Sit Down Series: Greg Barris

Greg Barris fits right in New York City and is the mastermind behind Heart of Darkness and Mind Warriors. Heart of Darkness is best described as a variety show with elements of comedy, music and science. Mind Warriors is his very own sit-down talk show where he picks his guest’s brain and truly gets into their mind. He has also been featured on Funny or Die, College Humor, Jay Leno’s Laugh Squad, All That Rocks and Warren the Ape. Described as a “shamedian”, Greg has the charisma, intrigue, charm and wit that can keep you on the edge of your seat all night long.

I recently sat down with him in his New York apartment to get to know him. After seeing his Mind Warriors show with special guest, Andrew W.K., I was very interested in what he would have to say for Journey of a Frontman. And once you start reading, you will be too!

Alex Obert: How did the idea for Mind Warriors start and develop?

Greg Barris: Mind Warriors is an older project that I did with this guy, Aaron Bowden, in 2005 or 2006. We were both interested in a lot of weird sciency stuff. We went and found a lot of these people, met with them and almost made in the documentary, but nothing ever happened with it. And then I do this other variety type show called Heart of Darkness and I started to incorporate the idea into that show. I started doing the Mind Warriors on Heart of Darkness where I’d bring someone on and interview them, now I just do that by itself.

Alex Obert: How do you determine who you want to have as a guest?

Greg Barris: Someone has to be of noteworthy intelligence. Someone who’s doing something that’s interesting. There’s a lot of scientists actually, PhD Professor actual lab people, but then also people who have just written something interesting or are portraying some interesting information.

Alex Obert: What made you decide that Andrew W.K. was a worthy guest?

Greg Barris: Well I was looking at a lot of his stuff and I also met him briefly at a thing a long time ago. I was just sort of trying to do a show with him in general and then I started doing the Mind Warriors by itself. I was seeing that he was doing these lectures. I was looking at some of those and it just seems interesting like he had something to say. There seemed to be a lot of different opinions about what he had to say. It just seemed like a good opportunity to try to figure it out a little bit.

Alex Obert: How do you think the show went?

Greg Barris: I had a great time. I feel like people had a fun time. We got to the root of all the W.K. stuff, I think.

Alex Obert: What was the interaction like between the two of you while setting this show up?

Greg Barris: It was just emails. He inquired about what it was and what he had to do. I told him that it was just us talking, an interview conversation-style. He was down with it and that was about it. Then he showed up.

Alex Obert: Did you listen to his music in preparation?

Greg Barris: I did. I watched a lot of the new videos that he’s got up there, the old music and the newer stuff.

Alex Obert: What did you think of his live show?

Greg Barris: It’s pretty fun. I’ve seen him before at Santos Party House. Yeah, I like it.

Alex Obert: For the first ever Mind Warriors show, what was going through your head before you hit the stage?

Greg Barris: The very first one that was by itself was with this guy, Douglas Rushkoff, who I know pretty well. He’s a really interesting guy, he has a lot to say and I know he’s a good talker. It was at UCB Chelsea, before I hit the stage there, I just thought, “I hope I’m funny.”

Alex Obert: And what was the crowd response like?

Greg Barris: People were really into that one. That one was produced real well by the people that helped work on it. Everything went real smooth. That was a real fun one.

Alex Obert: How did you get into interviewing people on stage? What made you want to take a show on the road like that?

Greg Barris: Taking it on the road just has to do with where I am. I just need to be doing shows wherever I am so I can keep eating. Mostly it’s just been here and in LA. I just like to do it and I think it’s a fun show, it’s fun to pull off in LA while I’m there. I usually go there for two to five months out of the year depending, that’s good to do.

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Photo by Dima Drjuchin

Alex Obert: If Mind Warriors was a TV show, how would you want it set up?

Greg Barris: I like the format of this live piece being centered around a live interview. It’s to the camera, but with a studio audience. When you put someone in front of people, you peel away a lot of layers of things people can put on, especially in a longer conversation about what you think and what you believe and what you found and what you do and what you practice and how you feel about things. It’s easy to come out and do a three minute sound bite in the studio or whatever, but if you have real people watching you that are also participating in different ways and asking you questions and talking to you and responding, it’s a little different. The show would be me going to the person, them coming to me, but maybe the day before that, I would go and hang out with them on a typical day for them and do all the stuff that they do from when they wake up to when they go to sleep. I would ask them a lot of questions about what this is and what that is and what you’re working on and why you’re doing this. Like whatever Andrew W.K. does in his morning routine, he says goodbye and takes a walk to something, go somewhere else and does an interview, whatever that is, just hang out with him for the full day and it would be back and forth between those two things.

