Comedian Arj Barker discusses the differences between the American, British, and Australian comedy scenes, the origin of the Marijuana-Logues, and his efforts to bring pride to the monobrow community.
When did you develop an interest in comedy?
Probably when I was watching Monty Python with my family when I was eight.
What were you like in school?
I think people thought that there was something wrong with me. I had my head in the clouds a little bit. I wasn’t very well groomed. I drooled a little bit. I was not super popular.
What did you think of school?
Looking back on it, it seemed fun, but it was tough at times. There were good days and bad days. I did always have some friends, luckily. In fact, I made a friend on the first day of first grade and he’s still one of my best friends. Once I made friends, I held on to them.
What sort of aspirations did you have as a child?
Probably astronaut. Veterinarian for about five minutes. My cousin’s a veterinarian and it’s a lot of work. I don’t think I would have survived that route. I wanted to be an actor and I forgot all about that. Then I started doing standup at about nineteen and acting became more of a logical consideration.
Were you incorporating humor into your daily routine in school and college?
That’s what got me into trouble with teachers because it wasn’t always constructive and I was a distraction. I didn’t really go to college. I went to community college for a semester and a half.
Do you remember some of the things that you would get in trouble for?
Just stupid things. Cracking jokes instead of answering questions.
What is it that inspired you to perform standup for the first time?
I saw it on TV. There was a show called Evening at the Improv. It looked really exciting. It looked like something that a lot of people were doing, so I thought that I should at least try it.
How did your first performance go?
Pretty well. I was nervous as hell. There were only about twenty people. I definitely got some laughs. I was pumped to do it again.
How has your material changed over time?
The material has completely changed. I don’t really remember what I used to talk about. It’s definitely more refined. How I talk on stage is more like how I’m talking now. I’m more comfortable on stage. I only had five minutes when I started and now I’ve got close to two hours.
How long was it until you moved up to middling or emceeing?
About a year and a half for emceeing. Middling I got pretty quick after that, and headlining even quicker. It was a snowball effect.
In your experience, what are some of the best places to do open mics in San Francisco?
I don’t know what it is these days, but when I started there was a place called The Holy City Zoo, which was a club. A little hole in the wall club, but they had open mics a couple nights a week. You had to pay three bucks to sign up. That’s where I did my first one.
What were the next several years like for you?
Just getting any stage time that I could. Open mics, cafes, and I also hosted an open mic every other Sunday. It was really flourishing for me. A lot of people would come see me and I ended up with vast amounts of stage time there. I was in my element and it was very beneficial for me.
What changes have you noticed in comedy since you’ve gotten involved?
When I first started in San Francisco, a lot of the comedians were quirky people, like myself, that were driven to try comedy. Since I’ve seen a lot of the world’s market for standup comedy, I’ve realized that that’s a rare breed. A lot of people think that standup’s an easy way to get famous. It works for some people. You go to L.A. and there are all of these actors that call themselves standups. You watch TV, like VH1, and everyone’s a comedian. And I think, “What? I’ve never seen that guy in a club.”
What are the differences between you onstage and off?
I’m a little more theatrical onstage. I don’t yell quite as often off stage.
Is television something that’s had a great impact on you growing up?
Yeah, I watched a lot of TV, but in my adulthood I barely watch any TV. Once in a while, but not very much.
What sort of influence has Marty Stouffer had on you?
He’s very influential. Wild America. He was my first role model in terms of performance and delivery.
Did you see a lot of Koalas in Australia?
I’ve seen a few. I went looking for snakes. I went to this area where there’s supposed to be a lot of snakes, but I didn’t see any. I did see a giant lizard. It was two and a half feet long.
What would you say are the differences in the comedy scenes of America, England, and Australia?
The people doing it tend to be more from the country. British is British, the States are kind of Stateish, and Australia is a mixture of the two. It’s more the crowds. Going to see live comedy is not as popular here as compared to those other countries. There seems to be more standup going on in Britain compared to their population size. The States are so big that even if just a small percentage went to see standup that it would support a lot of clubs. Australia loves standup a lot. They have festivals. They love me too. I love going over there.
Tell me about your Perrier Award.
That’s just an award that I got a while ago. It was for the best new comer. It set me up for a few years in the UK. I did the festival four years in a row, but it’s a lot of work and I got tired of it.
Is entering such festivals popular amongst American comedians?
It is a little more. I know a few people that have done it since. Even the industry in the States is starting to go over there to look around for the next big thing. But when I first went there it wasn’t very common. Most people hadn’t even heard of it in 1997.
What does the award look like?
It’s this thing made of glass with a Perrier bottle frozen inside of it.
Do you keep your award on your mantle?
No, I don’t even know where it is. I wouldn’t have thrown it away, I don’t think. It’s in a box somewhere.
How did the Marijuana-Logues come to be?
It was three comics that had a bunch of pot jokes that put them all together and called it a show. We made it more theatrical, sit down, and wear all black. It started with a pun in reference to the Vagina Monologues.
Tell me about the book that eventually came out of The Marijuana- Logues?
That’s coming out in December. It’s called The Marijuana-Logues: Everything About Pot That we Could Remember. It’s written version of the show with a bunch of stuff added.
How will you be promoting that?
We’re talking about that right now. I don’t think I’m going to go on tour. I’ll send out some E-mails. I don’t think that it’s a big enough deal for them to sink a lot of money into promotion, although I would like to do a book signing just to see what it’s like.
Tell me about this DVD you recorded.
That’s a comedy DVD that I’m releasing in Australia. I haven’t made plans yet to release it here. Right now it’s geared toward Australian audiences.
Tell me about the Sanchez Brothers.
That’s rap group that I started with some friends a few years ago. We have three songs on the Internet. We’re hopping to finish the album by 2008.
Tell me about your role in Car Babes.
It’s a minor role. I play the friend of the lead character. I’m the sidekick guy. Nothing major; I’m in a few scenes, but I don’t know how much they cut me out of.
Tell me about Nearly Nirvana.
There’s not much to tell. It didn’t go anywhere. It was going to be a sitcom about an Indian dude: me. I was the second guy that got cast in the lead. Three people ended up playing that role, but the show still got canned.
Tell me about Arj and Poopy.
That’s a cartoon that I write and perform the voices in. An Australian guy animates it.
Do you gesticulate a lot when recording the voices?
I suppose. I never thought about it.
Tell me about Monobrow.
Monobrow.com is a site that supports people with one eyebrow, such as myself. It gives these people the confidence to say, “I’m okay.”
How do you feel about people that tweeze their eyebrow?
They tweeze to please. Essentially, we’re trying to tell people that you don’t have to do that to belong in society.
What projects are you involved in?
I’m about to do another half hour special for Comedy Central in December.
What projects are you contemplating?
I’m planning another big tour of Australia early next year. I do a bit of writing on my blog. I enjoy doing that. I’m contemplating going to the gym or maybe going for a ride because it’s a nice day.
Do you enjoy being an adult?
I do, actually, but sometimes I feel like time’s passing too quickly.
What do you keep in your house to protect yourself in case of a break in?
I got some weed. If someone tries to break in, I’ll try to calm them down a little bit.
Do you have a special message to leave our readers with?
Look me up on Myspace; let’s be friends.
Visit Arjbarker.com to sample all that Arj is involved in, including his writing, photography, cartoon, rap group, and television appearances.