Arj Barker: “The Mind Field” at Melbourne 2024

**** 1/2 (out of 5)

Arj Barker is big in Australia. How big? He’s starring in a new feature film, The Nut Farm, just released in this nation’s movie theaters, where he plays a Bay Area crypto dud who inherits a farm full of nuts in Australia.

Did Barker become such a popular fixture in Melbourne, though, because of his association with Flight of the Conchords (he played their friend, Dave, in their HBO series)? Or do the Australian audiences just seem more attuned to Barker’s out-there style of comedy, in which he modulates his vocal volume wildly while telling bits that could very well be dad jokes, except Barker presents himself much more as the wacky uncle.

When I first immersed myself in the stand-up comedy world in Seattle in the late 1990s, Barker was one of my favorite headliners to come through the club each year. A quarter-century later, I still love his way with words. He just might be one of the smartest stupid comedians out there. He can tell silly jokes one minute, and get fully raunchy the next. He can go on a rant about philosophy and science and how little we truly understand the universe, all so he can ground us with his ridiculously plausible theories about why we fart. Yes, there are several fart jokes. But there’s also a surprising twist of the musical variety (could Bret and Jemaine use a third?) and a full gag involving his stickers that he’ll gladly sell you as merch in the alley after the show.

I can see why he’s popular in Australia. I still cannot understand why America hasn’t caught on quite the same way.

Arj Barker presents “The Mind Field” through 21 April at the 2024 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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