Todd barry – It’s no big secret that the life of a stand-up comedian is a solitary, lonely one. When they are not writing jokes and routines, or performing in front of live audiences at theatres or clubs, the comedian’s life is mostly that of a “road warrior”. They are travelling by air or road to cities and towns across North America, performing their opening or headlining set for the sheer purpose of making people laugh at their jokes, and hopefully getting paid once their 45-minute or hour-long stage times are done.
Veteran comedian Todd Barry, who will be hosting “The Masters” series at this year’s Just For Laughs festival from July 27 to 29, knows what it’s like to be a comedy “road warrior”. He has experienced his share of travelling from gig to gig, in all types of venues, in locales large and small. Instead of dreading each stop along the road for his gigs, Barry has become a keen observer of what each stop had to offer him, not to mention some of the highlights and quirks that went along with it, based on his experiences from past gigs, whether they were memorable or totally forgettable.
And for his very first book, Barry has taken a year-and-a-half’s worth of comedy road stories and turned them into a rather interesting travelogue called Thank You For Coming To Hattiesburg.
The book starts on a grand scale; that is with Todd being the opening act for a Louis C.K. show at Madison Square Garden in New York. From there, he hits the road to embark upon a series of headlining gigs in medium-sized cities and towns across the U.S. (including stops in Israel and Winnipeg), from Portland, Maine to Ronnert Park, California, to yes, even the city mentioned in the book’s title – Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
However, with each entry about the places he performs at during this year-and-a-half comedy odyssey, Barry rarely makes the show itself the emphasis of his observations; in fact, many times, the shows themselves play a rather secondary role. Instead, he chooses to focus on several non-show related observations with each stop. Some deal with his never ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee in the ideal coffee shop; or the conditions of his hotel room or venue dressing room (good or bad); or quirky tourist attractions that he happens to stumble upon; or recounting incidents that occurred during a previous stop in the city in question; or even searching for restaurants that don’t offer the typical chain hotel fare (by the way, if you happen to run a Mongolian BBQ restaurant, expect a visit from Todd the next time he performs in your hometown).
And there are plenty of interesting stories that Todd shares with the reader that fall under the above categories. For instance, Todd recounts the time he last played a gig in Jersey City, in which the booker hesitated paying him after the show (the sweaty booker hemmed and hawed until he gave him enough cash to pay the opening act, and to this day Todd still hasn’t been paid for that gig); during a coffee stop at District Coffee in Boise, Idaho, Todd was so impressed with the black plus signs on white background design in its bathroom, that he took a selfie of it, and became an Instagram sensation for several weeks; Todd recounts one of his favorite museum experiences following a gig in Wilmington, North Carolina at the Cape Fear Serpentarium; then there’s the time when he checked into his hotel room in Mulvane, Kansas, only to find that the toilet was left unflushed (Todd got another room, plus a $25 food voucher); and then there was the time he performed in Missoula, Montana, in which his dressing room was nothing but a cramped, littered storage closet, and when he found out he couldn’t even get a bottle of water, the promoter “generously” offered him a sip from the bottle that he was drinking out of.
Todd’s dry, glib tone that he employs in the book somehow removes the sense of bitterness and dread that many comedians develop when encountering such circumstances while on the road (which happens way too often, unfortunately). But somehow, he views it with a sense of adventure and looks forward to every stop along the way, so he could continue his quest for the perfect cup of coffee or discover a new restaurant before or after a performance.
Thank You For Coming To Hattiesburg is a fascinating book that gives a fresh perspective at the sometimes solitary world of the stand-up comic. Being a comedy road warrior is not always the glamourous part of the job of making people laugh on a regular basis, but Todd Barry demonstrates how he has earned his stripes on the road, which can be frustrating at times, but somehow he manages to find something that catches his interest, and makes that time touring across the country not such a dreadful proposition. A must-read for comedy fans and those who want to follow in the footsteps of Todd Barry and those multitudes of comedy road warriors.
(Gallery Books, $34.99)