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American Sex Brain: Interview with Eric Barry

Atualizado: 27 de ago. de 2022





I had the pleasure of chatting with Eric Barry, a fellow student who also happens to be a comedian. He is new to Lisbon and performs often at the Lisbon Comedy Club.

He has a controversial new show, American Sex Brain, which he intends to bring to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the greatest performative arts festival in the world. To do so, he requires funding, which he has been slowly, but surely, gathering through donations via Kickstarter. His new show is provocative and progressive and dabbles in controversial matters such as sexuality, gender, and drug consumption, all through the personal lens of his experience.

Eric is, as we all are, a product of many influences and different circumstances, but he is, nevertheless, an interesting one. I interviewed and him and got to know him and his new show a little better.


How old are you Eric, and where were you born?

I’m old – you can tell – but I’m 36. I couldn’t stay in Europe because I’m American. So, they said if I joined a master’s program I could stay in Europe. And I’m from San Francisco.


What have you studied so far and what is your master’s on?

I’m at a university in Berlin and I came here on Erasmus for my master’s, and I’m studying Literature and Culture. This isn’t finalized, but I’m hoping to do a thesis on standup comedy.


I understand you have the intent of bringing your new show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Yes, that is true (…) I don’t know if you know anything about the Fringe, but in terms of tickets it’s like the Olympics, then the World Cup, and then the Fringe Festival. But a lot of people don’t know about it, and don’t participate in it, which is interesting.


And what can you tell us so far about your experience here in Portugal?

It’s been good, almost the exact opposite of Berlin, I would say. In good ways, in some more difficult ways, but for my interests, particularly in standup comedy, it’s kind of unlike any city I’ve been before to. I like to say it’s kind of like the Wild West out here, I hear it’s the same for tech and crypto and all that kind of stuff, but I’m not involved in any of that. But comedy wise, all-over Europe I would say, there’s a huge demand for English-speaking comedy, and I think that’s probably a direct result of the last few years of Netflix putting out so much international content. And obviously you have TikTok and Insta, and YouTube, and whatever – I mean, especially Netflix. And whereas Berlin has the biggest English-speaking comedy scene in Europe outside of London. It’s a little more established, but when I came to Lisbon, there’s not a ton of stuff here, but even in the 2 or 3 months I’ve been here that’s really been changing very quickly. There’s a very high demand and not a ton of supply, which is exciting because we can create whatever we want.

(…)

In some ways it’s a struggle, it’s different from Berlin, because Berlin has always something going on and Lisbon in my experience has been a much quieter city. In my neighborhood there’s nothing open after 8 p-m, 9 p.m. It’s not as much of a going out, party city, as other places I’ve been. But that’s good for my purposes, because we can create something that doesn’t exist, you know?

Berlin has between 4-10 English-speaking comedy shows every night, here there’s not even one every night, but we’re changing that now.


What would you say is feeding this phenomenon of growth of the English-speaking comedy scene?

I think that Lisbon, from what I understand in my limited time here, it’s a very international city, there’s a lot of expats, and people moving here and a lot of people, myself included, who don’t speak Portuguese, but whether they speak Arabic or Polish, they usually speak English as second language, so the shows are very multicultural, and it’s a way for people who are looking for some way to socialize and meet other people who moved here, to come together.

The last show I was at, on Thursday, there was only 2 or 3 Portuguese people in the audience, the rest were from all over the rest of the world. I think it’s a way to bring people together through something that’s fun. Like I said, the Netflix phenomenon has really made people interested in standup comedy. Every time I mention that there’s standup comedy here, people are like, “What!? I had no idea! I’m really interested in that!”

So, it’s not like there’s a lack of interest, we just got to figure how to promote that we’re doing this and tap into that.


What are some comedians you consider as role models, or are pushing the envelope regarding comedy? Someone that you find interesting or different.

