Arj Barker: “Being Lost In Your Twenties Means You’re Doing It Right.”17 October 2017
As Arj Barker joins me in the studio, I feel a sense of relaxation I don’t usually get with other guests. Arj has no ego, his smile permeates any sense of unease.
“I was as happy before becoming a comedian, as I am now.”
Uttered by Arj at a performance I saw almost five years ago. The poignancy of this statement shook fifteen year old Fergus Neal to his core. I was jolted up in the old leather chair adjacent to the stage from where Arj spoke from. It changed my life. Honestly. From a working-class background, I viewed Arj as the epitome of success and happiness. Having performed on all the late night talk shows in America, at the world’s best festivals and having starred in huge network television shows, Arj was exactly what I perceived happiness to be.
But as the interview progressed I increasingly got the impression that Arj viewed life as being happy if you make it happy, not dependent on any validation that one may get from performing in front of thousands of people.
Arj’s lesson illuminated the mistake in my teenage thinking up to that point – that happiness was material. The power of comedy has always been its ability to hold a mirror up to yourself and to society. Often laughter is found in a truth we always knew, but refused to acknowledge for whatever societal reason – pride, vanity, greed, sadness. The line ‘it’s funny cause it’s true’ manifests from this idea.
“Studies have shown your happiness stays relatively the same. It might go up after you win the lottery or something, but a few years later it’ll be back at that median level,” Arj tells me after I repeated his poignant statement from five years ago.
“You can obviously do things to make yourself happier. You can meditate, get rid of your phone probably (laughs), relationships with people around you are obviously really important,” Arj says into the microphone.
“People look at me and think, ‘wow this guy’s got it made.’ They didn’t see me delivering pizzas for Dominoes as a struggling comedian with no money,” Arj laughs.
“I do the same thing looking at celebrities, but everybody has their own problems,” says Arj.
Arj talks about his early twenties, absent of the stress most of our us carry at this age when imagining the future. Most of us in the millennial generation have it drilled that we will never own a house, have to work our guts out for a job that may not exist in a few years, and constantly compete with those around us for ‘happiness.’ But perhaps the material dreams of former generations will be superseded by a kind of philosophy of kindness and connection that Arj teaches.
“I wasn’t in a rush. I took odd jobs all through my twenties. Delivery driver, cleaner…” Arj talks about these times with a relaxed smile.
“Before work once, a friend said, ‘hey do you want a cap?’ That became the start of the story where I ate magic mushrooms before a shift cleaning a high school cafeteria.”
What started as a magic mushrooms story ended in a comedian who would take on and conquer the world.
I leave the interview with Arj feeling calmed, my existential unrest partially quelled with the knowledge that material success will never define us as people, or as a generation. Rather, kindness and love to those around us will define the internal happiness which you decide is right for you, not that perceived happiness which is externally placed upon you as what will make you happy. Bravo Arj Barker.
You can listen the podcast of this interview by searching ‘The Ferg Neal Show’ on ITunes.
Arj is currently touring Australia with his show ‘Organic,’ you can buy tickets at arjbarker.com.