Arj Barker is arguably Australia’s favourite American comic, a fact evidenced by his back-by-popular-demand, ten-night-only run of his latest show Organic. He’s so popular, in fact, that while Organic played at last year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, he needed to add an extra 11th show to this year’s run.
Indeed, over the last few years, Barker’s spent more time here than back in the US and jokes that he arrived in Australia the day after Trump’s inauguration and this time, he isn’t going back. All this time in the country though, has given him a pretty good insight into the complexities of the Australian culture and psyche and many of his jokes are Australia-specific.
He gives Brisvegas a good serve (‘You can see how they came up with the nickname…. Las Vegas has hundreds of themed casinos and Brisbane has one too! And it’s library themed!’) and jokes about coming up with new Aussie slang with ‘shit’ in it. Honestly, some of them are pretty good: ‘shit on your head ain’t a hat’ and ‘when you step in shit, you’ve still got one good shoe’ might even catch on some day.
Like Barker’s observational style, Organic is a ‘free range’ show, and the jokes wander from Aussie culture to his relationship, uber, eating gluten free, Game of Thrones and everything in between. With 26 years of experience and 11 MICFs under his belt, Barker is particularly skilled at navigating the audience mood and knows how to deliver his lines to maximum effect.
The biggest laughs came from a bit about the psychology of uber ratings and an extended diatribe against an audience member who hadn’t seen Game of Thrones and was therefore the real ‘spoiler’ in preventing him from talking about it.
There were lulls too, noticeably during a lengthy bit about Barker’s love of performing circus animals that left the audience silent and uncomfortable for just a little bit too long before the eventual comparison to the Melbourne Cup was made. In another bit, he jokes about wanting to murder his partner and gets pretty detailed about it, before pulling back and reminding us that domestic violence is no laughing matter. I suppose then we ought to stop making jokes about it. The closing song, a strange blend of comedy and genuinely good guitar playing, also left audiences a bit cold.
Overall though, Barker’s sharp cultural observations, practiced stage presence and ability to carry over a punch line into the jokes that follow, make for an entertaining evening. It’s not ground-breaking stuff, but Barker has a way of making well-worn jokes feel that little bit more fresh.