“Defriending Cancer” is not just a good idea but an excellent comedy and music benefit coming up. The night is hosted by comedian Todd Barry and features some of his funniest colleagues, like Neil Hamburger, Eugene Mirman, Tig Notaro, Natasha Leggero and Tim Heidecker (of “Tim and Eric” fame). It also features music from James Mercer of The Shins and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse. The event takes place Thursday, February 11 at the Moore and the money raised benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Tickets can be obtained here.
The host, Todd Barry, is one of the funniest comedians I’ve ever seen perform. His rare intelligence and droll delivery always make for a hilarious time. He’s also a great actor, appearing in films like the critics’ favorite, The Wrestler. I spoke with him by phone about the event, what we can expect next Thursday night and about his experiences as a comedian opening for a loved rock band.
What are you looking forward to for this benefit?
I picked all of the comics, so I just want it to be one big, fun night to raise money for a good cause. That’s what I always want that in a show; I just want people to not feel like they’ve been ripped off when they leave. I’m really thrilled that everyone (booked) agreed to do it.
I’ve also done a few shows at the Moore before and it’s a really great old theater.
I’ve seen you perform a few times before and those shows mostly seem to be benefits that mixes music and comedy. There was one where you were in Tinkle with David Cross and Todd Benjamin that was at the Showbox and you were with the New Pornographers and then more recently was a benefit for 826 Seattle at Town Hall called “People Talking and Singing”.
I have done a few benefits in Seattle. I like Seattle. It’s probably one of the cities I perform in the most.
Is there anything about Seattle that keeps you coming back?
I don’t know; I’ve done Bumbershoot and some other shows like the Sub Pop twentieth anniversary show at the Moore. I don’t know the crowds but are always good and they’re always really polite.
Was there someone who approached you about putting this together?
No, actually Megan (Jasper of Sub Pop) and I both lost people to leukemia, I lost my mother and she lost a good friend. We talked about it and thought it would be easy enough to organize, and it would be fun as well.
What was it about these particular comedians that made you want to book them?
I’ve been friends with a lot of comedians over the past twenty-two years and they’re friends of mine and they’re all really good. Also, each one is different from each other, so it’s a variety of styles. There’s something for everyone.
That’s one of the things I really like about this lineup: no one is really similar to the one before or after.
Nah, we have some extremes with some really good joke-writers and some more unusual acts. Take Neil Hamburger, there’s no one else like Neil Hamburger and Tim Heidecker has something really cool lined up. Natasha (Leggero) is great, actually everyone involved is really great.
How did you end up getting into comedy? Were you always funny?
I don’t know. I guess I always tried to be funny, but at some point I was watching comedians on TV and decided to give it a whirl. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was in my early twenties, but I just stuck to it for whatever reason. It’s like everything else, you just feel drawn to it and you give it a whirl and it worked out; it’s like any career.
The benefits that I’ve seen you perform at were with musical and comedic acts. I think you’ve also toured with bands like Yo La Tengo. Is that something you enjoy because it seems like the comedy and music crowds could be quite different?
It can be a rough thing, but I try to do it only when I think it’s going to be a good match and the crowds will be able to focus on both types of entertainment, if that makes sense.
I think this show is being billed as a comedy and music event and it’s in a theater, so I don’t think it’s going to be like it’s in a noisy club where people are going to be shitty.
I think (in this case) people will be really excited about the musical acts, so it should be fun.
Have any musical acts audiences been better or worse towards you?
Like I said, I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’ve picked people where I think I think it’s going to work out. When I open for a band, I usually have them introduce me so that they know I’m not someone who was thrown up randomly, just like it wasn’t that they grabbed a comedian and threw him up on stage. “He’s a friend of ours and listen to him.”
I remember seeing a video on YouTube where you read a hilarious letter from a Yo La Tengo fan who said that they’d give anyone who got their endorsement a chance.
Yeah, and people know with them they have comedy on their shows pretty often.
Is there anything else people should know about this benefit that we haven’t talked about yet?
I don’t think so. With comedy shows, as long as people know it’s happening, there’s not really a sales pitch I can give for it. If you know some of these people and you know these musicians, it kind of speaks for itself. The money goes to a good cause and it’s not too expensive. It goes to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
One of my very best friends is putting on another benefit for them two nights later at the Crocodile. It’ll be a good weekend for raising money to fight leukemia that weekend!
I hope she does well and I hope we both do well.
What else are you working on right now?
I’m just doing shows across the country right now. I don’t really have any acting roles coming up. I did do a show called “Delocated” that will be in Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network and that will be out sometime in the summer. I’m mostly just booking shows right now.