I mean, there’s so many. (…) You have American standup comedy, which I think of like Jazz. Obviously, people have been laughing and doing funny things since the beginning of time, but the way that we think of standup comedy like we see on Netflix does have its roots in the US. The European model, using France as an example, is much more into physical [comedy], like clowning and things like that. So, the reason I’m bringing that up is because what might seem avant-garde to me, as an American, might seem much more European in style. You know Bo Burnham? Yeah, Bo Burnham is definitely not a traditional American standup comedian, even if you remove the music element from what he does, he plays a lot with performance and light cues and sound cues, and it sounds much more theatrical.

But Bo Burnham is definitely challenging what the form of comedy can be. Comedy is such a cultural thing. It’s not like someone is funny or not, you play off ways of speaking and puns and rhythms and cultural understandings — Maria Bamford is even hard for Americans to get into, I’m guessing it’s even harder for an international audience, but she has content on Netflix, she’s been a professional comedian for 25 years. She did a standup comedy special, for Netflix, where the entire show took place in her parents living room and her audience was just her mom and her dad. So, even playing with these conventions of how we think you’re supposed to present comedy, you know? That’s totally changed things.

There are Podcasts and YouTube and Instagram and TikTok, all that stuff, but Podcasts have changed what comedy can be. There’s a guy named Andrew Schulz, he had a show on Netflix too, but he’s a New York comedian and, where you used to have to go through the clubs to get famous in the US, now people are building an audience online. That’s challenging what you can do. You don’t have to necessarily have an opener as a comedian, you can just go up because it’s all your fans there.


How did you get into comedy? How did you start in the US? Was it hard for you to adjust to the comedic scene?

I have been a comedy fan my whole life, ever since I was a little kid. We had these late-night US talk shows, like David Letterman and Conan O’Bryan, things like these. (…) I would sneak into my parents’ room, I’d crawl on the floor, so they didn’t know I was there, and I’d secretly watch them watch David Letterman and I just loved it. I was not a cool kid, I was a bit of a loner and I just really loved laughing and I loved the magic of making people laugh. I didn’t know there was a way to do comedy, I just had no clue. But in San Francisco, I got older, I was in my twenties, and I walked into a café, and it was half cafe, half laundromat. I know it sounds crazy, but people come to do their laundry while getting a coffee or a bagel. On Thursday nights, they had an open mic for comedy they would host there, called The Brain Watch. It’s actually kind of famous, a lot of comedians got their start there, you could hear it on a bunch of American podcasts this Brain Watch place, and I just asked, “How do you do comedy,” and they said, “You just sign up and you got 3 minutes,” and that was kind of how I started. And then, from there on it’s just a matter of talking with people.

Apart from Netflix, in terms of both the audience and the performer, social media has changed everything. Because — I know Facebook is old school —, but Facebook is really good for creating groups and communicating with each other, so I know all the English-speaking comedians in Barcelona, in Copenhagen, in Berlin, in Prague, because we’re all connected to each other in these groups on Facebook. Social media totally made comedy easier to do as well.


How do you manage the crowd and potential hecklers?

In terms of like, hecklers, I kind of enjoy – I’m not saying I would ever encourage an audience to heckle.

Let’s say there are 50 people who all paid to be at this show, to see a comedian who has been working on their craft, their jokes, they put the work in and have done this many times before, but this heckler thinks “Well, what I have is more important or better than anybody else here in this room who paid to see this other person.” It would be like going to the ballet and yelling, “You think that’s how you do a pirouette!? I bet yelling at you is going to make you dance better!” Now, maybe if you say, “You should do a backflip!” maybe the ballet dancer can do the backflip, but really, I will have faith the ballet dancer knows what they’re doing and has presented a particular kind of dance they want to do. Now, that said, when that happens it’s not that I can’t deal with a heckler, I just would never want to bring that upon other comedians. I try to actually make friends with them, because you’re never going to win, you’re never going to win with a comedian. At the very least, if we both say something stupid, I’m going to say it louder, and everyone’s looking at me on stage. They’re already on my side, because they’re there to see me, not the drunk guy in the corner. So, I try to be friendly with them, and point out some of the stupid things that they’re doing or saying, but ultimately get them back on my side. But if they refuse to — I was at a show in Berlin, it wasn’t at me that they were heckling, it was actually a Ukrainian performer, and there were these Russians that were heckling at the Ukrainian. This was before the invasion, it was a few months ago. They were just being assholes, and when the comedian said things back to them, you know, insulting them back, they couldn’t handle it and they got up all pissed off and walked out. There’s never any way to win against a comedian, you know? So, I try to make friends with the hecklers, but if I need to of course I can “destroy” them, but I don’t want anybody to have a bad time! I want everyone to leave feeling good.


