Greer Barnes’ debut album See What I’m Saying is unique in so many ways. First off, Greer’s no green young thing, he’s a universally respected veteran of the New York Comedy scene. Second, it wasn’t produced in the usual way. Instead of taking a weekend at a road club or a one-nighter at an intimate venue, Greer and producer Matt Lipton crafted the album from multiple shorter sets Greer performed at his home club, The Comedy Cellar. And finally, there’s Matt. He’s a producer, but not the typical outside label producer parachuting in to put this together, he’s also Greer’s road feature, the man who probably knows Greer’s act better than anyone on earth. The result is a stand out album.
I was under the impression that I didn’t have the means or the know-how or the people, but it turns out that I had all of that for years.
The title, See What I’m Saying is a bit of a play on words, too, because Greer is a remarkable physical comedian. Not in a flashy act-out kind of way, Greer just believes comedians need more physicality in their acts. “The thing about us as humans… there’s the audible, the hearing and then the sight, the physical. I see some of these jokes comedians tell and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, there’s a physical part to that that you’re not doing!’ I mean, people are dying, it was 100%, but if you did it physical it would be 210%. You build a picture for them. And it’s our duty. I think it was Barry Katz’s wife who said, ‘Remember, these people come here so that you can bring them into your world.’”
But being physical is a tricky thing, even for Greer. “I used to be a lot more physical,” he said. “I find it to be a bit embarrassing. When you do it, you have to do it. If you do it half assed, you’re gonna get it half assed. It’s very intimate. I almost wish I could do it without me seeing the crowd [watching me].”
For a physical comedian, finding the right version of each bit that conveys its essence in audio alone is challenging– even more challenging because Greer never does the same set twice. He’s constantly rearranging bits, changing tags and segues. So its easy to see why the album was a long time coming.
Greer almost followed another route, before turning to comedy full time. He told me that when he was younger, he was scouted by the San Francisco Giants. “I didn’t make it to the minor leagues because my mom and stepfather were separating and that had a big impact on me. So I didn’t go to camp because it was in Arizona.” The Greer Barnes comedy origin story started one summer night, back in 82 with a little buzz, and a walk in New York.
“Four or five of my best mates had had some marijuana and a bunch of beers and were walking down Columbus Avenue and there were these two dudes, two older white guys. One was the president of the borough of the Bronx and the other guy was like a lawyer for the city and they had about sixty to eighty people out there, chilling. When me and my boys walked by, my friend said something, the crowd laughed, then I said something and the crowd laughed, they [the white guys] said something back and everyone laughed, so one of the guys came over, pulled me by the shirt into the center and gave me the microphone. All I had at the time was an Eddie Murphy impression.”
“So I would meet them out there every Friday and Saturday that summer and then at the end of August, they took me aside and said, ‘Greer, you’re great, but we already have an Eddie Murphy, we could use a Greer Barnes.’ I was flattened, clean slate. And because of them, and also Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor’s influence on me, I found myself.”
Being black and growing up then, we didn’t see them as black exploitation because of how much truth was in it.
They’re so tight, they even share a Netflix account and one day Matt noticed Greer had just watched The Black Klansman a 1966 faux documentary about a light-skinned black man who infiltrates the KKK to get revenge for the death of his daughter. “It was unwatchable,” Matt says, “So of course I immediately texted Greer to make fun of him and then we just got to joking about blaxploitation films that don’t exist, but should.”
“See, being black and growing up then, we didn’t see them as black exploitation,” Greer says, “because of how much truth was in it. I remember seeing things – pimps, drug dealers, addicts nodding out. And then this sort of right wing group of black people got together and started attacking this industry and a lot of the actors who were starring in these films were really pissed because they basically snuffed out the entire industry in which they were working.”
But if the industry makes a comeback, Greer and Matt are ready with a spate of new genre-crossing Blaxploitation films. If you’re familiar with the genre, the titles pretty much spell it out, but Greer added some helpful details in case you aren’t.
“See What I’m Saying” is available on iTunes and Amazon, and you can catch Greer regularly at The Comedy Cellar in NY