A young, up-and-coming regular around New York’s comedy scene, Greg Barris and his debut album, Shame Wave, arrive with a pretty impressive backlog of love, including fittingly hilarious-and-effusive blurbs from such NYC-area comedians as Janeane Garofalo and Reggie Watts, and kind words from Big Apple outlets including BrooklynVegan, Time Out New York and trendy, NYC-based style guide Paper, which calls Barris “the perfect combination of very good looking, hilarious and super-weird.”
His material reflects that impression too, like when he turns his farmer’s tan into an interracial love story or details his dad’s lecherous conversational tics, experienced while trying to relate to the old guy before he passes. The jokes combine the off-the-wall-edness of a guy like Watts with the flabbergasted wonder-horror of someone like Eugene Mirman, another hilarious New Yorker. Barris hosts a comedy variety show—Heart of Darkness—in Brooklyn’s Park Slope. In “Real, True Love,” he channels Louis C.K., a longtime New Yorker, as he spins the everyday into the totally absurd. The man lives and breathes NYC, no question about that.
But more than just a retread of his influences and surroundings, or some sort of casualty of write-what-you-know-isms, Barris is a quirky talent still unsure of his voice. Shame Wave‘s bits alternate between excellent and unwieldy, his premises sometimes rolling down the comedy hill in a ball of bright-orange flames; other times, the flaming ball is the joke itself, licking at a silly idea, burning it up in spite of its silliness. Barris seems to possess a mind that he can’t quite control, and there are far worse problems to have. One can’t help but think as he continues telling his odd stories onstage, and people from all over the world continue noticing, his abilities will balloon exponentially, his comedic M.O. crystallizing in the process.
ASpecialThing Records (Paul F. Tompkins, Brent Weinbach, etc.) taking notice of Barris is another reason to keep an eye on this dude, even when the jokes don’t always hit. But couldn’t they have convinced him to find a more receptive crowd? Shame Wave‘s audience, while never participating in outright, persistent heckling, regularly interject nonsense into Barris’s flow. To his credit, he brushes them off easily, but a more polished set with people who actually want to be there—friends, fans, etc.—would’ve aided the material, especially on a debut record.
But these are all minor quibbles for a guy this early in his career. Examine the best parts of Shame Wave, the ones where he really nails it, you’ll find the interactions with the folks in his stories—from the guy he got arrested with for posting stickers, to his father, to various ill-fated ex-girlfriends—are what drive them home. Barris is a grade-A examiner of the human condition, finding its peculiarities and mining them for the humor that is so often present but not always easily articulated. Indeed, the telling is the hard part of any story, and one of his main issues here. Pull it off, and you’ll end up with a delighted audience. Barris will get there eventually.