So, you never spike the audience? You never provoke the audience?

I wouldn’t say that! I wouldn’t say I don’t provoke the audience. I would say I have very provocative material, but I try to talk about things I think are important and a little bit controversial. But not because I’m trying to upset people, I’m trying to make them think differently about some tough topics. I talk a lot about, like, gender and sexuality in my comedy.


I assume you’ve seen the situation in the Oscars with Will Smith and Chris Rock. Bringing that up as an example, what do you think about that situation, and do you think there are limits to comedy?

I’ll address the first part. Whatever happened in Will Smith’s brain, it was not about the joke. There was so much more behind that, if that’s how someone reacts when a joke is made that they find upsetting …And not even in a random place. You knew you were going to be there; you knew there was a comedian who, traditionally in these forms, roasts these celebrities and you’re seated in the front row to win some pretend award, it’s a very privileged life to have there, and if that’s how you react in that situation… It’s not about a joke, there’s clearly so much more emotional baggage, or he just broke, you know? So, it was wrong for him to do that. If we want to talk about “woke culture,” that’s toxic masculinity!

In terms of limits of comedy, I think anything can be funny. Anything can be made funny. That doesn’t mean everything about that topic is funny. For example, I have trauma in my life, not everything I’m going to say about that trauma is going to be funny, but I can certainly make that trauma funny.


Let me frame it another way. So, you think everything has the potential to be funny. Do you think everything should be made fun of?

No, I don’t think anything should be made fun of. That’s a tricky use of the word.

I think for something to be made funny, someone has to find it funny, right? Comedy is subjective. I promise there’s jokes I can make in San Francisco that if I said here in Portugal, it’d be like “I don’t get it, what? That’s not funny.”

I talk a lot about drugs in my comedy and I thought Lisbon and Portugal were genuinely like “Yeah! Decriminalize! We’re very open!”. I’ve talked about it in Barcelona, I’ve talked about it in Berlin, San Francisco, New York, Chicago… For whatever reason, in Portugal people get very sensitive when I talk about drugs. “Oh, I think he has a problem,” never the reaction I get in any other country. It’s a little more conservative here than I’m used to. Does that mean I shouldn’t be able to joke about that? Well, I find it funny, people in some other countries find it funny, but maybe Lisbon is not the audience for those jokes. But it’s hard to know what your audience is. The fascinating thing about that Will Smith thing, there’s a lot of levels to it, but you look at his reaction when he says the joke and he’s cackling, laughing out loud. Not just kind of smiling, really laughing, so Will Smith found it funny. That’s why comedy is such a weird psychological thing. But I think what’s more dangerous than saying a joke that someone doesn’t perceive as funny is saying that comedy needs to have those limits. In certain countries you can’t make jokes about prominent people because there’s repercussions. In Thailand, you’re not allowed to make jokes about the king. That is a very slippery slope to me, when you start saying “No, this joke can’t be made,” that doesn’t mean there are no consequences for the joke but walking up to someone and assaulting them because they said something you found not funny, or your wife found not funny is illegal.


How would you describe your style and how would you say it has evolved throughout time?

