There came a point in Arj Barker’s early Friday night set at Cobb’s when the San Anselmo native seemed as if he were overcome by the gravity of the moment, this being the latest homecoming for the local-funnyman-gone-global. No, he’s not about to get all sentimental on us, is he?
“You guys are like family to me Cobb’s,” he said stoically and honestly. “Rude, abusive, alcoholic…We see each other once a year and it’s super (f-in’) awkward.”
But all joking aside, there was certainly a feeling of nostalgia and honorary familial/civic pride in the air over the weekend at Cobb’s. Barker was returning to a stage that has seen him evolve from promising Bay Area comic to established comedian/actor/playwright. He was just returning to the Bay Area after a three-month tour of Australia — his adopted homeland — where he has become a cultural phenom thanks to his supporting role in HBO’s cult-hit comedy Flight of the Conchords.
But despite all his success, Arj is still Arj — that silly, affable surrealist capable of making us think and laugh hard in the same punchline. In a bit that had him offering a eulogy for himself, he summed it up better, with a wink: “Arj was so edgy and progressive and ahead of his time, though he never would have admitted it.”
We’ll give him “edgy” and “progressive,” but he might be of his time more than ahead of it, with a meta, ironic-guy-next-door style that’s (mostly) free from the crutches of raunch, one-liners and shtick. On Friday, he took the occasional turn into his aloof alter-ego, playing with expectations charmingly on bits about encounters of the female kind.
Yes, the ladies are very much on his mind. While we didn’t look up his facebook relationship status, he says he’s constantly being hounded to find a girlfriend, and often hears the common advice that he just needs to meet someone with similar interests. “Oh I just have to meet a cool chick who wants to (bang) a lot of girls? OK…” He wasn’t much for crowd work, but he did attempt conversation with some 20something girls from Lodi in the front row, got a lukewarm laugh and moved on. Can’t blame a guy for trying.
He flirted with topical humor, too, with a requisite Bin Laden joke at the ready: “I knew if just one more person died, everything would be alright,” adding that with that kind of swift justice, other dictators like al-Gaddafi had better not make any plans after 2022.
Themes of mortality also seeped into Barker’s set, with riffs on ghosts and bucket lists and a potential suicide wall/net on the Golden Gate Bridge, for which the north bay native shared his best idea of the night: “I’m not saying a suicide barrier is a bad idea, but how about a suicide barrier in between the oncoming lanes of traffic to save the lives of the people who actually want to live?”
Amen. Arj Barker: comedian, ladies man, urban planner.
Opener Tony Camin is also a longtime S.F. favorite but lives in New York City now, because he wanted to live somewhere “more expensive and shittier.” He offered this observation on the differences between his old and his adopted city: “On BART you’ve got ads for stuff like the iPad 3. On the New York subway it’s — ‘Got AIDS?’ ” Bits about marriage were equally poignant and hilarious, Camin being an advanced student in the subject as a newlywed. Bravo, sir.