Alex Obert: While on the topic of TV shows, how did you become a part of Warren the Ape?

Greg Barris: My high school girlfriend’s cousin was the guy that created Greg the Bunny. And so I just knew them as a kid. I’ve just done a lot of things with them, they’re actually the guys who are producing this Mind Warriors thing that I’m pitching as a TV show. So they put me in Warren the Ape because they’re nice people.

Alex Obert: Is Warren a prima donna?

Greg Barris: He’s a total prima donna. I have some pictures of me and Warren hanging out recently, just a couple months ago. Warren will come to town without even calling or letting anybody know and he’ll take up the couch, even if there’s someone sleeping on the couch, uses like six towels, he’s ridiculous. And it’s like everybody’s working for him when he shows up. It’s like, “Hey, we all have lives.” But it’s never a dull moment.

Alex Obert: Does he bring his friends with him?

Greg Barris: They’re not allowed in the house. None of his friends are allowed in the house.

Alex Obert: What did you think of Greg the Bunny on Fox?

Greg Barris: I think Greg the Bunny had a lot of legs. Look at the cast of the show, it was incredible. These people had something brilliant. All those guys are still alive and are great. Spencer Chinoy, the director and writer, very talented person. They also do this charity called the 24 Hour Plays with all the celebrities that’ll have twenty four hours to come up with an idea for a play with these television writers and then do a ten minute play, a quick one act play or whatever. There’s twenty four of them or something.

Alex Obert: What happened with the Warren the Ape series on MTV? It was pretty short-lived, much like Greg the Bunny on Fox.

Greg Barris: It’s another one of these MTV things where everybody knows they’re gonna get fired, everyone’s too worried about making a decision, no one can make a decision, the decisions that are made are shit on by everybody and then they move on. People don’t even have enough time to develop stuff. People don’t have enough of a contract to make something work. It’s like you work really hard for three episodes or something and here’s a little bit of money. Or like The Sarah Silverman Show where they said let’s do it again, yet the last season was three years ago. Make a decision. People’s lives are at stake! (laughs)

Alex Obert: With your live shows, what’s the process like of reaching out to guest and booking them?

Greg Barris: There’s a whole barrage of ways. Direct contact is always the best. I don’t wanna go through anyone, so I’ll just find someone who knows them or if they have their information available. And then if not, go to the next layer of whatever, just email until someone responds and get a phone number, get em on the horn, give them the whole sales pitch.

Alex Obert: Have you gotten any rejections?

Greg Barris: I have what I’m calling an art project made up of some of the best rejections from the best people in the world. Celebrity Nos! (laughs)

Alex Obert: Who would you want to have on Mind Warriors?

Greg Barris: I’d like to get Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’d like to get one of the guys who’s the head of The Large Hadron Collider, a lot of questions for that guy. I’d like to get Angelina Jolie in there. Richard Branson would be a good get. Somebody like Henry Kissinger. Nah, I would tear into him too much, he couldn’t handle it. Just people who are working on something that’s very contemporary. I had this woman that’s on the Obama Brain Mapping team, just had her on the thing before. I like quantum physicists. I’m trying to get this woman Diana Reiss, who’s the world’s leading dolphin expert. It’d be cool to get Jenny Holzer, she’s an artist. She does projections of words, they’re almost like poems. She’s very interesting. Elon Musk. Amy Goodman. Dean Kamen, he invented the Segway and the IV Drip. And he’s also the world’s leading robotic hand guy. Chelsea Manning. Matt Taibbi. Glenn Greenwald would be a cool political guy to get. It just goes on forever.

Alex Obert: What is your take on picking the brains of your guests and letting them put their guard down?

Greg Barris: We are really wanting and we all feel how much we want something real or true. People have something real or true to say and that’s interesting to me. Creating a real moment that you can tell is genuine and that brings you into this moment. Being who you are in a moment and vulnerable is a good lesson to see and people react really well to it because there’s something truthful there. Even if whatever the other person is saying you’re in agreement or not with, if it’s real and they believe it or an interested, there’s this inherent sort of something that’s going on that’s more true there. And also getting to what people really want to say. People might believe something or say something, but you have to get it out of them. There’s a lot of fear involved with people so we put up a mask. And I think with someone like Andrew W.K., what does that mean, where does it go, how far are you gonna take partying? Do you really think these things, and if you don’t, what do you really think? I think it’s interesting to get into personal belief systems and understandings and discoveries and practices because we don’t really talk about that stuff. It’s healthy for us to be discussing it. I’m not trying to catch anyone off guard as much as I’m trying to make them feel comfortable enough to be present and honestly vulnerable.

