Spit Take Saturday: Todd Barry

Welcome to Spit Take Saturday, courtesy of Brown Paper Tickets’ Comedy Doer Julie Seabaugh and her professional comedy criticism site The Spit Take. Julie’s goal with the site is to “elevate the public perception of stand-up comedy to that of a legitimate art form, and to enable comedy criticism be taken as seriously as that of theater, film, music, food, even video games. No a**-kissing. No bias. No mercy. Just honest, unfiltered, long-form reviews written by professional, knowledgeable comedy critics.” 

Every week Julie will select an entry from the site to be included on our blog and hand-pick some related events happening that week that she feels all you comedy lovers out there will appreciate.

So, without further ado, let us introduce you to this week’s Spit Take Saturday!

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Todd Barry is a sharp, precise joke writer. It speaks to his talent as a performer that he appears loose and not overly rehearsed, but if you follow his stuff from set-up to tag, it’s wonderfully efficient, high-percentage comedy. Zero fat. So why would a guy like that mount a seven-city tour doing two shows a night of nothing but crowd work? Turns out, because he’s very good at it.

Barry started his set for his second sold-out show at ImprovBoston’s 100-seat theater more understated than usual, speaking a couple of notches up from a whisper so the crowd had to lean in a little. The host introduced him by saying Barry wasn’t going to tell any jokes, “He’s just going to talk to you.” Barry acknowledged the premise and said, “It’s going to be an awful show. Terrible idea for a show.” He hyped the previous “Crowd Work” shows in Philly and New York and the early show, and then said he was due for a bad show and this was probably going to be it.He was vamping, catching a thread to establish his particular blend of mock arrogance, self-deprecation and sarcasm; and simultaneously getting himself and his audience in the flow. And he found a lot he could work with. Once on his feet, Barry started building a cast, addressing a woman in the front row who turned out to be an opera singer. “You do, like, the music version of what I do,” said Barry. “Most people don’t get it.” He picked a small group of five or six people and set them up like spinning plates, returning to them when the mood struck.


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Spit Take Saturdays: Kevin Pollak

Welcome to Spit THow I Slept My Way to the Middleake Saturday, courtesy of Brown Paper Tickets’ Comedy Doer Julie Seabaugh and her professional comedy criticism site The Spit Take. Julie’s goal with the site is to “elevate the public perception of stand-up comedy to that of a legitimate art form, and to enable comedy criticism be taken as seriously as that of theater, film, music, food, even video games. No ass-kissing. No bias. No mercy. Just honest, unfiltered, long-form reviews written by professional, knowledgeable comedy critics.” 

Every week Julie will select an entry from the site to be included on our blog and hand-pick some related events happening that week that she feels all you comedy lovers out there will appreciate.

So, without further ado, let us introduce you to this week’s Spit Take Saturday!

Kevin Pollak has led an enviable existence. He’s enjoyed a high level of success as a stand-up comedian and an actor, and his memoir, How I Slept My Way to the Middle: Secrets and Stories from Stage, Screen, and Interwebs (Lyons Press), features a long list of icons and mega-stars with whom Pollak has worked with and/or enjoys a close relationship. Many of them—including Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, Tom Hanks, Kevin Smith and Mark Cuban—offer supportive or sarcastic quotes sprinkled throughout the text (as does his Mom, and Pollak himself, in a few asides). There are stories about Warren Beatty, Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro, Johnny Carson and Jack Nicholson. It would all be so very chummy and schmaltzy if not for the fact that Pollak is so god-damned charming.
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Spit Take Saturday: Jimmy Dunn

Boat Hack Cover! To anything but the most persistent comedy geek, the term “boat hack” will mean nothing. Boston comic Jimmy Dunn defines it as a terrible slur, aimed at comedians who work cruise ships for a living. “It implies not only are you a shi**y, unoriginal entertainer,” he writes, “you are also so desperate for work and approval that you’ve sold out your soul and have gone to work for the nit-wits and moronic masses that vacation on the ‘Whatever of the Seas.’” Which is why the book opens with Dunn sabotaging his cruise ship career by telling “The Aristocrats” joke, the vulgar, improvisational routine that inspired the movie of the same name, to a cruise audience.

“Boat Hack: A Stand-Up Comic’s Farewell to The Cruise Industry” is Dunn’s gruff exposé of cruise-ship comedy, his farewell letter, and a bit of a travelogue. He offers a sarcastic disclaimer to start, claiming that, despite his 12 or so years telling jokes on boats, none of the stories are true. “So don’t bother calling your lawyers,” he writes, addressing some anonymous cruise-line employee. “Or mine. I made it all up.” The book doesn’t read as false, so take the disclaimer with a gain of salt the size of Lot’s wife.

“Boat Hack” isn’t an in-depth, journalistic look at the industry. The chapters are short, usually only a couple of pages, some no longer than a couple of paragraphs. Dunn is no Bill Bryson, and offers no analysis of his observations, no Sociology 101. He treats almost everything as if he were writing it for the stage: focus on the laughs and the sarcasm, hit the punchline and get out. As a result, some of the stories seem a little incomplete.


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