by Ryan Meehan
Liz Barrett’s one liners come fast and furious and she is often called a female Stephen Wright; a thinking man’s Roseanne; and had an English teacher once tell her that she “had the humor of Bob Newhart.” Liz grew up all over the world with her military family and now lives in New York City. She can be seen at clubs and comedy festivals around the country, was recently seen in the 2015 Boston Comedy Festival and made her television debut on Gotham Comedy Live. In 2014, she was a finalist in the She Devil Comedy Festival and the runner-up in the Ladies of Laughter competition. On the 25th of this month she’ll be headlining Caroline’s on Broadway as a part of their Breakout Artist Comedy Series, and we are delighted to have her as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: What was the most unusual place you lived growing up as a military kid? How much do you think being raised in so many different locations influenced you to search for a creative outlet for you to make new friends while also entertaining your own brain?
LB: We lived in Germany and Texas. Both were unusual, but I loved them. Texas is like a foreign country, and I think moving influenced me quite a bit. For a while we moved every 2 years, so you never settle into a place. I’m shy, so I think being funny was a way to cope. My mother used to say that I lived in my own world. Even though it was a stressful childhood, I think it helps me read and understand people – all types of people – better.
RM: When did you first really begin to realize that creative outlet was going to become something related to comedy? At what point did you actually start to craft jokes with the intention of telling them in front of your family and friends?
LB: I had lost my job and was at a low, when a friend said I should take a stand up class. I did not take it with the intention of becoming a comedian. I know comedians have mixed feelings about taking comedy classes, but for me it was great. I was not in the entertainment field, and to have a class that was structured and where I could even learn about comedy in a supportive setting was wonderful. To be honest, I was terrible in a class that was full of pretty good people. The class was six weeks long and around week four I was going to quit. I wanted to give it one more shot, so I stayed up all night the day before my week five class and wrote. I went to the class and did better than I ever had, and thought “I can do this.”
RM: When did you decide to finally take those jokes to an open mic; and how did your first few times on stage turn out? Looking back on those early spots, what was the biggest mistake you now realize that you were making; and how did you go about correcting that error and moving forward with your comedy career?
LB: When I started going to open mics, they were rough. I really did not fit in at all, and often I just wanted to flee the mic. I honestly think if I had just started out going to mics, and not been in a supportive class, I would have quit. The biggest mistake I was making was not figuring out what I really wanted to say – my point of view. I needed to focus on that and not so much on stressing on how to get on shows. I corrected that by just starting to really figure out what I wanted to say on stage and develop a strong persona with strong writing. I figured out a way to stand out.
RM: What’s you take on the word “Comedienne”? Do we really need to have an entirely separate word assigned to comics who happen to be female, or is that something that you view to be unnecessary in 2016 given that there are so many talented women who do comedy?
LB: I don’t really think we need it. It does not offend me, but I would rather you just lump me in with comedians. I do the same work and eat the same crappy pizza.
RM: How long have you been doing “Grin & Barrett”; and what should comedy fans who have never been there before know about The Beauty Bar? I see Adrienne Iapalucci, Anthony DeVito and Kendra Cunningham have been on the bill before…who are some of the other killer comics you’ve had rock the house there up to this point in the show’s tenure?
LB: I have been producing Grin & Barrett for close to three years. The show is celebrating its 3rd Anniversary on July 14th. I wanted a show where there was not just one woman on the show or no gay comedians. I try to have a mix of styles and views. I also wanted have newer comedians who I think are different or funny, maybe even a little absurdist…I love absurdist humor. But I have also had very established comedians on too. Josh Gondelman, Emma Willmann, Tim Dillon, Frank Liotti, Gary Vider – while he was still on America’s Got Talent, Sean Donnelly, Kate Hendricks, Corinne Fisher, Matteo Lane, just to name a few.
