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Barry Smith: Irrelativity

Barry Smith
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

Editor’s note: Barry is on tour, performing his comedy shows across the US and Canada all summer long. Today’s dispatch comes from Ottawa, Canada

Last year when I did a summer-long tour of Canada, I decided to videotape myself doing it. It was pretty time-consuming, constantly pointing the camera at myself while simultaneously doing things that should have been getting my full attention. Like driving. But I persevered, because documentation is my thing.

I recorded hour after hour of life on the road, then sent the tapes to my friend and creative collaborator, Arman. He had agreed, in a moment of weakness, no doubt, to attempt to edit my summer home videos into something watchable. This is akin to handing someone a box crammed full of five years worth of receipts and asking them to do your taxes for you. As a favor. For free.



I sent Arman over 50 hours of raw footage, which is a lot of Barry-talks-to-the-camera-while-driving time. He worked on it for about a week then sent me an e-mail saying he gives up. The reason, he said ” it was boring. The reason it was boring ” because nothing but good things happened. Which is true ” it was a summer of great reviews, sold out shows, encore performances. Really, a dream come true. Which, for a documentary, is boring.

The only interesting part, Arman noted, was when my van broke down. So, my auto-doc was cursed by success. Dammit.



This year I decided to not document the tour so obsessively. Surely being the guy who did the sold-out hit show “Jesus In Montana” last will attract throngs of hordes turning out in droves to see his next work, so why shoot 50 more hours of people lined up around the corner every day to see me perform? Right?

Right … ?

Well … so far the throngs haven’t quite caught wind of my presence, and the hordes and droves are equally absent. Don’t they all get the same newsletter?

This is what the Fringe is like for most performers ” show after show to small or medium-sized crowds. There are usually a handful of shows that stand out, for whatever voodoo reason, and do really well. Last year I was lucky enough to be one of those from the start. So far this year my expectations were a bit high. In Orlando I actually printed more programs than flyers! That’s just begging for a cosmic smackdown.

There’s much more summer to come ” I’m only in city two of eight, so it’s a bit early to start making conclusions about my future, but it is a bit sobering. Nothing is guaranteed, and in that pile of no guarantees, “how many people come to your show” ranks pretty high on the list. So far as I can tell, the only certainty in life is that someone’s cell phone will go off during your performance.

As of this summer I’ll have been writing “Irrelativity” for 14 years. Fourteen years! I still remember the first few months, when my columns were published and a few people wrote in to the paper (no e-mail in those days) to say they liked my column and I thought, OK, here we go! Next stop: national syndication, book deals, TV series, biopic, a “VH-1 Behind The Writing” episode.

It hasn’t turned out that way just yet. But each week I get to write something, whatever I want, a little slice of self-expression, which is all I really wanted to begin with. I even get to write about being on tour! A pretty cool gig, really.

The excitement of last summer was like the first few weeks of writing my column. It seemed so easy. Just show up and people flock to your show! Next stop: off Broadway, Broadway, HBO special, Comedy Central, Food Network.

And OK, Ottawa has pointed out that maybe it won’t happen quite as quickly as I thought. Yet for the rest of this summer I get to stand on stage almost every night and do my little comedy show for some people, which is all I really wanted to begin with.

A pretty cool gig, really.


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