Todd Barry is unprepared

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Todd Barry
  • Mindy Tucker
  • Todd Barry
This Chicago date is one in a run that's being promoted as Todd Barry's "Final Crowd Work Tour." And for the veteran stand-up, successful "crowd work" requires a couple of key elements. One, a mike and his brain full of gloop—no prepared material, no jokes come onstage. Two, audience members in the first couple rows with whom he can shoot the breeze and banter. Of those, at least one should be a musician with a clever haircut, one should be a software engineer or, ahem, "gamer," and one should be clad in a dumb and/or ironic T-shirt (worn specifically to impress the guest of honor).

His quick wit aside, Barry's calming demeanor sells this wing-it brand of comedy. With a delivery that sits somewhere between controlled exasperation and a hypnotic, stoic ache, the comic never lets loose. Even while he's poking fun at his target, like a band name—in his recent special, he patiently hammers on a pair of dudes in an instrumental prog outfit called Avant Abstract—Barry does so in such a soothing, exploratory way that his marks might miss the bone-dry sarcasm. Maybe they'll even feel they've built a rapport with him.

Barry hits his stride when audience members lob softballs his way, offering up juicy details from their own lives. Because there are so many avenues to explore in the existence of a part-time (aka floundering) stand-up comic in a freshly purchased Black Flag tee or the hopelessly awkward guy who makes dog collars for a living. And Barry isn't too good for the easy victim—the best substitute for an index card a comic could ask for.

Fri 4/18, 8 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, lincolnhallchicago.com, $20.

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