When Barry Kripke first appears in The Big Bang Theory (in season two), he seems like a straight-up jerk. He’s rude to Leonard and the gang, he’s aggressive (although they are, admittedly, battling robots in this episode), and he’s just abrasive. As time goes by, he pops up to insult the gang, hit on Penny (and call her ‘Roxanne’ because it’s a ‘sexier’ name), and generally annoy everyone.
However, there’s more to Barry than just his existence as one of Sheldon’s many nemeses (and an inappropriate running gag about his rhotacism, which is not the show’s finest moment). He’s actually a pretty fantastic character, and in many ways, would be a more interesting character than some of the core gang.
He’s One Of The Longest-Running Side Characters
While there are lots of recurring secondary characters in The Big Bang Theory, Barry is one of the few that appears consistently in almost every season. Unlike characters like Leslie, who show up a lot in the early episodes, and then disappear, or Stuart, who only becomes a major part of the story in later seasons, Barry is there from the start. He’s a consistent reminder of the gang’s work at CalTech and their colleagues, and he’s adaptable to every storyline in the show.
He’s The Least Stereotypical Nerd
One of the biggest criticisms of The Big Bang Theory is that the main characters are inaccurate and negative stereotypes about ‘nerds’ – but Barry doesn’t fit with this. Yes, he is a scientist who battles robots and references comics, but he also goes out to bars to have fun, he has some level of social confidence, and he is also involved in multiple sports. His love of rock climbing, polo, and water polo are mentioned (although he is later shown to be bad at sports, which is an inconsistency in the character).
He Has A Lot Of Positive Growth
While Barry is still far from perfect by the end of the show (especially in his approach to women) he actually goes through a lot of positive growth. In the early episodes, he is two-dimensional and completely awful, a mean bully with no respect for anyone else.
By the end, though, he may still love to throw out insults and he has no idea how to approach women with respect, but he seems to become a real friend to the gang. Seeing him go from foe to friend (and even to someone Sheldon can stand to be around) is surprisingly satisfying.
His Burns Are Brilliant
Barry might not be as brilliant as Sheldon (he’s certainly not on the path to a Nobel Prize), but his wit when it comes to put downs is phenomenal, and his pranks are amazing. No one is safe from it, either, although Sheldon is usually the one who is going to catch the brunt of Barry’s annoyance. His burns aren’t always the most subtle, but they are always perfectly timed and leave the audience in stitches.
He Value’s Amy’s Work
Interestingly, although Barry is often shown to be crude and sexist when approaching women (much like Howard), this doesn’t seem to transfer to his work life, and he treats Amy as an intellectual equal. He asks for her help on his work, at one point, and takes her suggestions on board – later thanking her, and annoying Sheldon in the process. Compare this to Sheldon, who spent the early part of their relationship seeming to look down on his girlfriend as less intelligent than himself (something that he does, admittedly, do to everyone).
He’s Actually A Decent Friend
Barry likes to put friends down, and can be highly competitive, but when push comes to shove, he does actually care. He shows up to Howard’s bachelor party – maybe he’s just there in the hope that there will be strippers, but it’s just as likely that he’s also there because he truly considers Howard a friend.
And when two scientists are attempting to steal the credit for Sheldon and Amy’s work, Barry is there to dig up the dirt on them to help his friends get what they deserve.
He Doesn’t Accept Sheldon’s Bad Behavior
Sheldon and Barry’s rivalry is a core part of his place in the show – but it’s actually refreshing to see someone who doesn’t enable Sheldon, or accept his behavior all the time. It’s clear that the university often allows Sheldon extra leeway in his behavior because of his genius, and the center gang roll their eyes but accept Sheldon, even when he’s crossing the line from ‘quirky’ to ‘cruel’. Barry, however, provides a little balance, as someone who knows just how brilliant Sheldon is, but isn’t going to allow himself to be treated badly because of it.
He Doesn’t Let Rhotacism Define Him
Barry has rhotacism, and pronounces the letters ‘r’ and ‘l’ as ‘w’. Unfortunately, the show often makes this ‘the joke’, which isn’t appropriate, but sometimes the portrayal of the character can be a good example of having a character with a condition who isn’t treated differently for it. Barry himself clearly chooses not to let this define him, and it’s not something used to make him a victim (quite the opposite, as the actor revealed that it was added to give vulnerability to an arrogant character). In fact, his speech is rarely even mentioned on the show, (although there is one scene that calls out Siri and voice apps for accessibility issues), and it’s a refreshing change for a sitcom.
He’s Not Defined By Romance
Throughout the series, most of the main cast (and even the secondary characters) are constantly dating, in a relationship, or looking for one. Even Sheldon, who has zero interest in finding love for the first few seasons ends up with Amy. However, Barry – despite hitting on Penny and Amy – is never really seen with a romantic partner. It’s another refreshing part of the character – he doesnt’ need a romantic subplot to make him worth watching. (Or perhaps he’s just such a jerk that one would be unbelievable… but it works for Howard!)
He’s Able To Laugh At Himself
At the end of the day, The Big Bang Theory is a comedy, and Barry not only makes the audience laugh, but he has the ability to laugh at himself. In his very first appearance, when he is going to battle the gang in a robot war, Howard decides not to show up because he’s upset that Penny has called him out on his creepy and inappropriate behavior. When Barry is told that Howard won’t come because “he’s depressed because he’s pathetic and creepy, and can’t get girls”, Barry’s deadpan response is “we’re ALL pathetic and creepy, and can’t get girls. That’s why we fight robots”.