Alex Obert: When you’re on stage, do you feel that that is you with the volume turned up?

Greg Barris: Yeah, you want to make sure the show is good. It’s me in performance mode. Maybe a hyperbole of me, like I’m a little bit more confident or whatever when I’m up there.

Alex Obert: What’s your favorite suit to wear on stage?

Greg Barris: That one suit. I have a couple suits, but that’s the newest suit. It’s almost three years old, so I do need a suit sponsor to buy me a new suit. I’m looking for one, I would love a new suit. That would be great. But that’s the best one I got.

Alex Obert: I’d say you should put a suit company’s logo on your poster, but that could ruin the art of it.

Greg Barris: I’ll put a suit company’s name all over the poster. I’ve been wearing this suit for three years, so that’s three years of publicity people have missed out on. I do five to six shows a week, so that’s five to six times in front of fifty to four hundred people that I would be wearing and presenting and talking about the suit. Plus all the publicity from the promotion of said shows. It’s well worth it.

Alex Obert: Doing five to six shows a week, do you have any memorable stories of getting nickel and dimed?

Greg Barris: Memorable? Yeah, the last fifteen years of my life. (laughs) Nothing too memorable, just a lot of mediocre stories where they didn’t pay us.

Alex Obert: Living in New York City, what do you take out of people watching?

Greg Barris: It’s a never ending stream of interesting things, you just see all of it right there.

Alex Obert: Did you see the guy with the cat on his head?

Greg Barris: I’ve seen him a million times.

Alex Obert: When you’re in Times Square, how can you immediately identify a tourist?

Greg Barris: Tourists are dressed like they’re tourists. They’ve got some kind of suburbanish style of dressing up, a lot of utility stuff. They are walking inappropriately, slowly, or they’re walking three to five people abreast. They are doing a lot of dumb stuff like going on buses or walking into the chain places. They are in fights, they’re always arguing. A lot of husband/wife fights, especially when directions are being asked.

Alex Obert: What do you feel New York has to offer that LA doesn’t?

Greg Barris: It’s hard to say things where you’re not shitting on LA. I like LA, I love it, I love going there. It’s really nice. I have a lot of fun there. New York is a walkable giant city where everyone else around you has their own thing going on that has nothing to do with you or your world. It’s a multiple industry town where that’s happening all over the place. And you just have a lot of different agendas and a lot of different things and a lot of different cultures. You sort of have that in LA, but you gotta drive around, which is fun and nice, but there’s more of an anonymous freedom walking around in New York if you like a city lifestyle. Eleven million people live in an area that you can traverse around for five dollars, or for free if you wanna walk.

Alex Obert: With the phenomenon of Humans of New York, have you met random people in the city that have changed your life?

Greg Barris: A million people have totally changed my life in New York. For big or small reasons. Like I met someone and then I ended up working with that person forever or I went to this thing and I saw this guy and now I married those people or whatever it is. In New York, anybody can be anybody. We’re all walking here on the street together and no matter where you are in the class status system, there is an accessibility and availability, multiple opportunities to be something that you want to be and to reinvent yourself and be anonymous if you want to. You then don’t have to worry about “this is who I am and this is what I do”. It’s the lines of communication. Where in LA, you’re in your box at work or in your car. Then you get into your box in your house. Then you go out at night and you go to your friends boxes. In New York, you’re in arm’s length of everybody else where it’s not so much like that.

Alex Obert: Do you have any places you enjoy going in New York that not many people know about?

Greg Barris: All of my clothing pretty much comes from this one little clothing store called The Quality Mending Company. These shirts are a staple of my life.

Alex Obert: Where would you say is the best pizza place in New York?

Right now there’s not a best pizza place in New York. There used to be, but right now, the cup is waiting for someone to take it. That’s what I would say. Right now, there is not the best pizza place. There’s a lot of great pizza and there’s a small amount of really, really great pizza, but there isn’t someone who’s the best anymore. Maybe Di Fara used to be the best.

Alex Obert: In terms of toppings and how it’s cooked, what would you say is your perfect pizza?

