Comedian Arj Barker Reflects on Marin Upbringing

The breakout stand-up comic talks Drake High, the Throckmorton and some of his early influences.


Whether spoofing Eve Ensler, doing an animated show with his cat, appearing in HBO's much-beloved Flight of the Conchords or telling jokes on stage, Arj Barker has found his calling in the world in the comedy. But before all that, he was just Arj Barker, Marin County resident. 

Barker lived in Marin off-and-on until he was 25-years-old, with brief stints in San Francisco, Los Angeles and elsewhere. In the intervening years, he has amassed a rabid following in Australia, where lives most of the time. Still, Barker always make a point of visitng and staying in Marin anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months of each year.

"I refuse to commit to one place!" he said.

Such is the nature of a stand-up comic, where life on the road is essential if you hope to make it big. Barker began committing himself to comedy after graduating from in 1989, at 3:10 p.m. on Friday, as he fondly recalled. 

While at Drake, he was not active in drama or any specifically comedic endeavours. He does recall learning to play the guitar, including the beginning of Stairway to Heaven.

"Still can in fact," he added.

While hesitant to place too high an emphasis on his surroundings growing-up, Barker concedes that being raised in Marin in some way helped to form his comedic stylings. In the same vein, he is sure aspects of the people and friends he knew from home worked their way into his jokes, because, at the time, they had the largest influence on his world view. 

Barker's early breaks included performing on Comedy Central's Premium Blend in 1997, which was followed by appearances on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Glass House. Many first heard his name when he joined forces with fellow comedians Doug Benson and Tony Camin for The Marijuana-Logues. The show, which ran off-Broadway in 2004, played on the format made popular by Broadway smash The Vagina Monologues. Barker toured with The Marijuana-Logues after it's New York run. 

Back when Barker was still cutting his teeth in the comedy circuit, he would often perform at the old Cafe Nuvo in downtown San Anselmo. He hosted a stand-up night every other Sunday there throughout the early 1990s. 

"It became a thing where lots of people would show up, and comics came from the city," Barker recalled. "It was a tremendously exciting time, and one of my favorite eras of my life."

Some of the comics that had the greatest impact on him included Michael Meehan, Blaine Capatch, Johnny Steele, Kurt Weisman, Vernon Chatman.

"These are all local dudes who were around a lot when I started in the Bay Area. I think they all still perform too, which is cool." 

Now, when he's not headlining at festivals Down Under, Barker likes to spend his time in the Bay Area performing at two of San Francisco's best comedy clubs, The Punchline and Cobb's.

"They are both excellent clubs," Barker explains, "and both were very supportive of me when I started out, and continue to be."

Across the bridge, Barker enjoys visiting Mark Pitta at his Mill Valley comedy stronghold, the . His praised for Pitta and the work he does is skyhigh.

"I cant stay away from there! Mark Pitta is a good friend, and very kind to me. He lets me go on and try new material whenever I'm in town. The theatre is fantastic, and the folks that work there are super nice. Everyone in Marin should go there every Tuesday night, or they’re missing out!"

Of course, in addition to performing, Barker returns to Marin to visit with family and old friends. While Barker's father still calls Marin home and lives in Novato, his mother now lives in New Mexico. 

"I don’t think their marriage is going to work out," he concedes.

See Arj Barker at Cobbs Comedy Club Feb. 9-12. All details can be found at www.arjbarker.com.

David Ryan February 07, 2012 at 08:22 PM
One of my favorite comics!


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