Comedian Todd Barry's show had disaster written all over it. He'd never performed in Utah before. He was playing an odd venue. It was a Monday night. But the diminutive performer persevered like an old pro.
That makes sense, given Barry's 20-plus years telling jokes on stage. But it would have been easy for the sardonic New Yorker to look at the empty seats in the Jeanne Wagner Theatre—which far outnumbered those that were occupied—and either cancel the gig or mail in an uninspired performance.
Instead, he made the, um, intimate performance a running joke through roughly 90 minutes, threatening to kick boisterous audience members out and introducing himself and his "sold-out show" via the venue's public address system.
"Someone told me Mormons are always late," Barry said early on. "That's a stereotype I wasn't aware of. I'm sure they'll all be coming in any time."
Besides Barry's tried-and-true jokes that he's delivered everywhere from late-night TV to his three winning comedy albums, his strength is working on the fly, using the audience for inspiration. Given that his show Monday felt more like a house party gig than one designed for a large theater—who booked a relatively unknown commodity to SLC audiences in a place that never does comedy shows, anyway?—it was surprising how much good material he gleaned from the audience.
One woman's college major in "supply-chain logistics" turned into about 10 minutes on stupid college majors. Another person's experience with a bitchy Rosie O'Donnell during a Sundance Film Festival gave him plenty of fodder to poke fun at celebrities. His brief time in Utah helped him create quick bits on Temple Square and Squatters.
Part of Barry's charm is his own character, playing himself as an egotistical celebrity who deigns to speak to folks in the audience, and who can't believe his shows aren't massive draws. After chatting with someone in the audience, he'd inevitably ask, "So, am I the biggest celebrity you've ever talked to?" When one woman responded, "No, Bruce Hornsby," Barry actually seemed speechless for a second. It was one of my favorite moments of the show.
Here's hoping next time—if there is a next time—Barry will find himself in a more reasonable environment. You know, like a comedy club. If you'd have taken the Monday audience and put them in the Ogden or West Valley Wiseguys, or even a bar like Burt's Tiki Lounge, he'd probably be walking away pretty happy with drawing a decent crowd on a Monday in Utah. Instead, he'll probably remember a sea of empty seats.