I’ve had a number of laugh out loud moments at the ideas in Arj Barker’s shows over the years. I’ve enjoyed the “Heavy Metal Heckle”, his turn as a Guru, what speed-freaks did before there were cars, and explorations of the culpability of the sun in global warming. Based on this, I was looking forward to his new show Go Time. Barker is a big star these days, and while there are ideas, this show is squarely aimed at a broad demographic.
This show retains elements of Barker’s trademark style. He’ll use an issue such as consumerism to nudge us into thinking about the effects of our choices. The mock outrage in his rants directed against absurd targets was vintage Barker, unpredictable and very enjoyable. Good ideas relate to the perils of Japanese dining, Melbourne’s trams and buying poetry on the street. This type of inventiveness has always made Barker a cut above most of the comics on the circuit, and the material was well-received. Also new to this outing is Barker’s recent interest in developing tough-love phrases as alternatives to “Build a bridge, and get over it”, which gave us some good moments. There’s also some intermittent advice on how to live which unconvincingly related to the title of the show, making me think that it is still a little raw.
If there was to be a rewrite, I can suggest some stuff to cut. Towards the end there was a somewhat amusing wordplay. Barker commented on the diffuse laughter from the audience and proceeded to explain the joke. Comedy wisdom suggests that if an explanation is necessary you shouldn’t bother, and the bored folks who got the joke wish you’d get back to trying to make them laugh.
A sequence on masturbation didn’t appeal to me and his diahorrea conclusion made the show feel about six minutes too long. If you know Barker’s style you’d understand a long-time fan saying, “Way to walk away from your fan base, ARJ!”. Putting aside my prejudices, this stuff probably got some of the biggest laughs of the night, and we can’t dispute that Barker’s formula solidly entertained the crowd.
While there were some good bursts, I think I’ll feel a bit less enthusiastic the next time I see Barker’s name in a festival guide, and might be more inclined to see what Simon Munnery, Andrew McClelland or Carl-Einar Häckner are up to. And as for the lowbrow stuff, I wish Barker would get a zeppelin, and rise above this crap.