The Random Rumpus Interview with Todd Barry


There’s an ice cream truck near my apartment that sells cinnamon ice cream. I haven’t tried it yet; but when I do, I think it’s going to be my favorite.

Todd Barry is a comedian, and you have probably heard of him. Todd Barry moonlights as an actor, too — and you will most likely recognize him from his featured, star-making turn as the supermarket supervisor managing that cranky and cantankerous old wrestler-cum-deli slicer portrayed by Mickey Rourke in the recent Oscar-nominated film The Wrestler.

He can be seen next in the upcoming Pete Smalls Is Dead, alongside Peter Dinklage, Rosie Perez, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, and many, many others. He has performed his comedy all across these United States, making frequent trips to the late-night circuit with appearances on Letterman and Conan — also lending his acting to TV shows like Flight of the Conchords and Sesame Street (not to mention the enduring Dr. Katz), in addition to his stand-up work.

Following a stint displaying these comedic talents as part of Seattle’s last Bumbershoot festivities, Barry recently returned to his native New York City, where he lives, to take part in the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival prior to then departing for the great state of Indiana. Bracing himself for a run of shows across Texas and the Northeast all through the autumn, he will most notably be performing at the notable performance venue Carnegie Hall, opening up for the notable Ricky Gervais on November 5th.

When approached by The Rumpus for an interview, he expressed a desire to field some “random questions” — whatever those might be. Here are some random questions this reporter tossed his way, crawling inside the mind of Todd Barry…

The Rumpus: What’s new in the world of Todd Barry these days — career-wise, personally, what have you?

Todd Barry: Right now I’m on a flight to Indianapolis. I’m doing a radio interview there tomorrow, then five shows in Bloomington!

Rumpus:Apart from seeing you perform a couple of times, and never having met you in person, can you explain to me why, over the last decade, we have passed by each other on the street exactly twice — and both times in the exact same location? (The first instance a good eight years or so ago, and more recently this past summer — on the south side of E. 8th Street, just outside Cooper Union.)

Barry: Well, I’m an architecture professor at Cooper Union, so I was probably just on my way to give a lecture.

Rumpus: Read any good books lately?

Barry: Books? I own a computer and a TV, why would I do that? Actually, I’m reading Steve Martin’s memoir about his life as a standup. It’s really good. I started reading the novel The Emperor’s Children a while back. I was liking it, but then put it down for too long, so I’m gonna start over with that one.

Rumpus: You’ve contributed a bit to the New York Times and elsewhere, writing curious observations of everyday life. Is there a novel inside Todd Barry?

Barry: I’ve had a couple of literary agents contact me about writing a book. Unfortunately I don’t have an idea right now, but I don’t think it would be a novel. Those things are too long — 80,000 words!

Rumpus: You share a birthday with Gen. William Westmoreland. Thoughts?

Barry: I wish I would’ve known that before he died. I would’ve invited him to the birthday party I had at the Magician a few years ago. Seriously though, I actually saw him speak when I was attending the University of Florida. Dr. Joyce Brothers, too! Well, her lecture was on a different night. She and General Westmoreland weren’t “co-headlining.”

Rumpus: I see on your MySpace page that Aimee Mann is a friend of yours. How would you characterize your friendship? And what do you think of her work collaborating with the band Rush, providing backing vocals to their song “Time Stand Still” (from the Hold Your Fire album) back in the day, even appearing in that timeless music video?

Barry: Aimee and I have a pretty typical friendship. When we’re both in the same town, we’ll maybe eat lunch, and then spend the rest of the day shopping, arguing, and crying. Then we write a song. I’ve actually never seen that Rush video, but I’ve heard about it. I just tried to find it on YouTube (I’m not on the flight to Indianapolis anymore), but I couldn’t. [Editor’s note: the video in question can be found online here.]

Rumpus: Have a favorite “Golden Girl”? If so, who? (and why.)

Barry: I don’t think I’ve ever watched a full episode of that show, but all the women on that show are (or were) funny.

Rumpus: Favorite ice cream flavor?

Barry: There’s an ice cream truck near my apartment that sells cinnamon ice cream. I haven’t tried it yet; but when I do, I think it’s going to be my favorite.

Rumpus: As an aside to your rather well-established comedy career, what is the appeal of taking on these small roles in movies?

Barry: I’ve been lucky to get some roles handed to me (I sort of auditioned for The Wrestler, but they had me in mind already, and gave me the part at the audition.) I guess I get small roles because no one’s ever offered me a big one. Part of me thinks I’d like to get a big role in a movie, but part of me thinks it would be too much work. As a comedian, you get to sleep late, and no one tells you what to do. It’s kind of the opposite with acting.

Rumpus: Where have you found the best Mexican food in New York City?

Barry: I guess you’re asking because I do a little joke about it in my act. [Comedian’s note: the joke in question can be found here.] I like Molé on Allen Street, Barrio Chino on Broome Street, and the Mercadito taco place on Avenue B.

Rumpus: And lastly, according to your Wikipedia page, you are “close friends” with Louis C.K. Think you could get me Chris Rock’s autograph?

Barry: I didn’t know they listed my friends on Wikipedia. Louis probably added that. And, yes, I’ll get you that autograph. You want that FedExed, or is regular mail fine?

As mentioned, Todd Barry will be opening for Ricky Gervais at Carnegie Hall on November 5th — some tickets still available. All of his tour dates are viewable on his newly re-designed website,, along with other delightful offerings (the receipt museum is my personal favorite). He also has a MySpace page. And he tweets, too.

Richard Meyers is a writer, and a bit of a malcontent, currently living under duress in Brooklyn, N.Y. He has a bachelor’s degree from an Ivy League institution, and enjoys riding his bicycle. He may or may not be twenty-nine years old ("depending on which realtor you ask"). More from this author →