Arj Barker The Mind Field

By Nick Bugeja

Australia has well and truly adopted American comic Arj Barker as one of its own. Like Ross Noble, Jimeoin or Stephen K. Amos, he’s been a staple on the Australian comedy circuit for decades and cultivated a solid fanbase which shows up for him across Australia, whether appearing in Melbourne or Mildura. It’s not hard to see why Australian crowds are drawn to Barker’s style of comedy: he has a unique comedic voice, and a suite of quirky jokes which are still accessible to a wide audience.

Barker’s latest show, The Mind Field, opens with a flurry of puns and double entendres which serve as a light entrée dish for what is to come. These jokes are often at Barker’s own expense, and many of them are some of the strongest lines across the entire show. He runs through material, with aplomb, on his own insecurities and the misunderstandings they create, the disappointments of buffets and ‘all you can eat’ establishments, and why we should be sceptical when told that people travel to a town or city to just to visit a specific restaurant.

The core of Barker’s performance—as per the title of his show—revolves around the idea that there is no external, objective reality in and of itself, but rather is constructed by our own consciousness. This requires some exposition which is, rather surprisingly, not littered with jokes. Once Barker makes his way through the exposition, there’s a real payoff: he fires off a litany of jokes which are, in equal measure, philosophical and facile, and it is this combination of seemingly antithetical qualities which makes this part of the show excel.

Barker’s The Mind Field is a wide-ranging show which touches on the personal, the philosophical, and the downright silly. Barker’s range is beyond that of many other comics, who prefer to confine themselves to either a high or low brow brand of comedy. Relying much on his natural talents as a performer, and some strong writing of individual jokes and sequences, The Mind Field will satisfy Barker fans and those few unfamiliar with his comedy. Punters may even take away some newfound insights into the nature of reality, and the role we play in shaping that reality every day.

The Mind Field is on at the Athenaeum Theatre until 21 April.