Most comedy schticks come with idiosyncrasies, but none more so than Barry Smith's. Every Job I've Ever Had, which hits the Manitou Art Theatre this Thursday, is one of those gems of confessional comic memoir that could never have the same cathartic sparkle in any hands but Smith's own.
This is possibly because the 44-year-old writer-performer is the only person capable of being, well, Barry Smith. At his hands, audiences have experienced a stay in Christ's basement (Jesus in Montana), life in the decrepit buildings of London (American Squatter), and the preoccupations of a compulsive hoarder of memorabilia (Me, My Stuff and I). The adventures he describes, while funny in themselves, are the kinds of things you'd have to see to believe.
Luckily, Smith always brings pictures.
"At one of my jobs, I had to sit through years of really, really bad PowerPoint," he says. "And that's where I got the idea: I could take this corporate tool of mediocrity and try to do something interesting with it."
In his fourth show, Smith brings his "story with pictures" approach to the comedy inherent in hellish work situations; it's a chronicle of his Swiftian efforts to, as he puts it, "have a job that doesn't suck."
The result is the same blend of earnest storytelling and deadpan self-effacement that has made Smith's previous shows into MAT favorites. And, like his other shows, it reveals the universal by focusing on the never-dull specifics of Smith's own experience.
As to what those specifics are, Smith isn't giving anything away — he doesn't want to ruin the surprise. Suffice it to say that the Mississippi native's ride to the MAT has been a wild one.
"[It's] about someone trying to follow their bliss, like I think we all are in some way," he says of the show's appeal. "It's funny and redemptive and at times just downright silly, and I bet you'll find some jobs in there that you can relate to.
"You'll find some part of yourself in there," Smith says, and then pauses to reflect. "I don't say it in that voice, though, because that sounds hokey."
It's the genuine quality of Smith's stage presence that makes his take on comedic theater so enjoyable to watch. A self-taught performer who fell into theater by a route that, as Every Job attests, was circuitous to say the least, Smith gives the impression of never having bothered to create a dramatic persona. Why would he? The story is, after all, entirely and uniquely his own. In his brand of comedy, truth is always more compelling than artifice.
"I think 'entertain' is a much bigger word than it sounds initially. Within the scope of entertainment there's laughter, there's insight, there's inspiration, and there's 'a-ha' moments."
And for him, it all comes down to timing.
"I really like the idea of time as an artistic medium," he explains. "It's like, wow, 40 years went by just like that, boom, how did that happen? Here's a picture to prove it.
"In the same way that painting can be a medium, you can use time as a medium through which to create art."
Again, the reflective pause. "And hopefully there will be jokes."