Greg Barris: My perfect pizza would be some kind of experimental pizza. I like all pizzas, so whatever pizza that is really good that someone has given me, that’s what I want. I do like a deep dish. I do like a thin crust. I like a standard. I like toppings like margarita pizza where it’s just simple. I had a woodfired oven with mozzarella, sage maple syrup butter dumpling squash, arugula made from this garden, roasted pumpkin sage salt, wild mushroom olive oil, golden yukon potato with peel, fried sage blossoms. I mean, come on. That’s the kind of pizza I want. Give me that. It was amazing, it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in my life. That’s what I want, pizza from someone who cares.

Alex Obert: What are some unusual toppings you’ve had on a pizza?

Greg Barris: Littleneck clams are pretty good on a pizza, that’s maybe not so unusual. I did a kimchi pizza, that was amazing. That’s the way to go. That’s a secret recipe of mine, it’s super good. I’ve had an andouille pizza. I’ve had a hallucinogenic mushroom pizza.

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Poster by Joel Barhamand

Alex Obert: You have quite the signature look. What led to you growing your hair out?

Greg Barris: This has been the longest run I’ve done. I just feel more like me, whatever that means. As it got longer, I just felt more like who I was. I felt more comfortable with long hair. I’m a wizard and a shamedian, so it makes me more in tune with my environment.

Alex Obert: How did you discover marijuana and what was that first time like?

Greg Barris: I would say almost all of my vices, and I’m not trying to say anything bad about any gender at all, but all of my vices were because I was chasing after in the wrong way. I was chasing after some woman. (laughs) And weed was also that. I was very straight edge until I was out of high school and then I smoked weed when I was with this girl. And then we smoked a lot together. And then I started basically being a pothead. Then I quit everything for three years. No weed, no booze, no caffeine, no pornography. I had no sex and no masturbation for a year. It was an experiment, I’m still off the caffeine. I feel like I go in and out of smoking weed phases, been back on weed for probably like a year.

Alex Obert: What are your views on marijuana?

Greg Barris: Everyone wants to talk about the medicinal marijuana, but if I were to ask you what does that mean to you, like if you were using marijuana medicinally, what does that look like? What do you use it for?

Alex Obert: Glaucoma. Anxiety. Back pain. I’ve read that hemp products are extremely beneficial and they can shrink tumors.

Greg Barris: With the medicinal weed, there’s this stuff called Rick Simpson Oil. It’s very highly concentrated oil. Just like a drop of it is really enough to fuck you up where for four or five hours, you’re just sort of “uhhh” on the couch. It takes a couple weeks to acclimate to, especially if you have to go on a heavy regimen. There’s a lot of clinical trials on things like this that are very healthy, especially with that oil process. With tumor reduction, it’s causing tumors to kill themselves by turning into self destruct mode. Preventative cancer research is being done with it. There’s some health benefits with smoking it, but you wanna get these CBDs in you and when you smoke it, you break off a piece of that chain, so you don’t really get any CBDs and you’re maybe getting a few microns. But when you eat it, especially in the right way, you’re getting hundreds of milligrams of it. You metabolize it properly, so you’re not breaking it down and burning off the chemical chain that causes the good things to happen.

Alex Obert: Going three years without alcohol, how did you relax in social situations?

Greg Barris: That’s one of the toughest parts about being sober, that exact thing. And that’s what people have a hard time with. You don’t wanna not be social. People drink because of that. If you’ve never gone to a bar and got a drink, there’s a lot of anxiety involved with that. Dealing with it is more in doing it a lot and getting comfortable doing it, getting comfortable getting a seltzer water or getting some sort of weird drink that you’ve made up that has no alcohol in it or a soda or some kind of special-made thing that they have there. You want to just try and enjoy people’s conversation, that’s what you’re doing anyway. Yeah, it is difficult. There’s a lot of anxiety, it just takes trial and error to get over it. I don’t know of any other way, really. That’s the hardest thing for a lot of people. It was difficult for me.

Alex Obert: You have also said that you strive to eat healthy. How long has that been your goal?

Greg Barris: I think even growing up, I ate pretty healthy. I think I’ve been going down the rabbit hole for the last eight or ten years or so. I go in and out of phases with some ideas that I have about eating, but most of the time, I’m pretty lax about it. I eat pretty healthy all the time.

Alex Obert: Mentally and emotionally, how has eating healthy effected you?

Greg Barris: Well you have a lot of anxieties in your life about all kinds of stuff. A lot of anxiety comes from lack of control. But you do have some control over some things you are doing, eating what you eat is something you have control over. It has an effect on your whole system. There’s the psychology of that. It will actually make you feel better. You’ll work better and function better and you’ll feel better about that.

