Arj BarkerCalifornian comedian Arj Barker is practically an honorary Australian – a Melbourne Comedy Festival regular for the last decade, it seems he can't get enough of the place and in recent years has added Melbourne Fringe and regional touring to an agenda complete with television appearances on Thank God You're Here, Spicks and Specks and The Glass House. I'm by no means an obsessed fan, but I have to admit that I've seen the guy three times in the last 12 months.

That being the case, I'd be forgiven for being a little Arjed-out this time round – thankfully this wasn't so. With the exception of a few timeworn jokes (although largely, I should add, reworked to reflect the issues of the day), Barker has used Fringe as a forum for trying out some new stuff.

In the past Barker has turned his hand to themed, character-driven shows, but this is simply an hour of unadorned, perfectly paced stand up. His observational style of comedy arrives at its conclusions via the most unpredictable leaps of logic, keeping the audience on its toes and the show buzzing. His stage presence is a key ingredient to the show's success – one minute he's cruising along nonchalantly, the next he's a seriously peeved spokesman for the most unlikely cause. The show descends into unashamedly puerile territory for a good portion of the hour, proving that toilet humour can be sophisticated.

Poking fun at Aussies is pretty much standard fodder for foreign funnymen and women who venture our way, but Barker makes a better fist of it than most. His Aussie accent is now ridiculously well honed (streets ahead of his international peers), while his cultural critique of Australian life is really very perceptive, witty and – underneath the barbs – quite affectionate (look out for his treatment of the Melbourne Cup – genius).

While it may not the fringiest of Fringe shows on offer, this is definitely one of the safest bets. You certainly sense Barker is playing to a loyal audience, most of whom were won-over long ago – he appears comfortable and in control but, thankfully, never complacent.

Mary Tobin Presents
Arj Barker

Venue: Festival Hub, Lithuanian Club, Main Theatre
Dates: 28 Sep - 13 Oct 2007
Times: 8.30pm / 7.30pm Sundays Excluding Mondays
Tickets: Conc $24.90, Full $29.90, Group $24.90, Tightarse Tues $24.90
Bookings: Festival Tix: 03 8412 8777 or

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