Australia’s favourite American comic is back to lampoon the country that loves him so much. Among assuring us he loves to come to Australia to check out ‘who the Prime Minister is this week’ and claiming that ‘BrisVegas’ is a wildly inaccurate nickname for the nightlife-less Brisbane, Barker is also bringing the gluten-free diet off its pedestal and making a case for why one might want to murder their roommate.
Playing at the Palais Theatre every Friday and Saturday from 2 April to 16 April, Barker is celebrating his tenth year at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Barker is known for his live comedy, currently with ten albums and DVDs to his name, as well as regular appearances on Flight of the Concords. The comedian claimed in an interview with Popculture-y.com last year that ‘Australia is the only country where I’m sort of known.’ He’s a successful comic wherever he goes, but in Australia he’s kind of a superstar—and rightly so. His ability to satirise cultural idiosyncrasies without condescension fits with Australia’s fondness for self-deprecation.
Supporting act Joel Ozborn warmed up the crowd nicely with his ten minute set covering material Americans don’t find funny, his own likeness to Eric Bana and some savvy crowd work berating a few latecomers. Arj Barker entered the elegant Palais theatre to thunderous applause, immediately launching into Australia-centric humour. He extended some of the bits from his 2016 gala including a list of the Australian sayings with the word ‘shit’ in them, to which he added a few of his own: ‘Shit on your head’s not a hat’ and ‘Step in shit and you’ve still got one good shoe.’
It’s clear that Arj Barker is a seasoned stand-up comic. He holds the microphone at the right distance when he yells and draws it in close for dramatic, whispered delivery. Barker has mentioned that he prefers to write his material down instead of improvising, and it really shows in his more complex jokes. In a lengthy bit that began with fond memories of the circus, Barker began to make the case that despite the whipping and leaping through fiery rings, circus animals really didn’t have it so bad. What exactly was he up to here? Increasing the unease, the comedian claimed that because he enjoyed himself, there was nothing wrong with enslaving animals for entertainment’s sake. He then flipped the joke on its Melburnian audience by remarking:
‘The Melbourne Cup’s on its way.’
Barker’s ability to blend commentary with comedy means that each of his performance is a conversation-starter as well as solid entertainment. Capping of the evening with an irony-laden song about wanting to live organically in the forest, the comic’s closer didn’t have kill with the audience as much as some of his other bits, but the forcefully earnest guitar soloing and James Taylor-esque, faux-soulful song writing had this reviewer in hysterics.
Check out Arj Barker at this year’s MICF for a night of on-point ridicule, absurd conspiracy theories and his woefully hilarious impersonation of an Australian accent. He’s also signing and selling merchandise in the lobby afterwards, giving fans the opportunity to meet him.