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Winter Comedy Arts Festival QA with Todd Barry

Traverse City Events: Todd Barry's racked up quite the repertoire of comedic performances—Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Comedy Central 1/2 Hour Special, Jimmy Kimmel—it's a lengthy list. And where else would he be right now but Northern Michigan? The Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival flew in the best of the business for a side-splitting weekend of comedic performances. Get a feel for Todd's humor with these clips here, and then catch him live tonight at the Traverse City Opera House, 10:30pm. But to tide you over until then, just snack on this little QA diddy:

Like most of the comedians at the festival, this is your first visit to Traverse City. Have we made any particular impression so far?

Well I just flew in from New York Thursday night and then my girlfriend and I spent an afternoon wandering around town. To be honest, I'm still trying to figure out the Midwest—everyone's so nice! 

It's true. We are. And clearly humble about it, too. So what'd you find while you wandered?

We checked out a few shops, like the cherry store and stuff like that. I didn't realize it was the cherry capital. To be honest, I don't eat a lot of cherries... But it was cool. And yeah we just walked around. When I'm not performing I really don't do anything terribly exciting. I like normal stuff, getting coffee… eating…

Any idea what you would do then if you didn't pursue stand-up?

If I wasn't a comedian? No I really don't know what I'd be. Maybe a lawyer? It seems like a fun job. Then again, maybe not… I don't know! I got an english degree because I didn't know what I wanted to do.

But that's a degree that seems to benefit your sketch writing, right? How do you go about doing that?

Experience. That's how I write. I'm living life and when a moment strikes, I think, Can I bring this to the stage? Often, it's if I can remember to write it down. And it's always good to write down the details… I tell myself Oh I'll remember that and then I never do.

You've definitely remembered enough to get you where you are today. Can you describe that journey?

I started stand-up in 1987 in Florida for an open mic night. I'd been watching comedy a lot on tv and thought I'd try it, and it worked out for me. From there I moved to New York. It's a tough scene to break there but I knew that's what it would take. And, I'm originally from New York so I knew that I wanted to get back there eventually.

Did you have any performing experience before your first attempt at stand-up?

Nothing major. I was in band, played the drums, and did a few plays in college. But no, not a lot of stage experience.

Well now that you've accumulated all this experience, how do you handle unresponsive audiences?

It happens. It's called bombing. You just try to get through it and turn it around the best you can. But sometimes, I'll acknowledge the tension on stage. Sometimes I'll even yell at the audience, tell them they're bad people. And that's standup. Some things come out spontaneously.

Does the prospect of that ever make you nervous? Any pre-performance quirks for luck?

Normally I'll pace around before the show. You know, go to the bathroom 10 times. Okay, maybe not 10. But I'll go over the show however many times and that's all you can do.

And tonight's your last show of the festival. Where are you headed next?

After this weekend I'll be heading to New York. It's always in and out of town. And that's good, because if that wasn't the case, I wouldn't be making any money!

Last one— You mentioned your girlfriend is here in town with you. Are you celebrating Valentine's Day in Traverse City?

We actually celebrated before we left. It's a fine holiday. You get to buy chocolate. So, I'm alright with that.

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