It's Been An Arj Day's Night!
Interview with Arj Barker
Written by Dan Collacott
Comic *Arj Barker once remarked ‘You don’t heckle God!’, but despite his suave bandana-wearing ladies-man persona, he wasn’t talking about himself. The charismatic actor and comedian rocks out a both observational and absurdist brand of stand up.
"I’m not sure who influenced me the most. I like so many comedians and they’re all very different. I love Mitch Hedberg, Brian Regan, Harry Hill and Eddie Izzard. Steven Wright is awesome. Eddie Murphy was mind-blowing in his time. Steve Martin, same."
The Indian American is frequently found on US comedy shows and the many comedy circuits in the states, his material rarely pulls any punches and can be confrontational, wry and yet cheeky all at once. I asked if there was any subject area he wouldn't go near?
"Well I’ve tried some really personal material before about how I have psoriasis, but it felt too much like a subtle quest for sympathy, so I dropped it pretty quick. I like to hint at my real issues, but not get too matter-of-fact. Also I’d rather not do a joke if it were distinctly hurtful to a person or group of people. Just not worth it to me for the laugh."
To give you examples of the razor sharp humour of the handsome comic, he once riffed on Google being conceited stating ‘has anyone misspelled anything when typing into Google and seen the tone it takes with you?...Did you mean Va – Gina? Yeah THAT’S what I meant Google Images!’
Arj is best known in the UK as Dave, the comedy foil and best friend to Jemaine and Brett on hit HBO series Flight of the Conchords (FOTC).
"I met them at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2004 I believe. Then we became better friends in New Zealand at the comedy festival in Auckland that same year. Then a few years later, Jemaine texted me and said, ‘hey man. Will you be on our TV show? I texted back, ‘yup.’ Done deal!’"
The Californian admitted there are similarities between him and the streetwise and slightly delusional character of Dave.
"Yeah a little bit. I think that the part was written with me in mind. I feel like all the characters on the show are slightly exaggerated versions of the people that play them to some degree. I’m not quite that much of a prick tho’ in real life!"
In the second series of FOTC virtually the whole cast sing or front their own songs and Arj added some pretty fly rapping skills to the songs ‘Too Many Dicks’ and ‘Sugar lumps'.
"I love rapping, I actually rap in a band called The Sanchez Brothers. Listen to our vibe**.’
He added his favourite ever FOTC song was ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room’ from series one.
‘It’s such a great song and my character is part of the story in it, which is exciting for me still to this day."
In the last issue of LF, Rhys Darby revealed on the FOTC set he had to do takes to empty chairs as there was so much corpsing and improvisation, a fact Arj also remarked on.
"After the director was happy that we had nailed what was on the page, we would often have a few takes where we were encouraged to make stuff up. It’s always fun to watch the show and see which one of your riffs has made the final cut!"
When talking about career highlights Arj enthused about when he performed for 9000 people at Red Rocks Colorado.
"I’ll send you a picture of it. It was pretty cool. I mean to be fair, the crowd was there to see FOTC, but they showed me lots of love too!"
After covering all things Conchords, we moved onto the comic’s life before and after he hit the big time. Arj cites working as the clean up guy at a local deli in high school as his worst ever job.
"It barely paid, and it was filthy work. Once I ate some mushrooms (the magic kind) and went to work and that was exponentially horrible. I remember cleaning the grease out of the chicken machine and thinking, ‘this is my last day.’"
Arj described the time he was last star-struck, a story which will also hearten those of us who’ve had to put up with their own ladies rabid celebrity crushes.
"A few years ago when my girlfriend (at the time) and I ran into Matthew McConaughey at a resort near Port Douglas in Australia. I guess I was a little star-struck. My girlfriend was over the fucking moon though. I’d never seen her that happy up to that point, which was a bit troubling."
So from celebrities to animation, and few comedians can boast that they have voiced an award winning online animated series, certainly not one based on themselves and a cat that speaks via the power of fart. Arj told me the story behind Arj and Poopy***.
"One day I was sitting there, and I get an email from some guy and he says, ‘hey mate, I animated some of your stand-up that I found on the net. See what you think.’ And that was how myself and Bernard Derriman met, and we’ve been working together ever since! We introduced other characters like Poopy and Bouncy so I wouldn’t just be talking to myself in the episodes."
One of the more bizarre sides of fame can be seeing stuff written about yourself online. Arj says:
"Somebody wrote this in the comment box on one of my youtube videos according to my buddy: "haha my friend dated Arj (the actor) for a few months in San Francisco, and she said he sleeps in his bandanas to keep his bangs down in the morning. true story :)" No, it’s not actually. But it’s sort of funny!"
So what does Arj think of the rather splendid London comedy circuit and crowds?
"I worked on that circuit a lot for a few years and I have nothing but good memories. Sharp audiences but sometimes a little drunk. Course, that can happen anywhere to be fair.’ (man we binge drinking Brits love nothing more than ruining comedy -- Ed). And finally I asked the enigmatic comic what he was up to just now. ‘Just touring around as a stand-up. I’m releasing a DVD early next year. It should be available in the UK too. That’s where you are right? You sound like it?"
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