It’s almost exactly four years since I’d seen Barker live in Go Time, also in the Main Hall of Melbourne Town Hall. Unlike my earlier experiences as part of smaller audience, by 2013 Barker was presenting quite mainstream material to a large crowd.
I was tempted to give Organic a taste after seeing Barker in some TV spots and thinking maybe he’d regained some of the edginess and lateral thinking he had back in more intimate venues. There’s a little of this in how living with a girlfriend after many years of bachelorhood had given him more understanding of why some people commit murder.
There isn’t much though; we don’t vary too much from the recipe of the last serving. Go Time had a thread of Barker’s experimentation with alternative phrases for “Build a bridge and get over it”. Organic showed the further contraction mainstreaming of Barker’s ambitions by switching this focus to phrases about hardships with “shit” in them.
These days Barker seems to think he has to over-explain jokes to make sure no one gets left behind, often diluting the punch of a potentially good idea. Some long setups were just plain fizzers. Also, in the past Barker would propose a situation and then bring a twist at the conclusion. Now he seems happy to present an idea and then just act it out, as in an overlong sequence on the benefits for cavemen of discovering bread.
Some topics went over particularly well with the house. These included a bit on people who get upset about spoilers for film and TV. There was a steady volume of mirth and a few very big laughs. Barker also tried his hand at accompanying himself on guitar whilst singing about leaving civilisation behind to live freely on the land. In the past this would have been a useful part of a show with a coherent theme throughout.
My guest and I are long-time Barker fans who weren’t able to join in with the enjoyment of some sections of the audience. Afterwards we recalled seeing Barker in small rooms and some of our favourite bits. In an echo of the comic we used to know, Barker mentioned “Change is the only immutable law of nature”. My guest said “We’re just going to have to accept that Arj isn’t for us anymore.”
But not all change is bad. Barker has had the revolutionary idea of turning comedy into philanthropy. He announced at the end of his show that $1 from every ticket was going to the charity Doctors Without Borders. With 1200 people in on this night and some shows ahead, Organic will have a clear health benefit – it will direct a good amount of cash to a very worthy cause.
Arj Barker – Organic
Melbourne Town Hall, Swanston Street, Melbourne
Performance: Friday 7 April 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 21 April 2017
Information and Bookings: www.comedyfestival.com.au
Image: Arj Barker
Review: Jason Whyte