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A San Franciscan in Australia

Even though his output is prolific, comedian Arj Barker doesn’t want to be a “joke machine.”
Arj Barker maintains a big presence on stage while exuding calmness.
Image by Courtesy Of Arj Barker
Arj Barker maintains a big presence on stage while exuding calmness.

Last week, comedian Arj Barker’s comedic side took a backseat to his inner romantic as he vacationed at his family’s northern California getaway.

“It’s chilly, like, 55 degrees and there’s a lot of fog rolling in from the shore,” Barker said. “It’s nice to be on vacation, though; my grandfather built this cabin in 1957.”

Coming off his 2013 special, “Heavy,” Barker deserves the time off.

The break comes right before he heads to Minneapolis to test out material for his new tour.

Though Barker is always busy working on a project, his demeanor suggests he could be the laid-back beach dweller in any given friend group. His energy during shows is electric and focused, while his shaggy hair and occasional affected befuddlement channel Andy Samberg. Offstage, his thoughts really do meander, and it’s clear that it’s no easy task to get the comic stressed.

“My favorite thing in life is hanging out with friends and having good laughs with them, honestly,” Barker said. “None of the other stuff that seems more impressive to tell someone about, whether it’s a sexual escapade or playing a big venue, is as fulfilling for me.”

Barker started performing in the early ’90s in San Francisco after he finished high school because a friend dared him to give it a shot. After finding some success early on and managing to host a show on Sundays at a local café, Barker landed a spot on “Premium Blend” in 1997. The opportunity led to a slew of television appearances over the next decade, including “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “Comedy Central Presents,” and the role of Dave on “Flight of the Conchords.”

Like most comics, the comedian’s natural demeanor informs his stage character. Smooth, subdued and playfully stoner-esque, Barker spends a lot of his time offering unrealistic solutions to the problems he sees in the world.

“Australia is the only English-speaking country I know where it’s acceptable … to simply make up an entirely new word,” Barker said in a 2010 appearance in Melbourne. “I did a test — I just made up a word, and then I went into five furniture stores in the greater Brisbane area … and every time the shopkeeper would come up to me and say, ‘Can I help you find anything today, sir?’ Every single time I said the same thing, ‘No thanks! I’m just having a little squidgerie-didge.’ That was the test. Now the result: Five out of five shopkeepers didn’t even blink.”

Barker spends most of his time in Australia, where the majority of his following lives.

“Recognition has kind of eluded me in the States. I’d been working hard as a comic for over a decade by the time I went over to Australia,” he said. “In that regard, it was hard work plus being in the right place at the right time. It was before a lot of guys started doing Melbourne, and I got some good TV spots and, I don’t know, my humor seems to gel with theirs.”

Regardless of where he’s spending his time, Barker puts a premium on making sure his material is true to himself.

“Personally, I don’t want to try to rush. I’m not a joke machine. I need to have personal experience and insights to make it happen,” he said. “Jokes are an organic thing for me; it has to kind of dawn on me. Maybe I could work harder, but coming out of a year with a half hour of good material is reasonable for me.”


What: Arj Barker
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Acme Comedy Company, 708 N. First St., Minneapolis
Cost: $15–30
Age: 18+ 


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