Todd Barry Tees Up Advice for SiriusXM Top Comic Hopefuls at JFL42

Once again, SiriusXM will be hosting its Top Comic competition during JFL42, and is excited to be a part of it as the event’s headlining comic. “It’s fun to be around younger comics,” he noted during our chat ahead of the event finals. “It’s good to see what people are thinking of, and [to be around] people who aren’t necessarily jaded or overly slick,” before adding in his trademark dry tone, “[and] if they’re fans, it’s nice.”

For their part, JFL42 has shared a “why” for each comic they’ve added to this year’s Toronto slate, and they teed up Barry’s time at the festival with the following: “his decidedly low-key stage persona belies a deeply intelligent, often biting, occasionally absurdist worldview, is a fresh yet honest update to traditional observation and social commentary.”

Meet em all, tell them what you want, and don’t sign anything too quickly.

Barry’s appearance caps off a competition five months in the making, where a Final 8 will be competing for the title of Canada’s Funniest Comic, a $25,000 prize, and guaranteed slots on Just for Laughs events in the year to come. It’s an enticing prize, and yet Barry issued a warning to these budding comics in our interview. When asked what advice he had for the finalists, he encouraged them to continue to do the work that it takes to get good. “The best advice I give is just always write, have good jokes. That’s the most important thing. I tend to notice and help the people who are talented, laid-back, and don’t want something from you.” Speaking specifically to this year’s contestants, he added, “If someone wins, they might get courted by agents. Meet em all, tell them what you want, and don’t sign anything too quickly.” But he then returned to his bottom line, the bit that matters the most when building a career as long and accomplished as his: “And keep working.”

In the spirit of helping him revisit the roots that Top Comic finalists are still exploring, we asked him some of the same questions we pose to the top eight ahead of their festival debut. We’ll be sharing answers from the eight finalists later in the weekend, but first, from the voice of experience, here are Todd’s responses:

What club do you consider your home club?

The Comedy Cellar in New York. It’s the one I work at the most, and the one I tend to hang out and socialize in more. It’s a great club. There are clubs that are no longer in business, [like] Catch a Rising Star, the original one, way back in the day.

What was the worst hell gig you’ve ever done?

I bombed once in London for a TV taping, [that’s my] most recent bad bomb. I’ve had mediocre shows. When no one’s laughing, that’s my gauge for bombing. I was the last guy on, and they were all UK or Irish comics. The audience had been there for like 4 hours, and there was a slight anti-American vibe in the crowd. I imagine now that’d be even worse…

What about the best or most rewarding gig you’ve ever done?

I’ve gotten to perform at Massey Hall (in Toronto) and Sydney Opera House, Madison Square Garden. [I think about] doing Letterman and specials. But a really great gig can be in front of 100 people, or even 20 people.

If you could have another comic’s career, whose would you pick?

I’m more jealous of musicians. [I think of] someone like Elvis Costello can tour with a band, then do a solo tour. [He can] be funny, [or] not be funny. There are people who I admire the way they work- like Doug Stanhope, who does what he wants and is very prolific and very funny.

I’m pretty okay with my career…can I like my own career?

Todd Barry will close out SiriusXM’s Top Comic competition at JFL42 on Friday, September 29th- tickets are still available and can be purchased on JFL42’s website.

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Amma Marfo

Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.