I would say it’s a combination of self-deprecating but also provocative with challenging societal conventions that we take for granted. I like to try to find the little, tiny cracks and nuances in the way we think and like break them open. And, for me, in terms of how it’s evolved, there’s easy jokes you can go for, and it’s not that they’re not funny, it’s just they’re the first thing that everybody thinks of. I’m actually very guilty of this, because in the last week, if you look on my Instagram, I made like a Will Smith meme, and it was like “Keep my wife’s name out of your mouth, now put your dick in hers!” Of course, that joke that I thought of, 5000 other people had thought of the exact same thing, and I got disappointed with myself comedically. Like, “Oh there’s more nuance to it, there’s a smarter way to get in at this,” you know? But the first thing that most comedy people thought of is “Oh, you know, they’ve had some sort of open relationship, but he gets offended by that but not about her sleeping with other people,” And yes, it gets a laugh, but is there a smarter, more unique way into it? I like to do that with jokes in general, a lot of comedians when they start off, like at open mics and they’re new, everybody talks about masturbation, everybody talks about shitting, everybody talks about all these things because they do make people laugh and, yes, I talked a lot about those things, but is there a smarter way to talk about those things than just saying them out loud? That’s something you evolve by watching a lot of comedy and seeing a lot of the other ways people can do it and I think the goal is to have the audience leave and six months later say “Oh my God, I saw this comedian who had this joke about this,” because it made the person see something in a way they hadn’t before, you know?


Wouldn’t you say that those jokes about Will Smith not allowing someone to make jokes about his wife, but then being able to have sex with his wife, are not comedy, but just plain misogyny? Do you think that comedy can be plain racism, misogyny, etc., or does it have to have an underlying criticism, a higher purpose, or a smarter articulation behind that?

I don’t think it has to, no [have an underlying, higher purpose]. You go back to a guy slipping on a banana peel, there’s no higher meaning there! Sometimes it’s funny to watch people hurt themselves and I think that that’s ok. We talked about Mr. Bean, physical comedy, things like that. The question is, if there are more layers there, maybe they’ll be more rewarding in other ways for the audience or for the comedian. I don’t think that’s a prerequisite, I don’t think that’s necessary. I think that the word misogyny gets thrown around a lot, you know, misogyny means “I hate women”, I don’t think it’s “Oh, I hate women because I’m talking about Will Smith’s wife, and I used to have a sex and dating podcast and interviewed tons of sex educators and sex workers. I’m not anti-open-relationship or ethical non-monogamy or anything like that. I think that was more preying on or illustrating the really seemingly unhealthy dynamic between the two of them and his own weird rage issues and toxic masculinity and hypocrisy. Honestly that sounds like abusive, very toxic behavior, like “I just hit people because I love them, or to protect them or to…”, you know? I don’t think that was misogyny, making fun of that situation.


Can you explain to our readers what the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is and what motivated you to present your new show there?

So, it’s the largest arts festival in the world. Over a million people go there over the course of August, to Edinburgh, Scotland. It is an opportunity for any creative person to be seen by the entertainment industry and professionals who can potentially help launch their careers. So, for comedians, there’s people who got producers to produce European tours for them, there are people who got their own television shows, they’ve gotten agents or managers. It’s a place to really showcase your comedic talent and your writing to these industry professionals.


So, what does that mean for you and your career as a comedian? You want to launch yourself into comedic stardom?

Yes, it would be really nice to say that I’m doing something I love and that I’m passionate about and that I’m also paying my rent doing that. Which is something that we’re all trying to figure out in Europe, because that field is so new. That’s kind of the place to do it. I think there’s over 3500 shows there in more than 325 venues, and that was just in 2019 before the pandemic, every year it grows. Obviously in 2020 it didn’t happen and in 2021 it was online, but it’s massive, it’s huge. And I think it’s not just about being funny, it’s about talking about something unique in your show that seems like it’s going to engage audiences and critics and stuff like that. I’m very excited and confident about the show I’m bringing there.


Is it a festival for only performative arts? How well do you think it would represent arts and humanities, for example?

Yes, it’s a festival that is performance oriented. I actually went when I was 19 years old, 17 years ago. As a playwright, I had a theater company and I wrote all the plays, and back then it was much more theater oriented, but as we discussed, with social media and Netflix, times have changed and now it’s more comedy focused, I think 2/3 of the acts there are comedy. But theater, comedy, magic, dance, music, clowning, I think those are the big ones… but yes, it’s very performance focused. I don’t know what other fields of humanities might be represented there, but those are the big ones, in terms of performance.


