There was a lot of post-election hand-wringing about “the real America.”
So we went to the man who’s seen it all, from Little Rock to Tempe to Missoula.
Exploring our great country in places big but mainly small: Todd Barry, who recounts his journeys in Thank You For Coming to Hattiesburg. His new book (out this week) is a comedic but heartfelt tour de force that serves as part cultural critique/part secondary-market travel guide.
If you’re not familiar with Todd Barry, he’s one of Louis CK’s comics of choice (you can buy his standup routines on Louis’s site), and adored by everyone from Judd Apatow to Marc Maron. We’d be remiss to dub him a “comic’s comic,” since anyone who’s seen him knows he can slay pretty much any room (check out his takedown on people who hate air conditioning for proof).
Barry, who started his standup career at an open-mic night at a Howard Johnson’s in North Miami Beach thirty years ago, is also the definition of a working comic. Between TV and movie gigs (Louie, The Wrestler, etc.), Barry is constantly on the road. As he points out in Hattiesburg, he’ll literally go from playing for 14,000 people at Madison Square Garden to 60 people in Little Rock a few nights later … and sardonically note he attracted 30 people less than the last time.
And while his book doesn’t solve the big city vs. small-town America conundrum (because to him, there isn’t one), it does provide a humorous discourse on the differences — and similarities — between us: “People anywhere aren’t much different than the people I meet in New York, or any other large city.”
INSIDEHOOK: In Hattiesburg, you seem to really enjoy anywhere you go, but do you have a city, town or state you visited and decided, “Nope, not for me”?
Todd Barry: I can’t think of a city where I would go “never again.” There are clubs I’ll never go back to, but I never blame the city if I don’t have a good show there.
IH: How do the audiences compare in a big city to, say, a small crowd in Little Rock or Albany?
TB: It really depends on the night. If I’m doing a show in a music venue or little theater, I usually get a core group of people who already like me, so it doesn’t really matter what city I’m in. And people are often very appreciative if I come to a smaller city.
IH: Why Hattiesburg as the titular city?
TB: It just had a good ring to it. And thanks for teaching me a new word.
IH: What’s the best coffee shop in the U.S.?
TB: Oh man. So many of them, but a recent good one was La Barba in Salt Lake City. If I weren’t so lazy, I’d give you a bigger list.
IH: What’s your best packing tip or travel hack?
TB: This might be an obvious one, but make a packing checklist. It makes the whole process less overwhelming.
IH: You did a crowd-work tour where you basically winged it on stage. Was there a night that it just did NOT work at all?
TB: I did a few crowd work shows in London recently. Some of them were great, and the audience was really on board and lively, but a few of them were very reticent so it was a lot of work. In those situations you just keep poking around until you find something funny.
IH: What’s the strangest stage/venue you’ve ever played?
TB: An Australian comic named Brendon Burns did a regular show at a theater during the Melbourne Comedy Festival, but he would have a post-show show in an alley near the venue. He would host and invite other comics to do sets. I did it, and a rat walked in front of me while I was up there.
Main photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Vulture Festival
Inline photo: Howard Huang