Critical Questions: Greg Barris
A music, pizza, and comedy man.
Greg Barris may be all over the map in terms of his career (comedian, musician, restaurateur) and musical tastes, but he seems like the type of guy who manages to pull it all off with pleasure and zero pretension. If you take nothing else from this interview, pay close attention to his rules on getting a head start in making a soggy-free slice.
CM: Did you start out in comedy or music first? Would you consider yourself more of one category than the other?
GB: I started in comedy first. I was doing improv when I was 15 years old and first did stand up in Florida when I was 18. Now at my monthly show The Heart of Darkness, I have a live band, The Forgiveness, on stage the entire time [who] orchestrate and collaborate with the show and [its] performers. The music definitely came after the comedy; I'm a comedian who performs with a band whenever possible-- I play harmonica, sing [with], and am learning piano.
How did you get involved with The Heart of Darkness show?
The Heart of Darkness started after I did a series of shows at the Fringe Festival in Orlando. I really love the idea of adding music to create a tone and feel for what you are saying, especially in a more theater-y cabaret style set up. It's not the same feel in a brightly-lit open comedy club. When I moved to New York, I started doing the show at different venues and different versions of the band. It [started as] a place for me to just do 20-30 min of material at first, and has rapidly progressed into a very tightly-focused concept show. [It's] something where I can have a very large abstract idea, and because of the success of the show, I have the resources and talented people to pull it off- getting and interviewing some of the most intelligent thinkers out there, collaborating with musicians, computer generated projection mapping algorithms, and of course, awesome comedians.
How'd you get into the pizza business? How are you liking it?
I fell ass-backwards into the pizza business. The first time I did any version of my show in New York, I rented a theater space on Bond St. and bought a case of beer to give away to the audience. This was like 9 years ago now, and it was a flop. I didn't know what I was getting myself into. So, I had this case of beer and my friend, who I was doing the show with, lived across the street from L'asso Pizza. We were walking home [one night] and wanted to grab a slice. We saw a guy sweeping up and I pointed to the beer and was like 'I'll trade you one of these for one of those'. [The guy] opened the door-- it was the owner, Rob, and we all hung out that night. He showed us his empty basement [and] a week later, I was doing a comedy show [there] every Friday for a year and a half. Didn't miss one Friday. That turned into me working the door and the bar, cooking in the kitchen, delivering pizzas, waiting tables, managing, and eventually becoming a partner with Rob. [Once I was made partner], we opened the place for lunch and [more recently, we] found the new location and opened a second restaurant in the East Village. I do like it. Pizza parties are a good way to make friends and meet babes. I'm always working on a pizza, which is what we all should be doing anyway.
What's your ideal type of pizza? Are you a thin crust guy? What about toppings? Sauce to cheese ratio?
I'm not a pizza snob, I will try any pizza. I do prefer thin crust wood oven cooked pizza though. Usually if you are doing it that way, you have someone making it who is paying more attention since it is more delicate-- over-saturating the pizza with toppings, sauce or cheese will just make it soggy and gross. So, high-quality lower-quantity ingredients will shine. A lot of people will put sauce all over the pizza and then cheese on top of that. That is classic screwing it up from the get-go kind of stuff. You should lay the cheese out first-- sliced fresh mozzarella, or I prefer buffalo mozzarella-- put it on in globs and then put the sauce on the pizza around the cheese, not under it. Now you're ahead of about 88 percent of all pizza places just by doing that. We have about 24 types of pizzas, so I'm down for most any toppings-- not really into things like BBQ chicken pizza, though. But, I love a clam pizza with lemon or something simple like fresh mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella and parmesan on a pizza. One of my favorite types is gorgonzola, apple, asparagus, and truffle oil. That is my style really.
Comedy-wise, who has inspired you the most? Or who do you feel influences your work the most?
I've been a huge Bill Hicks fan since I was starting out and I've always really loved Dana Gould-- he's pretty right there on it and can be very, very absurd and also make extremely poignant political statements that ring true and are hilarious, which is the hardest thing to do. David Cross is also up there in that category, I think. I love Peter Serafinowicz who did the show 'Look Around You' -- that type of humor is my favorite, just dry absurd and science-y.
Musically, who inspires you? Doesn't have to be comedy-related.
My musical influences are all over the place, I love Wagner and the idea of orchestrating a concept, but I'm also into synth pop stuff like the Ratatat, XX, Crystal Castles, Yelle, Beach House. I love Daniel Higgs and Moondog, and I'm very much into early garage rock or bands like The MC5 and T. Rex. But I also love Fela Kuti , West African and Mali music as well as '70s Thai -- Thai Beat A Go-Go stuff. Our stuff on the album is all over the place-- there's for sure some surfer rock Dick Dale influences in there, Led Zeppelin/Queen ballad rockish stuff, Woody Guthrie, pop rock, cock rock stuff, psychedelic gospel. Thai Beat rock is more what we sound like the most regularly though.
What do you feel sets Wigmaker's Son apart from other musical comedy acts?
We are not so much about the joke as we are about making music that we like and that can be enjoyed as a song. We put humor into the lyrics, but we don't set out to make the song a joke. Most musical comedy is set up to make you laugh-- we want to make you dance. Dima Drjuchin said that about our band which is true. Most of the songs are story-based and some, like the "Forgiveness" song, is about the audience participating and confessing sins; it's more of the experience of the song live. Everyone is confessing a sin out loud to the audience and we are all forgiving that sin together. It gets crazy tense but then hysterical and can be very therapeutic-- a giant release, especially if the sin is really good and gross.
What are your top 5 pop cultural items you've consumed this year?
I bought an Android Razr a month before the Razr Maxx came out-I love it but the battery is always dead, [and] the Maxx supposedly can go all day without a dead battery. This makes me angry. A nord electro 2 keyboard which is pretty awesome, a Cannon 7d digital SLR, a project debut III turn table that is very awesome, as well as a ton of survival gear from REI like a compressed all weather sleeping bag, iodine water purification pills, 2 week first aid kit and fire starting kit - is that pop culture gear? I don't know. I don't know what the kids are into. I haven't had a TV in 9 years.
What's coming up for you this year/what are you most excited about?
The release of this [Wigmaker's Son] album [Greatest Tits: download for free here and stream below] I'm very stoked about, I'm also releasing a stand-up album in a few months that's a 45 min set, which will be my first actual stand up album after 10 years of comedy. Why have I waited so long? Who knows, but maybe I will do one a year from now on, or maybe wait another 10. Also The Heart of Darkness will be at the Bell House [in Brooklyn] June 16th, which will be our biggest show yet with a 14-piece band, Reggie Watts, and a bunch of other surprises, We've also extended our residency at Union Hall in Park Slope until sometime next year which is incredible. That place is the best. A lot to look forward to as the sun reaches the galactic center and we are all closer to approaching time wave zero.
For those of you in NYC, see dates below for Greg Barris's upcoming shows:
5/10/12: Live Comedy Album Taping with Seth Herzog at UCB Chelsea
6/16/12: Heart of Darkness w Kristen Schall, Dave Hill, more guests tba at The Bell House, Brooklyn.
|Wigmaker’s Son, Greatest Tits|