A Loaf of Bread, A Jug of Wine, and Thou


My preview of the inaugural Michiana Wine Festival, happening April 29 in Headwaters Park East:




Deadpanning For Gold


Five years before he attempted his first stand-up gig, a teenaged Todd Barry performed comedy on “Late Night with David Letterman.”

Letterman may not have been aware that Barry was performing comedy. But that’s OK. Letterman didn’t have to know everything.

Barry was part of a Viewer Mail segment in which he claimed that he could do a great impersonation of the show’s bandleader, Paul Shaffer.

Barry can’t do a great impersonation of Shaffer, or even a tolerable one, but he never really thought he could.

He was lying for comic effect.

Letterman was fooled by this Barry’s ruse. Or maybe he was just pretending to be fooled for comic effect.

In an email interview, Barry said that he had not yet made the connection between comedy and vocation at that point.

“I always had an interest in making people laugh, but no specific direction regarding how I would do that or if I even wanted to do it,” he said. “I never considered doing standup until after college.”

Many years later, Barry made his legitimate debut on a Letterman-hosted program and somehow failed to mention the Viewer Mail segment.

“I tried to bring it up during a commercial break, but he was distracted,” he said. “I regret that I didn’t mention it to the producers.”

Deciding not to mention this to Letterman seems a very Todd Barry thing to have done.

Like many a stand-up comic, Barry is essentially a shy guy. His stage persona – dry with a touch of knowing smarm and plenty of space for letting jokes smolder – is not a calculated creation.

“I’ve never consciously worked on my persona,” he said. “It’s just what evolved, for better or worse.”

Barry performs Thursday at the Tiger Room inside Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits.

Thousands of performances ago, he took the stage for the first time at a Coconuts Comedy Club in South Florida. He did bits about McDonalds and circumcision, among other topics.

In the early days, he would record routines and listen to the audiocassettes in his car after the shows.

More than three decades have passed, but Barry said he still gets stage fright from time to time.

“I do still get nervous,” he said. “Sometimes that’s situational, like if it’s in an especially large venue…or a bad one.”

Barry’s deadpan demeanor onstage seems like it would be good for hiding vague unease and/or full-blown panic.

“Yes, sometimes pretending like you don’t give a (expletive) is helpful,” he said.

Some comics, like Stephen Wright, Jerry Seinfeld and the late Mitch Hedberg, are/were fond of working through drafts of potential jokes in notebooks.

But Barry said he can admire, but not emulate, that practice.

“I want to have that method, but I basically think of an idea and start working it out on stage,” he said. “I will occasionally sit down in a coffee shop and try to brainstorm, but I lose patience rather quickly.”

Barry did, however, muster enough patience to write a book.

“Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-the-Biggest Cities in the World” debuted in March to laudatory reviews.

The book is a celebration (with snark) of the so-called “secondary markets” where Barry performs. Perhaps Fort Wayne will make a future edition.

The hardest part of writing a book versus trying out stand-up material, Barry said, is the lack of a sounding board in the first endeavor.

“In standup, you know immediately if something works,” he said. “When I wrote the book, I had to guess whether people will like it and sometimes I wasn’t sure. But it’s getting decent reviews, so that’s relieving!”

Barry has described himself as a foodie in at least one prior interview (although it is predictably difficult in that context to tell when Barry he is joking and when he is being earnest).

Touring and foodolatry would seem to go hand in hand (or fork in mouth).

In truth, however, Barry’s chief criterion for choosing eateries is proximity.

“I often go on Yelp and search for coffee and restaurants that are near the hotel I’m staying at,” he said. “It’s nice to have something within walking distance, but I will get a taxi if I’m really feeling isolated.”

Loitering in nearby coffee shops for hours while writing nothing in notebooks is one of Barry’s favorite pastimes.

Like most prominent stand-ups, Barry has done guest shots on many TV series. He also played a major role in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler.”

A few years back, Barry toured with no prepared material and more such experiments may be in the offing.

“I’d like to do a bigger role in a movie, or be on a great TV show,” he said. “I’m also interested in doing some sort of live show that isn’t standup. But I haven’t figured that out yet!”


Alt-Synopses: “Fate of the Furious”


The last installment of this automotive mayhem franchise, Furious 7, left many questions that future sequels are obligated to answer:

  1. Can the series continue after the death of actor Paul Walker?
  1. Can the series continue to pretend that it never made reference to Tokyo drifting?
  1. Will the franchise be hampered by a recent Universal Pictures edict in which the characters are hereafter limited to driving one vehicle made by the series’ new sponsor: the Mitsubishi Mirage?

Fate of the Furious, which opens today, may provide some answers.

After Walker died, some pundits wondered whether Universal should just stop making films in the franchise.

But Universal executives said Walker would have wanted the series to continue, given that Walker had been very sentimental about Universal’s money.

The title of the new film features a veiled reference to the sequel’s chronological place in the series (essentially, “F8 of the Furious”).

Future titles now being considered by Universal include: The Fast and the Asi9 and Dis10ded and Furious.

The series has a checkered history. It almost didn’t bounce back from the universally panned third installment, The Fast and the Furry-ous, which was set in the world of animal costume fetishism.

Luckily, Universal quickly figured out what viewers really wanted and it has been giving it to them ever since: More automotive phallic metaphors than you can shake a phallus at.

Universal has every reason to be optimistic about the prospects of Fate of the Furious, but there are signs of trouble.

This is the second consecutive installment without the word “fast” in the title, which would seem to suggest that some sort of deceleration is happening.

Universal might want to have that checked out.

In Fate of the Furious, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) appears to have turned evil and is battling his former crime-fighting cohorts.

Has Dom really become a criminal or will viewers find out, in a plot twist so shocking that only everybody would have been able to predict it, that he’s being blackmailed?

It’s probably that first one.

New cast members include Charlize Theron as a super-villain named Cypher. While it is easy to fault Cypher for her aloofness and insensitivity, she explains in the film that there really aren’t a whole lot of options in life for a girl whose parents named her Cypher.

Cypher has always secretly wished that her parents had gone with their first choice: Twinkles.

Cypher seems remarkably evil in the trailers, but how will she measure up to other memorable villains in the series: Tabula Rasa, Goose Egg and Diddly Squat?

Also joining the series is British acting legend Helen Mirren.

Fans almost blew a gasket trying to figure out what part she’d be playing in Fate of the Furious.

Luckily, Mirren eventually revealed via Twitter than she’d be reprising one of her signature roles: Queen Elizabeth.

The new film generated some controversy recently when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson called some unnamed fellow cast members, “candy asses.”

We must consider the possibility that Johnson intended this as a compliment, given that an ass made out of actual candy would be quite advantageous in certain situations.

At one point in a trailer, we see Johnson drive a car with one hand while steering a torpedo with another.

If anyone can make us believe such a preposterous scene, it’s either Johnson or a man whose ass is made out of actual candy.

Fate of the Furious will compete with Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3 for the affection of automobile aficionados this summer.

It remains to be seen which film will win the coveted title, “Most CGI.”