Can you tell us about your new show?

It’s called American Sex Brain and it takes a very deep, personal, and funny look on my experience and what is walking through the world with sex at the forefront, and everything we’re seeing, and how sex affects all of us or whether it’s gender issue. I think it plays into capitalism, attractive people get hired for better jobs, who you sit next to on the bus, whatever. All of these issues that affect us, and it [the show] looks at that and examines those issues. There’s a particular part, which I’m only saying because it seems to be the most interesting part, or unique to, other people, but I talk about how I used to be a gay-for-pay sex worker. So, I am not gay, but I used to be paid to have sex with men for money. I talk about that in the show, and how it’s really hard for people, because we have these rigid definitions of sexuality. Like, “How could you do that if you’re not gay,” and all those questions, so I talk a lot about that experience as well and in a unique perspective as someone who is attracted to women and sleeps with women but knowing what it’s like to be on the other side of that, if you will.


Have you performed it here in Portugal?

Part of the thing here in Lisbon is that there’s not a lot of that stage time and that’s what we’re trying to create. I’m actually working with some hostels to be able to do some comedy nights, where they would let me work towards that entire hour-long show. But a lot of the places here, where there’s chances to perform, only give you 5 minutes, 7 minutes. The longest I’ve done here in Lisbon was 30 minutes – a couple comedians canceled so I had to do more time. But those are the kinds of things that we’re trying here with shows, and working with bars, with clubs, and other establishments.


Wouldn’t you say that Portugal is maybe too conservative for that kind of show or material?

Well, a lot of the people at these shows are international audience, so it’s not just Portuguese people, but I also think that these are important issues. Talking about gender dynamics and talking what does it mean to be “manly”, what does it mean to be “feminine”, about sexuality, all of those issues. I don’t think so. Especially for younger people, I don’t think it’s too much for them to hear about and if older people have an issue with that well, these are the realities of the world. Just because it might be shocking for them to hear, it doesn’t mean they don’t have to be talked about.

And because I wasn’t expecting Portugal to be… I’m not saying it’s crazy conservative, but it’s a little bit more conservative than I am used to, I talk about that. I talk about what it was like when I talk about sex work in San Francisco versus when I talk about it in Portugal, when I make that part of the act. Because it is perceived a little bit differently.

(…)

When people ask, “how could you do this if you’re not gay,” I say everybody has a job, it doesn’t define you. I don’t think that trashmen are out there waving through rotten apple cores and used tampons for a love of the game. And I worked in advertising, I never felt such a whore when working in advertising. Someone gives you money and you have to do all sorts of stuff you don’t want to do in advertising.


So, you perceive sex work as just any other normal job, is that it?

No, I wouldn’t use the word “normal”. You’re putting your body on the line in a way that a lot of jobs don’t. And because of the stigma surrounding it, there’s a lot more going into it emotionally. And because of the stigma surrounding it, it’s a lot harder to get out of it, because people stigmatize it, they find out you used to be a sex worker, they don’t want to hire you. They think “This person is stupid or messed up or is going to cause issues in the office.” This is an issue women deal a lot more with. I know a woman who used to be a pornstar, I interviewed her and she was an amazing programmer, but she couldn’t get the job, not because she did anything bad, but they were worried the men in the office would know that she did porn and then start hitting on her and then they would have to fire all of their high-level chief technology officers. So, they’re worried about the behavior of the men in the office because they’re going to treat this woman differently based on her past.

How is it for you to be a comedian, a student, and I assume, a worker, at the same time?

The worker part is part of the problem. I need Visa sponsorship to stay in Europe. I’m trying to transition the comedy thing into a fulltime job, in terms of paying rent, which is what the Fringe is for. Balancing it with being a student, it’s a little bit easier because most of my classes are during the day.


