"You have to get used to the sound and talking into your laptop while you're sitting next to your cats. I find the whole Zoom thing kind of depressing."
That's comedian Todd Barry describing the frustration of performing a virtual comedy set, but it could just as easily be the exasperation felt by anyone whose life has been forced online in 2020.
Barry, a longtime comedian with decades of experience on stages all around the world, will perform at Phantom Power this Sunday, Nov. 22, at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $80 for a table of four people.
These sets mark only the second time that Barry has traveled for an in-person comedy show since March, when COVID-19 precautions made it impossible for most venues to continue to host performances.
"Some of these shows have been on people's roofs," says Barry, describing the creativity some venues have displayed in the last year. "People have been getting some pretty established comedians to perform for, like, 20 people."
As with other comedy shows that Phantom Power has hosted in the last month, including those featuring Chris Gethard, Sam Morril and Joe List, audiences will presumably come with their coats and blankets in the hopes of laughing themselves warm.
"I actually don't mind [outdoor shows]; some people don't like them," says Barry. "You can usually see all the people, and I like that. It's also good to go in with different expectations. People aren't going to be focused in the same way as someone sitting in a club or theater. You might see someone throwing a beach ball or something."
For the last thirty-odd years, Todd Barry has been a quintessential journeyman comedian. He's just as liable to show up in "Bob's Burgers" or "Comedy Bang! Bang!" as in, say, "Sex & the City" or the Oscar-nominated 2008 film "The Wrestler." With appearances on "Chappelle's Show," "Flight of the Conchords" and "The Larry Sanders Show," an argument could be made for Barry as one of the pre-eminent "Hey! There's that guy!" comedians around.
On screen, Barry can be seen next in "The Climb," which premiered in select theaters on Nov. 13 (for Lancaster moviegoers, the closest theater currently open and playing "The Climb" is 63 miles away, at the AMC White Marsh 16 in Baltimore, MD).
"It's a friendship comedy...that's a lame way to describe it, but that's all I can think of," says Barry, deadpanning, about the 2019 Cannes Film Festival favorite from first-time director Michael Angelo Covino.
Elsewhere in COVIDworld, Barry has been experimenting with a virtual version of his popular "Crowd Work Tour" special from 2014. The gist is simple, and hilarious - instead of preparing an hour of jokes, Barry simply riffs on and with the audience, guaranteeing an original, one-of-a-kind performance each time.
Early in quarantine, a comedian friend of Barry's tipped him off about Nowhere Comedy Club, a new space for comedians to perform virtually. Barry has since done seven virtual crowd work shows, riffing on and for other people stuck in their homes. His next virtual crowd work show is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 30.
"They've gone well when there aren't technical difficulties," explains Barry. "You go through the gallery and just start picking people and have a conversation. There are some people who turn their cameras off, because they just want to listen or watch."
Barry has several live, in-person shows scheduled for 2021, but he admits that a lot can happen between now and the new year, both in the greater world of COVID research and his own comfort level.
"I have to figure out how I want to do indoor shows - or if I even want to do indoor shows - just because I don't want to do something stupid after all these months," says Barry. "A lot of it depends on the ventilation in these places, which is hard to control."
In the great outdoors of Phantom Power, however, Barry is free to be his dry, laconic self. Just don't expect many bits about COVID itself.
"I'm starting to write some material about it, but I don't feel obliged," Barry says. "It would be weird not to mention it at all, but I also think it's fine to not mention, because I don't think people are there to hear COVID jokes, necessarily."