RM: As stated earlier, you’re headlining a show on May 25th at the legendary Carolines on Broadway…How will your preparation for this show differ from the way you prepared for the AXS-TV appearance at Gotham? How many times have you previously worked that room; and what is special about the atmosphere of that venue outside of the obvious history associated with standing in front of that diamond backdrop?
LB: Well for AXS-TV, my set was just nine minutes so it really was a best of set. I am headlining Carolines so the set is just different. I have to break out the set in topics and practice chunks of the set. Also, I don’t tell stories, so for me a long set entails a lot of material and memorization. My jokes can be as short as 20 seconds long, so for a 45 minute set – well, you can do the math – that is a lot of jokes.
Carolines is special and I am so thrilled to be performing there. I only performed there during Carolines Comedy Madness, so during March, I performed there 5 times. It is special, everyone knows Carolines. My mother – who lives out in the desert – knows Carolines. It’s special because the audiences are excited to be there. They want to be there. They are fans of comedy and have come specifically come to be there. It is amazing. Also, Carolines has a reputation with only working with the best. It is an honor just to be there.
RM: In what ways has your joke writing process evolved over the years; and which aspect of that procedure do you think has improved the most over the past twenty-four months? How has that refinement affected your delivery and your overall performances in general?
LB: When I was first starting out, I was told a tip for joke writing that really worked: Use only three lines of typed text for a joke. If you can’t get it in three lines, it needs to be edited. That really helped me in the beginning.
I still do that to a degree, but now I am not so married to that. I really just used to do one liners, but I’m trying to develop more. I think what has improved is knowing my voice, my point of view. It really helps focus my writing. I have a very deadpan delivery, but I do adjust that depending on the show, audience, where I am in the lineup. I used to think my point of view and delivery boxed me in too much, and I am trying to get away from that somewhat, but now I realize it is overall a good thing because it makes me different. Also, I am trying to experiment more and sometimes I can just sell the delivery even more than the material. I just really have to commit. If I falter at all, the audience reads that. Having the confidence (even if you are faking it) is key.
RM: Are there any topics that you generally tend to avoid discussing on stage? Is your decision to not explore that subject matter in your stand-up based on your comfort level regarding such themes, or because you might not want to alienate a certain portion of an audience that may not be familiar with it and/or might find it to be off-putting or just something they wouldn’t like to see addressed at a comedy club?
LB: Yes, I don’t do political humor or topical really. Those jokes just have a short shelf life. I may tweet it, but that is about it. I also am very private and don’t talk about some things that are happening in my personal life, for instance, my day job or the problems my husband and I have had having a child. I just don’t know how to make it funny and I think it makes people uncomfortable. I have no interest being the “infertile” woman on stage.
RM: You have a joke in your act about your marriage that references your level of enthusiasm…When you have to follow a performer who is obviously dialing things up a great deal, do you ever try to match that intensity at the beginning of your set to better assist in the flow of the show or do you try to not worry about things like that and just focus on your material?
LB: No, I never try to match the enthusiasm. I have to keep with what I am selling. I don’t change my act. If I follow a very enthusiastic comedian, I just make a joke about me taking it down. I may adjust the deadpan a little, but I can quickly tell if the audience is into it or I need to wrangle them more.
RM: When you watch clips of yourself performing, what is the one aspect of your stand-up that you tend to zero in on before all others? Why do you think you gravitate towards that particular facet of your act?
LB: I focus on not having good posture. I hate it. But performance wise, I really look to see how good my timing and confidence is. I can tell immediately when both are off. I gravitate to that because it is the key to my comedy.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2016 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
LB: In June I am going to Laughing Skull Comedy Festival in Atlanta, so that is exciting. I am working on a web series based on my bit about having a magazine called Gettin’ By – a magazine for people who are just trying to be OK. And I just want to get better and better and work more.
Official Website: http://lizbarrettcomedy.com/
Liz on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/liz.barrett.3114
Liz on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lizcomedy
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