Katie Barbaro took my stand up class in LA way back in 2014, since then she has moved out to NYC and is pursuing comedy out there. I'm impressed with all the different aspects she's exploring in being an artist, which I think only makes you better as a stand up. Here's our interview, enjoy!
TOM CLARK: You started out in improv but now seem to be doing more stand up, what inspired the change? How has improv helped your stand up?
KATIE BARBARO: I initially started doing stand up because it terrified me. Taking your class in 2012 made me realize I could do it and it was fun to work a different comedy muscle. It’s way more vulnerable to go on stage and perform material you wrote and think is funny versus “I’m making all of this up so anything that comes off as amusing is extra impressive!” I started making a shift towards doing more stand up in 2014 when I took your class for the second time. I had just gone through a breakup and writing and performing standup helped me own my story and heal. I think storytelling is really just about making people feel less alone and it works both ways! Whenever I have the thought “I can never tell anyone about this,” whatever that is would probably make a good joke.
I continue to do improv as well and it absolutely helps my stand up! My favorite stand up sets are when something unexpected happens—maybe an audience member reacts in a strange way or there’s some technical difficulty with the sound. Those are the sets I have the most fun with because they force to you be present. It’s a relief when you realize nothing can go “wrong” when you’re able to listen to what’s happening and react in the moment. Thanks, improv!
TC: You really dove into the stand up scene in NYC, how do you like the scene there compared to LA?
KB: The standup scene in NYC is pretty easy to dive into because there is so much happening in such a close proximity. I got lucky and got involved producing shows at a bar called The Lantern (I haven’t seen Crashing on HBO, but I do whatever Pete Holmes does in that), which helped me get a lot of stage time. I’m able to perform 4-5 times a week on average, but lately I’ve been cutting back on how many shows I do. I find that I’m more excited to get on stage when I do it less often. A lot of comics think I’m crazy when I say that, but it’s all about finding a balance that works for you!
It’s hard to say how NYC compares to LA, because I wasn’t doing quite as much stand up out there. Everything in LA is more spread out than it is in NYC, so I think it’s harder to do as much stage time just because you have to drive everywhere.
TC: You recently did a mini tour thru California, how did it go and how did you like doing longer sets?
KB: The tour I did in California taught me how to stretch and relax on stage. At first, my over-achiever perfectionist brain took over and treated it like an assignment where I had to arrange all of this material into a cohesive 30-minute set that had callbacks, a nice arc, etc. During the first of the thirteen shows, I was about 20 minutes into my material and felt like I was just reciting my jokes from a teleprompter. I didn’t feel connected to the audience at all. In the middle of my set, I decided to do a joke that I wasn’t planning on doing there, and all of the sudden the energy shifted and I felt myself drop into my voice a bit more. I distinctly remember that moment because it made me shift my focus for the entire tour. My goal was not to get my jokes out in the order I thought they should be, rather it was to be present, comfortable, and myself on stage. That was my biggest takeaway from the tour—trusting that I know my jokes and that I will be able to connect with people more if I relax and let my material flow more naturally on stage.
TC: I notice you’re doing a ton of creative stuff (playing guitar, drawing, etc), I always encourage people to not just be stand ups but to do everything because it’ll make you happier as an artist. What inspired you to start posting your art and your music?
KB: I love that you encourage people to explore other art forms—I completely agree! I think it’s important to follow your creative impulses, even if they don’t “make sense” with whatever path you’ve chosen. I noticed that when I was 100% focused on stand up, I would dismiss a lot of my ideas if I thought they weren’t funny or wouldn’t fit into a setup/punch line format. Giving myself permission to explore whatever I’m curious about—like singing, drawing, other kinds of writing—makes me enjoy life a lot more. I started posting my art to override my toxic perfectionism that makes me avoid putting my work out into the world until I deem it “ready” (it’s never ready). I’m working on showing up exactly as I am today, which was the inspiration for my blog “Showing Up Now.” I’m planning to turn into a podcast by early next year and interview people who inspire me about how they show up for life despite resistance and fear. I think we tend to focus on the shiny finished products of creativity and often overlook the uncomfortable, messy parts of the creative process.
TC: What are some current career goals you’re working on? What advice would you give people who are just starting out in stand up?
KB: I’m excited about launching my podcast “Showing Up Now” (hopefully by February 2018). The concept for it has been floating around in my head for the past 2 years and I’m excited to finally make it happen! My goal is to help people feel less alone in the struggle to reconnect to their intuition and unblock creatively. I’ve been enjoying writing my blog, where I talk a lot about my own creative barriers—for me they show up in my relationship with food and my body. I’m on a path of re-learning how to eat intuitively and it is mirroring my journey of how to live more intuitively. Diving into this area of my life has helped me deepen and expand my stand up as well and I’m excited to see what the next stages of that will look like.
My advice for people who are starting out in stand up is to trust your voice! Pay attention to the things you find funny, weird, annoying, interesting. Your perspective on life is what makes you unique. It’s easy to take the uniqueness inside your brain for granted because it’s the only brain you’ve ever been inside. When you sit down to write don’t ask yourself what other people will find funny, ask what you find funny and then figure out how to clearly communicate that.
