Funny man also a bright spark
It's always tricky interviewing comedians. Assume they're being funny, crack a few nervous jokes and you'll irritate them and look like a fool. But approach them straight and you'll realise, too late, that you're the butt of a complex joke, as Radio New Zealand's Kathryn Ryan discovered when interviewing comedian Arj Barker live on air last week.
Then there's the very real chance that the interview will simply descend into trivia and farce.
Pity us. We had a slot of just 10 minutes to navigate these treacherous waters with Barker as he prepares to make his way to Nelson on his first regional tour. He'll be onstage at the Theatre Royal on Wednesday night, sallying forth on topics such as prawns, 3-D movies and the internet's desperate need for Sarcastica: a font to accurately convey sarcasm.
"Some years down the line people will say 'Arj Barker thought of that'," he says.
"I was the first person to suggest a sarcastic font and now they're talking about actually doing it [see sartalics.com]. I don't know if I'll ever get credit for it." But people have been tweeting him about it, saying they've stolen his original idea, which also included Chill Sans and Good Times New Roman. "The public has my back."
He's owed credit elsewhere too – a little blue check mark next to his name on Twitter, to verify his is indeed a real account from someone famous, would be nice. But he's not going to stoop so low as to ask for it.
"I don't know what you're supposed to do to get it," he says. "I don't know if I'm too proud ... I've seen people [with it] and I'm at least as cool as that person. But no, they won't give it to me."
It wouldn't do to go grovelling to Twitter. "Exactly. That's the thing. Because then it's too hurtful if they didn't give it to me. I put the feelers out there and nothing happened, so in the end I said 'Never mind'. I'm with the people, you know? Of course I'd turncoat in a second."
Despite the lack of kudos from Twitter and internet font gods, Barker's well-known in New Zealand for his turn on Flight of the Conchords, where he played pawn-shop worker Dave to deadpan perfection.
He knew Conchords Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie from working the international comedy circuit. "When they were putting the show together they said 'We need someone to play kind of a dickhead and they thought of me," he says. "Career-wise it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. [Standup] just got better – I got a new wave of audience. And it's great to work with friends – people you like, and they're great guys."
He spends a lot of time in Australia, where he enjoys immense popularity – in 2010 he was the highest-selling act at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Barker is also planning to make his own TV show, a half-hour comedy of "something tailor-made to suit me as the star".
"But I want to be real careful not to rush into it and not to put it out there until it's good. That's what I learned from [Clement and McKenzie]. It was their vision; they didn't let it get made by someone else. That's what you gotta do if you want to put out quality."
The TV show is all hush-hush though. "I'm only telling people in Nelson this. This is our little secret." He could be joking. But then again, he might not. How to get that droll wit across in print? Perhaps we need a special font to do it.
- Arj Barker, Wednesday, September 7, Theatre Royal, 7.30pm. Tickets $39.90 from Everyman.
- © Fairfax NZ News