In our previous exchange you mentioned Lisboa Comedy Club. You mentioned that you consider them mainly a business. In light of that, what do you think is the ideal situation or conditions for comedy to exist, since you seemed to imply that performing in a business does not correspond with the grassroots of comedy?

Well, I didn’t mean that. All I meant is if you’re going to do a story and be like “hey, there’s English comedy every Sunday night at Lisboa Comedy Club,” they already have comedy every night, it’s a really nice place, they have an upstairs, a downstairs. They’re not exactly the people that need attention brought to them.

(…) They’re like a big business, but what I like is that we’re doing these bar shows, so on Thursday nights I do one at this place called In Bloom, they’ve never done comedy before in their life. It’s the first time that venue has done comedy, they don’t even have a microphone stand and the microphone we use is one that I own. So, it’s very like “punk rock”. People use the crates that the beer comes in, as seats. And everyone’s packed in, but you can get a lot weirder and wilder, you can go out into the audience, anything can happen.

But the Lisboa Comedy Club… it’s good, I like performing there, but it’s much more strict and rigid with the standards and it’s much more formal. I think there’s something really cool — and you have this in the United States, you have this in Berlin, and now you’re having it in Lisbon —, where any place can be turned into a comedy venue. There’s a show at a Cheeseburger restaurant, there’s a show at a Jaeger Bar in Bairro Alto. I’m shopping for a little speaker and a Microphone so we can start doing shows on the street. And I think that’s kind of a cool spirit, where it’s the comedians coming together to do comedy however it’s possible.


How integral is Instagram for the advertisement of your work as a comedian? How well can you make people aware of your work? Do you have to change the format in which your comedy exists to fit the criteria of an Instagram post?

It’s both a blessing and a curse, there’s so many comedians in the world who really built their careers because they got an audience from social media, and that’s great. I struggle with it, because there are algorithms — it’s not about people finding something and saying, “This really good,” or “This is the best standup comedy,” therefore it’s going to rise to the top. With Instagram reels, if you make a video and it’s 61 seconds it’s not going to get into their algorithm, and a video that’s seven seconds will get more attention than a video that’s 59 seconds. Or when that algorithm suddenly changes and they don’t publicize it, so it’s really hard because you stop doing the comedy you want to do, and you start doing the comedy that you think you’re supposed to do for these social media channels. It’s been helpful to reach out to people and to have an audience to promote shows but watching comedy on your phone and watching a dumb TikTok skit where a guy pulls a prank on his mom and throws a pie on her face, that’s not standup comedy. And standup comedy is not viewed best on your phone, it’s best viewed within the audience with other people where you can smell the beer that’s spilled on the floor and you’re surrounded — that’s what live performance and standup comedy is all about, and social media doesn’t capture that. So, it’s a tool we’re all trying to use, but we’re all trying to figure out how best to use it.


Do you prefer those mainstream places like Lisboa Comedy Club or, as you put it, those “punk rock” places with the only microphone being a lent one and crates serving as stools for the audience?

I like them both. It’s kind of like working out your body, it’s good to do strength training and it’s good to do cardio, they’re different muscles that you’re working out, you know? The things at a place like Lisboa Comedy Club, they’re going to have a good sound system, they’re going to have a stage, they’re going to have a spotlight. These are all things that help the comedy out so that when your performance isn’t as good, you can fall back on the conventions that are in place. But there’s something to me that’s really exciting about those more grassroots, punk rock places, because the more formal institutions, the people, they’re a little bit stiffer, maybe they got really dressed up, they put on a nice coat to come out. The audiences at those weirder venues … For example, I performed once in Northern California, at an airport, in the terminal where you would go to get on an airplane. I was performing and then, every five minutes, I would get interrupted by the TSA, the security announcements. That’s hilarious! And so, you could make jokes about it, and I think the audiences tend to laugh more at these weirder places. I just like it because it’s a little more exciting and anything can happen, but to be a professional comedian you need to be in these more formal clubs as well.


Regardless of profession, do you think these more “makeshift” stages are more faithful to the essence of standup comedy?

