Travels of a Brooklyn Boy

Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-the-Biggest Cities in the World by Todd Barry. Gallery Books, 2017. 9781501117428.

Sarah: I recently read The Not-Quite States of America, too, so this is my year for “Not Quite” books. Todd Barry is a working comedian, really well established. I wouldn’t say he can work wherever he wants, but he does mention several times in the book that he opened for Louie CK at Madison Square Garden.
G: Right. He’s not super famous, but he’s been in a lot of movies.
S: People know him.
G: You would recognize him instantly. But it feels like he’s a comedian’s comedian.
S: I can see that.
G: One of the things people kept saying to him that he interpreted as “this show may not go well” was, “I’m a little worried you’re too smart for this audience.”
S: Yes. And he might be a little to smart for any audience. This is about his year of going to secondary markets, as he calls them. Not the big towns, but the next ones down or the college towns, partly because he likes playing those venues but also because he likes finding indie coffee shops…
G: Coffee shops that make him feel like he’s still in Brooklyn.
S: Yes! Which is kind of hilarious. He lives in Brooklyn and tries to have the same experience everywhere.
G: Hipster coffee.
S: And he’ll ask people during a show how much a house costs in their town, then fantasizes about moving to a place where he can have a whole house for a fraction of his rent.
G: I love that his initial plan was to do a show in all 50 states. But he said that getting a gig in Wyoming isn’t easy, plus he would have been away from home for six months. It was too ambitious. So he does shows in a lot of states plus in Israel and Canada.
S: Oh, that’s right! Yes!
G: Here’s my favorite quote: “It’s chock full of juicy details guaranteed to de-glamorize (in italics) your preconceptions about life on the road. There’s also a chance it could glamorize them.”
S: I really liked the travelogue aspect of it. He does a chapter on every city that he stops in. He’ll talk about the restaurants, he’ll talk about the people, talk about the gig…
G: He talks about not just the current gig, but abut the last time he was there, which is hilarious. At some point in the beginning, he talks about how if he doesn’t remember a show, it must have gone well. Because he’ll always remember the bad ones.
S: That’s my booktalks to a T. If something terrible happens, it’s with me forever. The first year I was booktalking, a kid was actually completely asleep.
G: When I go to do a talk, if something really heinous was happening at the location or with the people, I remember. But the people who were absolutely fantastic and treated me so well, they tend to just fly out of my head because I don’t have any rage.
S: Going through all this — it’s sad to see that he’s still getting paid the day of the show (though he talks about why he likes that) and based on the number of people who show up even though he’s not in charge of publicity. And there’s his ongoing struggle to get a clean bathroom in the greenroom…
G: …which is often just a closet somewhere. Not just a clean bathroom, but a bathroom with a door that may or may not lock, with soap.
S: Soap! Is that too much to expect? Apparently it is, because he has to stop and ask, “Did you read my rider? I need soap.”
G: He doesn’t emphasize his mistreatment, he’s not all “poor me,” he’s just showing how unglamorous all this is.
S: But me, as an outsider, I kept saying, “Well, that’s not good at all.”
G: It made me think about how we treat the performers we book to come to libraries. It makes you think about how people should be treated and what they’d want. That’s the practical aspect of this book for librarians.
S: Partway through the book, I swapped to the audio.
G: Does Todd Barry read it?
S: Yeah.
G: That’d be devastating!
S: It’s really good. I realized while reading the book that I couldn’t hear his voice in my head, and I knew that was how he was writing it. It was really nice to hear him.
G: I love that he recommended places to eat in small towns.
S: Someone needs to make a list of all of the places he ate.
G: I drove from Seattle to North Dakota with my daughter in August, and we ended up using his dining advice a few times.
S: That’s great. I like that he was willing to drop everything and do something that was local. In Spokane he went to a Chinese lantern festival.
G: That was really strange.
S: I think that’s my Platonic ideal of travel. Just go and see what’s on. It doesn’t always work out though.
G: It definitely didn’t work for me on this trip, but the ramen place he recommended in Spokane, WA, was great. This is the kind of book I’ll leave on my iPad. From time to time it will be very helpful.

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