feeling of someone trying to make sense of who he is and what he does, unclear where Arj the performer begins and Arj the person ends.
Arj has a way with words that leaves no word wasted, taking an approach that works well on paper, yet is taken to another level when performed by Arj in his trademark style. It allows him to explore macabre subject matters such as the preserved corpses of mountain climbers on Everest, yet still retaining a laidback atmosphere.
Some of the subject matters venture into the cliché, lamenting overuse of technology, a mention of the selfie stick, but they’re brief asides to a set that crams a lot of material into a short time and never drags. It’s no mean feat to pull-off the casual approach and it sells Arj short to suggest that any of this set is down to chance. His ability to deliver as though he’s pulling the material from the top of his head is second to none. He doesn’t even smoke weed anymore, he confessed during the show.
By the end he’s won the entire crowd over, even the guy who almost derailed the set by taking the landlord’s side in a hypothetical set piece.
Arj closes the proceedings by dedicating the last few minutes to promoting his own merchandise. It’s an unconventional approach that risks alienating the audience but it says a lot about Arj that even in this, he still keeps the crowd on side. In the context of someone trying to make sense of who he is and what his life is about, it’s a poignant reminder to the fragility of the stand-up comedian as a career.
In a world where media is expected for free by the masses, it becomes harder for comedians to turn what they do into something sustainable. It seemed to have the desired effect, the line for merchandise was not insignificant once the show was over.
Arj closed his show saying if you enjoyed the show to recommend it to others, and if you didn’t to recommend it to people as a practical joke. Based on this, I recommend you go see him at the Brisbane Powerhouse before the run ends on 18 October.