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Print Version

NZ International Comedy Festival
Presented by MARY TOBIN

at Opera House, Wellington
From 8 May 2013 to 9 May 2013

Reviewed by Caoilinn Hughes, 9 May 2013

Most of the audience at the jam-packed Opera House would know American comedian Arj Barker from his role in Flight of the Concords, as Dave: the pawnshop owner who trades mostly in bumper sticker cultural assertions, lady-snaring equipment, and self-written manuals on how to grow sausages in your own organic garden.© Dave is kooky, unique and unflinching.

But we don't get Dave in Arj Barker's world-touring show, Go Time, and judging by the feedback, the majority of audience members are happy about that.

Barker is an affable American funnyman, inclined towards hippy-go-lucky philosophy. The philosophy encapsulated in Go Time – and I do love a good moral-of-the- comedy – prioritizes the heart over the head.

Jobs are there to be completed, not created. Tomorrow is a concept that you don't have to get onboard with. Don't wait until tomorrow, ask me tonight; I might be game. Have that beer before you go on-stage, because the sun will explode all over the face of the earth sooner or later.

Carpe diem. Follow your heart to the arcade and have yourself a maudlin sandwich. Unapologetic schmaltz. So far, a far cry from Dave. 

Aside from his sensibility, the style and subject matter of Barker's sketches is much safer than Dave's. He doesn't want to get involved with the Aussie-Kiwi rivalry. He has no comment. He supports UNICEF and he wouldn't joke about that kind of diarrhoea.

Truth be told, he covers his back too much, as if a political correctness bee stung him in the past and now he needs to circle around the hive and point at it. He makes very few people uncomfortable (this makes him perfect for corporate outings and families), aside from his closing diarrhoea joke. Sigh. This is out of place, as there isn't another moment of cringe comedy in the show, and it doesn't tie into the Go Time… unless he means ‘need to go time'?

There is a lot of meta-comedy in the show that goes down really well with the audience. I think that self-referentiality is well-suited to a New Zealand audience, as the Kiwi sense of humour loves to draw attention to awkwardness, awkwardly. So the idea of jokes failing, or a comedian realizing he hasn't done enough research halfway through a joke is lapped up.

His explanation of the structure of his jokes is popular too. He uses one particular joke structure throughout the show, copyrighting it as he goes… which would be more successful if it was used more frequently and understatedly. 

In general, Barker is very confident and charismatic on-stage. He gives bucket-loads of energy (without ever mentioning the bucket fountain, yay!) and his audience is amused throughout. Because his delivery is so good, the limitations really come down to his writing. If he sharpened and pushed the writing here and there, it would really take his comedy up a notch.

As it stands, his funny-guy-next-door performance seems effortless and easy, which is both a strength and a weakness.
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