It depends. I know it’s not the answer you’re looking for, but some owners, like the owner at In Bloom, this Italian guy, he says, “Do whatever you want, I have faith in you, I’m here, I love comedy, do what you want.” You’ll have other places that are more “Ugh, don’t make this joke. We’re here to sell drinks,” so, it really depends. If it’s a comedy club they have an investment in comedy, but they can also have more rules, because they have an opinion in comedy. A lot of the alternative venues… they turn it over to the comedians and they say, “You do what you want to do, I trust you, you’re the expert here” and I think that’s what makes them nice too. These are shows produced by comedians, not produced by the owners. I guess in that way the alternative shows are more about the comedian the producer is bringing to the show, and the comedy clubs are more about what the owner is bringing to the show, and so for me I prefer to be “in control”, in that way.


Do you dream about having an hour-long Netflix Special in which you can realize all your “comedic dreams,” let’s say?

Yes, of course, I have dreams of five Netflix Specials and TV Shows. But my first dream is being able to pay rent with jokes.

I think this hour that I’m putting together for the Fringe, I think that that would be the Special. Really, I know the US perspective, you would know much better than me in Portugal, but in America, right now, everybody’s talking about gender, sexuality, toxic masculinity, all this kind of stuff. I have very strong opinions on it, based on my experience, and I’m very much politically to the left, but I also don’t like the way things are being painted so black and white. This idea that if you’re the white man you’re the devil and you’re evil, and it’s like no! I talk a lot about the complications and nuances and the contradictions of what we’re hearing online, what women say they want versus how reality plays out. And yes, you can say you’re against toxic masculinity but then in the same sentence they’ll say they’re against [vulnerability] — “be more sensitive”, “it’s ok to cry”, “show more emotion”, and then you show emotion and it’s like “No! That’s fragile masculinity! That’s bad too!”. So, I talk a lot about this kind of problems. The internet has stripped a lot of nuance out of these conversations.


Do you think the internet has limited one’s ability doing comedy on the internet with fear of getting “canceled”?

Social media and the Internet are not the way to effectively communicate about nuanced issues with people. These social companies have found algorithms that reward creating division. If you sit down and have a beer with someone you disagree with, I promise you’re going to have a much more productive conversation than arguing over a Twitter thread, or Instagram comments or anything like that. And where a lot of these jokes are being consumed, again it’s not a comedy club where they should be. So, I’m having this show that’s very pro-sex-worker and very much about nuance. One of the rewards for this Kickstarter campaign I made is that I would say this joke-roast prayers for people who donated. We have two comedians, one who is very pro-sex-worker, nuanced sexuality, and another comedian in Berlin who’s gay, and he had me roast him in a reel, which is still on my Instagram page, but I put it on TikTok. I’m playing a priest and the priest is making jokes about sexuality and that got removed from TikTok because of bullying. I objected and said, “This isn’t bullying” and I explained the situation and then a real human being, a worker from TikTok reviewed it, and not only did they uphold it and said that I was bullying, they said that I was guilty of hate speech. And I’m like, “Are you missing — what are you talking about?” That’s an instance where I get really scared about what these corporations and algorithms are doing to say what’s ok to say online and what’s not.


Being that we live in a hypersensitive society, and comedy is heavily reliant on the audience, how do you think comedy will evolve in terms of what is allowed to say?

I don’t think that we’re more sensitive than we’ve been before, I just think that social media allows all those voices get rewarded for going online and saying, “this offends me”, and they get more likes, and shares, and so forth.

Do you know what Patreon is? I talked about Andre Schultz, who’s a comedian, he got really big because of Instagram, and he also got really big because he has a podcast on YouTube and a Patreon, so I think clipping out the middleman in terms of those comedy clubs and going directly to your consumers, your fans, has opened up a lot of opportunities. The funniest podcast in the world is this podcast, they can’t even publicize the name on iTunes or Apple, but it’s Cumtown. It’s the funniest, but no one would put them on their big platform, the way they make money is through Patreon. You can look it up if you just type in patreon.com/cumtown, per month they make something like 100000$ dollars from people, just contributing five dollars apiece. So, they have so many fans and I think that’s where things are going, “Ok, you’re going to get offended by something I say. That’s okay, you have the right to be offended, but this isn’t for you, it’s for the other person and so I’m going to communicate directly to them through these kinds of platforms.”

