Aspen’s Barry Smith works up a comedy about his working life
December 2, 2010
ASPEN – We’ve all had forgettable jobs, the ones that never appear on the resume, and that we pray don’t show up on a Google search: Cleaning out something disgusting. Any job that required wearing a stupid uniform. Getting paid under the table by that weirdo down the street for an activity of dubious legality. Delivering Domino’s pizza in your college town (until an order came in from your ex-girlfriend’s address).
And then there’s Barry Smith. My, yes, he’s had plenty of jobs – by his count, 35 of them in his 44 years, including videographer, juggler, houseman, sewage system cleaner, shockingly underage bartender (and let’s not forget Aspen Times columnist). But not one of them has been forgettable, not even remotely. In Barry Smith’s world, nothing is forgotten.
Among the Aspenite’s longer-lasting, and more enjoyable and fruitful jobs has been as a writer and performer of one-man, multi-media shows that rely heavily on his obsession with documenting every experience he’s had, and saving every artifact, record and memento of his past. So when Smith makes onstage mention of his mother’s funeral, you can count on a power point image of the official funeral book, documenting who was in attendance, who remembered her with flowers, who sent a telegram. To prove just how deep the obsession runs, he has a 36-year-old audio tape of him speaking into a cassette recorder.
Smith’s latest trip down OCD-tinged memory lane is a tour through his working life. “Every Job I’ve Ever Had” recounts in exacting visual detail, his years as an A/V guy, his weeks as a newspaper reporter, and his one night as a security guard. And when Smith tells you that he was once a California state-certified photocopier, you better believe he still has the certification card to prove it.
The show, Smith’s fourth performance piece, grew out of a rough piece he did in 2006 at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale, “Confessions of an A/V Guy.” “Then I realized being an A/V guy wasn’t enough to carry a whole show. And that I’d had a lifetime of strange jobs,” said Smith, whose previous shows included “Jesus in Montana: Adventures in a Doomsday Cult,” and “Me, My Stuff and I.” (Currently in the works: “Before and After,” which will have him revisiting photos from his childhood in Mississippi, and then restaging the photos.)
“Every Job I’ve Ever Had” was workshopped at Steve’s before debuting in June at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, then having additional dates at the Vancouver Fringe Festival. It has its Aspen debut on Thursday, Dec. 9, at the Wheeler Opera House. Over green tea and a conspicuous shortage of baked goods to accompany that tea one afternoon at his West End residence, Smith talked jobs, and the documentary evidence he has saved from them.
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• Fantasy jobs: “I used to think sleep research volunteer would be good. Getting paid to sleep – a great gig. But getting paid to show people your funny old pictures – that’s certainly on the list.
“And my ultimate fantasy job – one of those healing televangelists. I know people are disgusted by them, but I think it’s the ultimate theater experience. And you get to hit people with your jacket, smack them in the head, in the name of Jesus. How cool would that be? People lining up to be smacked in the head by you.”
• The Jobs He Didn’t Get: Picking litter at the 1989 Glastonbury Festival, in the U.K. “I was passed over. Didn’t have the right stuff,” Smith said. “I’m not sure what part of my resume let them know I wasn’t ready to pick litter.
“And I think I once applied to be the process camera at The Aspen Times. I would have been awesome: Taking pictures of things – that’s what I do.
As for the small number of jobs he hasn’t been hired for: “I haven’t been that ambitious. Most jobs I’ve had were pretty easy to get.”
• Could You Really Get Certified to Be a Photocopier? “You could in 1987. And I was. I don’t know if my certification’s lapsed – so I might still be. I still have the card.”
• On the certification process: “I actually had to go somewhere to get certified. I think there were probably a few test copies I had to make, without getting my hand in the copy. I remember it being not very taxing. But I guess, how else are they going to weed out the photocopying riff-raff? I occasionally even had to show my card. But as far as I know, there was no continuing education required. When the new models came out, I wasn’t consulted.”
• Best Photo of Barry at Work: “At one point I was hired to paint this hotel in London, where I was previously a chambermaid. It’s a picture of me with a paint roller in hand, and a Burger King crown on. I have no idea why. I look at it and I just think: ‘Ambition.’
“Why anyone ever gave me money to do anything is still a mystery when I look at that picture.”
• Dreaded Job: “Anything that would involve meetings. And maybe litter-picking. I have a love-hate thing with that: What if I tired it and wasn’t good?”
Closest He’s Come to a Real Job: “Is reporter a real job? That’s the one that felt like a real job. I was a reporter for six weeks, but I wasn’t good at it. But at the time I was doing it, I was thinking, OK, this is it, real job.”
• Job Most Loathe to Admit Having: “Chambermaid. Of would it be chambermatron? For which I was paid room and board – but the board was hamburger buns and packets of jelly.”
• Strangest Work Experience: “That would have to be Kevin, the chef at the hospital in London where I was washing dishes. Occasionally Kevin would come to work in full drag. It opened my eyes to something. Also, he called me Curly, which inspired me to go right home and write a poem about it.”
• Best Job: “Juggler. I got to stand in front of people and juggle. The worst part of the job was the costume. I was never a clown, but I had a much worse costume. Much more subtle, which is way worse than just going full-on and being a clown.”
• As a Kid, Wanted to Be: “A chemist. I loved that fantasy, the movie scene of the guy surrounded by bubbling chemicals and glassware. That was my idea of being a chemist. I got as far as a chemistry set, and high school chemistry.
“My crowning moment, at 6, I’d just seen ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ so I though I’d create a concoction that would cause a temporary but fascinating transformation in a human body. I tested it on my parents by putting some in their iced tea, without their knowledge. I think the beating that followed was the beginning of the end of my chemistry career.”
• Worst Work Space: “That would be an East End, London, construction site. It’s bad enough to not have any construction skills and be on a construction crew. But this is East London, with Cockney rhyming slang. I had no idea what anyone was saying. After the first day, they realized I was special and they treated me accordingly. It wasn’t the most confidence-building environment.”
• Strangest Co-Worker: “The head dish washer at the hospital outside London. Very nice guy. He was an engineer – he told me. And then he got hit in the head with a sledge hammer. Now he’s washing dishes, and he’s better than I am. He’s the guy who taught me, Don’t put a sharp knife in a sink full of soapy water.”
• Most Bizarre Job: “You have to see the show. It will be covered. In detail.”