Arj Barker and Comedy Research

Posted on 28 April 2011

Arj Barker is a fine comedian with well-honed skills in his art. His popularity goes so much further than his participation in Flight of the Conchords. He knows how to set-up a joke, gauge the audience reaction, then bring the joke home in its most effective form.

One thing that Barker does exceptionally well that other comedians should take note is RESEARCH!

This year a number of Americans and Brits told jokes that were only relevant in their own countries. One comedian asked, “Do you have (insert name of TV show) in this country?” When his Australian audience looked bewildered, he explained the premise of the show then told a joke concerning it. Unsurprisingly, all he received was polite laughter.

This is hardly professional joke telling. Visiting comedians should be asking these sorts of questions BEFORE they go on stage and not during. They should not be expecting to bring their routines whole-cloth from one country to another, sometimes even one city to another. To do so comes off as either lazy, arrogant, or both. Why should we know about British regional accents? Do you really expect us to have imported every single TV show ever produced in the US?

A baffled audience isn’t going to enjoy your routine. However, if you have done your research, not only do you avoid any gaffes, you have the opportunity to sweeten your audience with local references. This is what Arj Barker did in his show Eleven.

Barker noticed that Melbournians find the American pronunciation of their city funny. So, he pronounced it according to local standards—”Mel-bun”, then humorously pronounced the state “Victoria” rhyming with “diarrhea”. Not only was the joke local to Australia, it was local to the city in which he was performing.

When Barker told jokes about doing things to live healthier, he included his experiences jogging in the Royal Botanic Gardens. He made himself part of our landscape. And despite the accent, he felt a little more like one of our own.

When I moved from Adelaide back to Melbourne, I changed a line in one of my routines. The beer my Tiki puppet loved to drink went from Coopers (SA local favourite) to VB (VIC local favourite). This sort of attention to local detail should be standard operating procedure for all comedians.

I really liked the fact that Barker didn’t pander much to American stereotypes. Creating laughter through “don’t we all love to hate stupid Americans” humour I am finding boring and unhelpful. He presented himself with dignity while still showing respect to the people of his host country. No one even seemed to miss the hate humour.

I’m looking forward to further visits by Arj Barker. We should make him an honorary Aussie.

Peace and kindness,


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