I went to see Eric perform at Lisboa Comedy Club. After a handful of other comedians, all performing in English, it was Eric’s turn to perform to a full house. There were people from all walks of life there, but I’d wager to say most were tourists or foreigners who’d just recently moved to Lisbon.

He gave us a small glimpse, a sample, of what to expect of his new magnum opus. His humor was deeply sexual and controversial, making remarks about matters such as gender and drugs. He was very provocative towards the audience, demanding for us to reflect on our, sometimes, underdeveloped conservative stances on various matters.

He opened up with a “Sex! Let’s talk about sex!” He revealed to the audience his past as a gay-for-pay male escort, something antithetical to his nature, with him being straight. That revelation inevitably summoned some conservative murmurs by the audience, which he swiftly silenced by mocking the audience for feeling uncomfortable about his past when he, himself, is not. The initial awkwardness was eventually surpassed; with his incessant provocative remarks about controversial topics the audience grew accustomed to him. He was self-deprecating and surgical, particularly regarding his own gender, commenting that being an escort with men made him learn a lot about women. He detailed in a hilarious, yet sometimes uncomfortable, fashion his sexual and professional experiences with sex, making jokes about his clients’ character and claiming it made him understand all of women’s frustrations.

He is remarkably comfortable with his sexuality and professional past, even if sex work represents something extremely taboo within and outside our society, and that is what makes his style somewhat unique and groundbreaking pertaining to the comedy scene in Lisbon. There aren’t as many comedians who, in such a nuanced and unapologetic way, and with the ethos he commands as a former sex worker, detail their sexual experiences and use them as base for a complex critique of the modern perception of sexuality and gender. What Eric is doing is remarkable, and his intent to take it to one of the biggest stages in the world for everyone to see represents an amazing possibility. Comedy has been used for myriads to critique social issues, but here Eric offers us the possibility of destigmatizing sex work and a chance for reflecting on our conceptions of sex and gender, all through standup comedy.

Ultimately, the beer on the floor, the insensitive jokes, the overpriced drinks, and the heckling from the crowd conveyed a feeling like no other. Perhaps this was what Eric told me about. When going out to these places, well clad, prepared to spend much more than my monthly allowance would allow me to, I forget about all my problems. I forget the fact that all these comedians before me also have their hardships, their sensibilities, and opinions, and yet we forgo all that in this night of communion, in which all our differences in life vanish from our minds and are made fun of right before us. It is a feeling like no other, should you enjoy it correctly. It seems like an unlikely stage for political reflection; however, comedians are experts at their craft. They have a way to transform that casual and somewhat relaxed stage, depending on where you experience it, into a forum for political and social reflection. In many ways laughter prompts us to begin a deep soul search.

I anxiously wait to see Eric’s American Sex Brain in full display and all its glory, a nuanced critique of the modern day’s general perception of sexuality, gender, and overall social liberties by non-other than a fellow student is deeply needed. Yet, for that to be realized he requires funding.

The comedic scene is alive and well in Lisbon, hungry for growth and expansion, thirsting for new members with different styles and references. Eric is but one example of the massive ambition we have within this genre, intending to make his presence felt, incite discourse regarding controversial, yet important, matters.

If you want to support Eric in his journey to attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, follow him on Instagram and TikTok at @ericbarrycomedy, check out his podcast, American Comedy Suicide, where he deals with the very intimate struggles and mental health issues that comedians go through behind the scenes, at https://open.spotify.com/show/3RKOaqV4FugAo8DZPSYb2V?si=2a40d6d108aa456f, subscribe to his YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/ericbarrycomedy1 and support his Patreon at http://patreon.com/ericbarrycomedy.



Tiago Correia

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