Comedy writer offers 22 minutes of tips

Irwin Barker speaks to humour writing class at Western

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Comedy writer Irwin Barker

DO YOU WANNA MAKE OUT? JUST PRESS THIS PICTURE TO YOUR MOUTH AND CLOSE YOUR EYES. DO IT. Comedy writer Irwin Barker spoke to Western students last week about comedy and humour writing.

“I once dated a psychologist for a little while, but she kept getting mad at me for what I was subconsciously thinking.”

Irwin Barker, a comedy writer for CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, spoke to Western’s humour writing class last Wednesday.

The Winnipeg native is renowned for his “clean” sense of humour and has appeared on CBC Radio One’s Madly Off In All Direction; on numerous television comedy specials, including Comedy Night in Canada and The CBC Winnipeg Comedy Festival; and at the Just for Laughs International Comedy Festival.

“Humour is the socially acceptable way of complaining,” Barker said. “The role of humour is quite odd. It helps us interact with each other at various levels. Humour helps us understand what it is to be human.

“We become more aware of the pluralism in society along gender and ethnic lines.”

Barker believes comedy writers must be responsible about their writing.

“There’s too much silliness and callous mockery [in a lot of humour],” he said. “It’s rather insensitive and has no real merit.”

Barker also discussed dealing with rejection and learning to write different types of humour.

“One of the hardest things [as a writer] is to put something out and have someone tell you it’s not funny,” Barker said. “That’s where you walk away and start fresh.

“The true test of ability for a comedy writer is, ‘Can I step out of my own style of humour and write something for a different crowd?’”

Barker said working on a politically based comedy show can be tricky.

“There are some times where you have 80 per cent of the audience laughing, but the other 20 per cent are offended,” Barker said. “You try and reduce [the amount of offended people as] much as you can, but you can never please everyone.”

Barker’s style is described as “an analytical and unexpected approach to everyday life and work.”

He also enjoys spoofing language, he added.

“Many people are uncomfortable with language, so to spin it in a way that makes it humourous and makes them feel comfortable is my goal,” Barker said.

When asked, “What’s the difference between parody and satire in, let’s say, Brian Mulroney?,” Barker simply replied: “Parody would say he has a big chin; satire would say he’s a crook.”

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