Comedian Greer Barnes is not a household name, but the folks in the industry who often praise him are people you’ve definitely heard of.
“I always feel when I go onstage after [Barnes], I literally felt the disappointment from the crowd,” explained Bill Burr on his Monday Morning Podcast.
Barnes has gained the reputation of being one of the hardest comedians to follow due to his style and likability. This inside knowledge – that started as green room banter amongst comics – has been introduced to those outside of the comedy scene. Most notably, there was a scene from Louie where fellow comedian Dave Attell rants to Louis C.K. about how he cannot follow Greer Barnes.
“They’re just being nice,” Greer says in response to the praise.
All cordialness aside, it seems as though some of the most notable comedians in town are trying to let the public in on New York comedy’s best kept secret. So where did this guy come from?
Greer’s respect in the scene was not born overnight. He’s been performing standup for over thirty years. Born in the South Bronx and raised on the Upper West Side, the New York native started doing standup when he was eighteen. He was discovered by Estee Adoram, the booker for The Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village. It was there where Barnes gained his comedic chops and eventually became a regular and favorite. Along the way he’s also acted in shows such as Chapelle’s Show, In Living Color, Horace and Pete, and The Jim Gaffigan Show as well as Chris Rock’s Top Five.
Manny Dworman, the late owner of The Comedy Cellar, compared Greer’s jokes to famous “hit” songs. He pointed out that fans actually look forward to hearing the bits they have already heard from Barnes.
In hopes of capturing the experience that audience members get at Greer’s NYC performances, producer Matt Lipton created See What I’m Saying, Greer’s debut album. The album was released in 2014, though without the right promotion and following, it didn’t get much traction. “It went lead,” Barnes joked.
Lipton told me that though the sales were not as high as he hoped, the album is one of his proudest accomplishments. He described the process of making the album as a “labor of love” and added that Greer is his favorite comic.
Many echo these sentiments. His recent television appearance came as no surprise, and perhaps felt long overdue.
The late night world was reintroduced to Barnes earlier this month, when he was the standup guest on Late Nate with Stephen Colbert.
The last time he performed on late night television was over 20 years ago, on Late Night with David Letterman in July of 1995. Greer said he sat in the green room with comedy and film producer Barry Katz, who helped him put together his set. He remembered only excitement prior to his Letterman appearance. To his own surprise, Barnes felt more apprehensive this time around.
“I was very excited to do it, but I was extremely nervous,” Barnes said after the show.
Before Barnes took the stage, unbeknownst to him, Colbert played a clip from HBO’s Crashing. The clip featured Greer talking to the show’s star Pete Holmes about his upcoming set on Colbert. Though the scene felt meta and planned specifically for his Late Night appearance, it was all coincidental – including his choice of wardrobe.
“It definitely wasn’t planned for me to wear the exact same shirt,” said Barnes as he let out a huge laugh. By avoiding the traditional sports jacket look and dressing how he normally does, however, Barnes was able to bring a sense of authenticity to his set.
He began with a bit about how uncomfortable it makes him to walk behind white women at night, one of his “hit” jokes. His genuine laugh accompanied the howls from the audience. Much like he’s been known to do at his Cellar shows, Barnes seamlessly worked in hilarious sound effects to help paint a picture. This is a very personal element that he brings to his sets; it started long before his standup career. Greer says that his mother would overhear him beatboxing and making uncanny sound effects while playing with his toys.
As The Late Show With Stephen Colbert episode aired, Greer watched it at the place where it all started: The Comedy Cellar. With a television set up in the restaurant above the club, Barnes was surrounded by his fellow comedians along with wait staff and the employees at the club who have supported him all these years.
At the end of Greer’s set, competing with the cheers and applause from the audience, Colbert plugged See What I’m Saying. With the recent publicity, the album has gone from an unknown to No. 13 on the iTunes Comedy Charts. It’s a much-deserved second life for an under-appreciated album from an under-appreciated comic.
Photo by Mindy Tucker.