ARJ Barker Live

Powerhouse Theatre (A-List Entertainment and Mary Tobin)


Starring Arj Barker (with Joel Ozborn as support)

Professional Standup Comedy Production

There’s something about American comic Arj Barker that makes 25-35 year-old men fall in love with him. Seriously.

I say this because my other half is one such young man. After we saw Arj last year at the Powerhouse, he developed a weird infatuation with the dark-haired funny-man. He bought the DVD, repeated key jokes and catch phrases beyond what was reasonable (or humorous), and finally admitted sheepishly, that yes, he had a man-crush on Arj Barker. His rapture was palpable when I told him we could go again this year because I’d be reviewing the show – he’d had it pencilled into his diary more than a month before.

So I was relieved to see, as we arrived, that I was not alone. Whole groups of young men – just men – had turned out to see him. There were some women too, of course, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d probably been dragged along by an eager Arj-lovin’ male.

So, why do men in particular adore Arjie Barjie (he bemoans the fact that nickname-obsessed Australians insist on calling him this)? I guess it’s because, in one way or another, they’d like to be him. It operates in the same way as a childhood crush on a teacher. Men admire Arj’s wit (obviously) but they also like his charisma, his unshakeable control onstage, his intelligent irreverence, and the fact that he is unencumbered – no wife, no steady girlfriend (apparently), no kids. Oh, and he tells jokes about poo and balls – and, as Arj himself notes during the show, all men stay about 15 years old on the inside their whole lives, so these jokes will always have an audience.

Don’t get me wrong – I think Arj is great. I might even have a little bit of a crush on him myself. He’s damn funny. A master of satire and irony, he is a consummate performer who just doesn’t slip up. Even if things go awry in some way, he is always masterful in handling it, and often moments of improvisation during a crisis become standout moments of the show. Most of his material is new – and thank heavens, because there’s nothing worse than being subjected to exactly the same jokes second or third time around. (I felt as though Joel Ozborn, the support act, while doing well to hold his own in the midst of the legendary Arj Barker, repeated too much material from last time.) The jokes that Arj did reuse were worked slightly differently this time round (his joke about analogue versus digital watches, for instance) and were just as funny, if not funnier.

Although the demographic on the night I went was definitely weighted in the 20-30 age bracket, I reckon older people would enjoy him too (I’ve seen my mum laugh at his DVD). It’s because he’s intelligent and always one step ahead, and this draws people’s respect, regardless of age or gender.

And here’s the other thing I’ve discovered: the thing that makes this comedian so appealing is that, for all his warmth and his laidback manner onstage, he remains terribly elusive as a person. His show doesn’t delve into his personal or family life in any great depth, and the man is so on top of his game that he is almost aloof at times. He’s cynical, and this show in particular sees him pointing out, in numerous self-reflexive moments, the mechanics of what he is doing as a comic and how it all works. He reminds his audience that he’s in control and that, at the end of the day, it’s all a well-crafted act. Thus, as much as we all love Arj, as much as we want to be his real-life friend, we ultimately fall short.

And so, as with any addiction really, we’ll all keep coming back for more.

Playing until 16 Dec 2007: Tuesday – Sunday 7:30pm, except Friday 14 (9:30pm) and Saturday 15 (7:30pm and 9:30pm)

Running time: approx. 90 mins

— Casey Hutton
(Performance seen: Tue 4th December 2007)