Alex Obert: With music, what is your story behind being a musician?

Greg Barris: I would not say that I’m a musician. I make music and I have a band in my show and I’ve been doing shows with a band and music forever. I sort of can play the harmonica. And then I dabble on the keyboard and other instruments like the melodeon. And I have a couple of drums. But I am a comedian. (laughs) The music stuff is fun and I really like it and I like the stuff that we put out and I would say that it sounds cool and it sounds good. I’m trying to make a lot more music, actually. I’ll write songs and then get people that I want that I think would be right to play or sing on the song. Then I’ll get them together and work on it and try and record it. I’ll sing on it and play keyboard or something. There are a lot of new songs right now and a lot of those are songs I’ve written or songs that I wrote with one of those people from my band or someone else. So we’re working on coming up with the final versions of things so we can record it and do another album.

Alex Obert: Which album do feel changed your life when you first heard it?

Greg Barris: Whatever one that has Paula Abdul’s Rush Rush on it. Whatever it is, it’s embarrassing. I grew up in Florida and I remember being highly influenced by ska and nineties punk. I used to listen to Face to Face all the way to Ghoti Hook to things even more embarrassing like Five Iron Frenzy. The first concert that I ever went to was a Pearl Jam concert. I do remember being thoroughly rocked and thoroughly being blown away by how big and awesome everything was. With five thousand people outside, I’ve never been to any kind of live music event like that. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.

Alex Obert: Were you a skanker?

Greg Barris: As a young boy, unfortunately. There was skanking being done. And you know what, I did some skanking not even that long ago. I will skank if the time is appropriate. I did comedy at Fuck Yeah Fest in LA and there is a lot of punk and hardcore stuff there. I fuckin’ skanked the shit out of it and threw some elbows, at some other elbows only. I had a really good time. I was on stage with Against Me!, that was cool. I MC’d that and because of that, I had this all access pass. They treat everybody really nice at that festival, so you could just get on the side of the stage. The band could say that they don’t want anyone on stage, but the general rule is that if you have this pass, you can go anywhere and go on the stage.

Alex Obert: What are your favorite places to see live music at in New York?

Greg Barris: I like the Mercury Lounge. I like the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Union Hall has a lot of smaller shows, but they have great bands and that’s a fun place to see stuff. Cake Shop has a lot of music all the time, a good place to just pop into. Seeing stuff at Irving Plaza and Gramercy, those are good venues.

Alex Obert: Who do you want to see that you have yet to?

Greg Barris: I did just see The Knife and they were great. They haven’t been to New York in seven years and they sold out in three minutes like five months in advance. I would describe them as tropical witchhouse. (laughs) Pre-castlecore. It’s like synth dancey/synthpop, but The Knife is slower. The opening music on Vikings is by Karin Dreijer from The Knife. So they sold out and I just put on Facebook “Hey, did anybody get a ticket that they wanna give me?” Someone from Boston who had seen me perform got me an all access pass from the merch guy, so I don’t even know anyone. I don’t even really know this guy from Boston. I don’t think I ever met him. He had it to where I just walked outside and called the guy, he came then he put this thing on my arm and he said he had to go and that was it. It was great. I just went and hung out backstage. And that was a great show too. I would like to see Björk or some shit like that. I want to see someone who is doing a lot. Someone who is doing a lot with the live stage show, not just the music. There should be a real clear vision as to what’s going on and I want to let go and be massively impacted and have an epiphany. It’s one thing to have a good time and all that, but to be really inspired by something or blown away by something, that’s what I’m always really up for. I would see Grimes in concert. (laughs) Her music’s good, I like that kind of stuff. I’ve never seen Crystal Castles in concert, that would be cool.

Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, I must ask, what is the meaning of life?

Greg Barris: I think we’re just supposed to be here and witness what’s happening and that’s it. We’re supposed to just be a witness to all these things. That’s all, and that everything is okay. It’s all okay, we witness it, we participate in it, you doing whatever you’re doing is it. That’s the purpose of it.

Alex Obert: In closing, if it were to all end today, how would you want to be remembered?

Greg’s roommate Fiona: As the wizard magic, mind warrior, potion-creating, entrepreneur pizza pornographer comedian.

Greg Barris: That’s excellent!

Alex Obert: I’d love to thank you for your time.

Greg Barris: You got it, man! Thank you!

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