Published Mar 22, 2014Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.
Beyond being a bold, successful experiment, Todd Barry's Crowd Work film is extraordinarily funny and refreshing. The premise finds Barry, a successful, well-respected, and idiosyncratic New York-based comic/actor touring without any prepared material, instead relying solely on his interactions with strangers in the audience for laughs.
It's "crowd work," a comedian breaking away from their set to speak to people off-the-cuff, and some stand-ups just can't do it. Barry's film was produced by Louis C.K., who once, in a plot sequence on his dramedy Louie, derided crowd work as the stuff of hacks. But in a recent message to fans asking them to check out Barry's film, C.K. admits he belittles the practice because it intimidates him. "Some comedians are good at it," he wrote, "Some aren't (I'm not)."
Barry is a genius at it. What he accomplishes here is revelatory, sizing people up in minutes (and often in the dark) and, in his own unassuming manner, eviscerating them in the most good-natured manner.
In L.A., there's the pretentious but game rhythm section from a noodle-y band called Avant Abstract who set and then fall into their own verbal traps the longer they chat with Barry. In Portland, we meet DJ Carlos and a crazy egg lady, both of whom relish Barry's attention a little too much; he rightly makes them pay. There's also the too-into-it Garth, a Seattle resident who works in digital marketing for a local, hippie-ish soda pop company and the exchange is priceless on many levels.
In some ways, Barry gives in to the unspoken vibe at a comedy show, where certain members of the audience really want to be part of the show, as if they have something relevant to offer to the proceedings. Barry spots this "I'm funny too" sentiment quickly and seizes on it, cutting some people down to size or, if his instincts tell him he hit gold, letting certain folks go on at their own expense.
In every case here, the organic unfolding of jokes out of thin air is thrilling and rewarding. Even on film, you can feel the crowd's visceral, collective response to every shift in tone or narrative development, most of which is driven by those among them.
Stand-up specials seldom have an air of suspense or exploration because they're often the culmination of months of roadwork, during which a comedian hones an act they've slaved over and perfected. The Crowd Work Tour is a daring feat of instant, observational found comedy in which Todd Barry draws from both his long-honed chops and his quick, incisive mind for something unique and highly, highly entertaining. (Independent)