The crowd that came to see comedy at the Tralf Friday night seemed pretty mellow for most of the show. That fits the style of headliner Todd Barry, whose sure, moderated tone and dry wit consistently entertained the audience during his one-hour set.
To say Barry’s humor is bone dry is an understatement; there were times when the actual punch line of the joke would be hidden in the setup, and it carries the risk of flying over the heads of the crowd. On Friday, Barry sometimes digressed after a joke to explain how somebody watching a previous show completely missed the point of the punch line, like when somebody asked him, “Why would you eat sushi in a Cincinnati airport?”
But that’s the fun of a comic like Barry, as it’s fun to listen to him deliver sardonic responses to the silly things people say. Wearing slacks and a short-sleeved button-down, Barry delivered great material about absurd premises, such as how quickly hotels are ready to offer free breakfasts to offset complaints or a Yelp review about a coffee shop that described the barista as “presumptuous.”
He also had a number of wonderful turn of phrases, such as “relentless lemon slicing” and “Anybody like playing racquetball with a ferret?”
Barry often engaged the crowd directly, talking to some audience members sitting close to the stage. While crowd work can be tricky for a comic, as you never quite know (or hear) what the audience person is going to say, Barry got some good mileage out of their answers and even acknowledged his occasional missteps. When Barry began a bit asking if there were any picky eaters in attendance, a woman complied and gave an example of not liking the chicken fingers in Ohio because nobody in the state uses sauce with the meal.
“I’ve had chicken fingers in Ohio, they have sauce,” Barry replied. “It’s not a Ohio thing. You’re talking to a guy who works in comedy clubs, and you’re telling me about their chicken fingers?”
While Barry’s act wasn’t a start-to-finish riot, I laughed pretty hard every few minutes throughout his set. I also admire how he was working to keep his act fresh throughout the night, whether it was directly talking to the crowd or simply adding another joke he just thought of to an existing punch line. Sometimes it wouldn’t work as well, but that’s part of the risk of comedy, and Barry was willing to admit a joke didn’t land the way he wanted it to before moving on.
One of the challenges comedians have is once they perfect a joke, it’s easy to begin getting bored with the finalized bit while delivering the same lines night after night. While Barry’s smooth, deep voice doesn’t have many peaks or valleys, he never seems tired of his material, which is likely due to his willingness to continue adding new ideas and directions.
It may not work 100 percent of the time or appeal to everybody, but it always keeps it interesting.