Katie Barbaro is a NYC-based comedian, writer, and whatever else she feels like doing.
Here's my blog and soon to be podcast: www.showingupnow.com
Here's a comprehensive list of where to stalk me on the internet:
I officially started teaching stand up around 2008 in Los Angeles, but my first foray into teaching comedy was back in Milwaukee in the year of our Lord 2000AD. A friend of mine mentioned that some of the students at his old high school, Waukesha North, were looking to put a stand up show together. I was only 6 years into stand up and was still learning the ropes myself. I taught for 6 weeks and we put on a show. I'm still friends with one of the students, Casey Van Dam, and decided to get in "The Way Back Machine" and discuss with him his experience with learning stand up in high school and what he's up to now. Enjoy!
Tom Clark: What was high school like for you? Were you an outgoing person or shy?
Casey Van Dam: I was a VERY outgoing person in high school. But I have been all my life as well. I've always been a performer and have never been shy about it. Outgoing is a cute term for it. "Total Ham" is probably more accurate.
TC: What made you decide to give the stand up comedy class a try? I was only about 6 years into stand up at that point, what was I like as a teacher? (if you remember)
CVD: My school had an improv team and did a number of plays every year. I was very involved in all of these and still I wasn't satisfied. Stand up was intimidating but I knew I had to give it a shot and what better place than a class full of people who, like me, are essentially starting from zero.
As a teacher I recall that Tom went out of his way to make sure his students felt comfortable. So much of comedy is finding what doesn't work and he seems to know that to experiment, the environment must be a supportive one.
TC: I can't imagine doing stand up when I was 16 or 17 years old. What was it like performing stand up at that age? Do you remember what you talked about? Was it fun?
CVD: I was doing a bunch of improv at the time and had a friend with whom I had performed frequently. I was able to convince Tom, or as I affectionately call him: Tommy C, to allow me and my friend, whom I assure you is real, to create a sketch instead. As long as it was original.
It was terrifying, exhilarating, pulse pounding, surreal and all the other adjectives. Going up in front of actual people relying upon ones own material for the first time is the most intimidating thing you can do. It's high wire gymnastics without a safety net.
I remember our sketch was a very simple affair. Just two guys: a store clerk and a passerby having a conversation about a quarter found outside. MIND BLOWING, I KNOW!!! We were very much into Kids in the Hall and tried to emulate their style. I'd like to say our skit worked and was hilarious. I'd like to say that.
TC: What are your current artistic pursuits? Any chance you'll pursue stand up again?
CVD: Currently I'm an actor/musician in and around the Milwaukee area. I've done improv since high school at Comedy Sportz, I've been in plays including Death Ship 666!, Jake Revolver: Freelance Secret Agent and the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein. Currently auditioning for other things, so if you know anyone...
TC: What are some goals you'd like to achieve as an artist in the coming years? Also, what advice would you give to people thinking of pursuing the arts?
CVD: Of course, quitting the day job is a huge one. Getting representation is another. But in the end it's all in service to getting better and more frequent venues through which I may ply my trade.
My advice: if you like performing, perform. Not to say don't prepare. Definitely prepare. Just don't be bothered with the whole "Should I, shouldn't I?" argument. If you are debating whether or not to perform, then you definitely should. Even if it doesn't work out. It's worth it to try. Eventually, the talent shines through.
Casey Van Dam is an actor/musician from Milwaukee, WI. He has appeared in productions and played music in and around Milwaukee for the past 10+ years.
As a musician Casey's bands, Reaching Scarlet and The Invaders, have played various venues such as Summerfest, the Milwaukee Boat Cruise and opened for bands such as The English Beat and Fishbone.
As an actor Casey has appeared in Milwaukee productions of Death Ship 666!, Jake Revolver: Secret Agent and most recently The Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein.
Eddie Deirmenjian took my stand up class back in 2014 and has been doing stand up ever since. I discuss with Eddie his development as a comedian and his sketch background, including one sketch that wound up on Tosh.0.
TOM CLARK: You took my stand up class with Joel Schoenbach (who I interviewed last month) and I believe you were both involved in film and video production at UNLV. Did you guys do a lot of collaborating on projects prior to my class? Was the Tosh.o video something that you and Joel shot or was that just Joel?
EDDIE DEIRMENJIAN: We collaborated on a ton of movies and videos since we met at UNLV. We were filming non-stop. In 2006, we had a 90-minute showcase of just our movies at the CineVegas Film Festival, and that wasn’t nearly enough time for all of them. After college, I got a job at an Internet TV company as their comedy producer and I immediately got Joel involved. Joel wrote the sketch “Eerie Edgar and Josh” and I directed it. About five years later, someone from “Tosh.0” saw it and featured it on the show. It really reinforced the saying that there are no overnight successes, only overnight discoveries. I learned that no matter how hard things get, I have to hang in there and focus on making great things. (Here's a link to the Tosh.0 video. Definitely NSFW) Tosh.0 Sketch
TC: You used your Armenian background to come up with a very funny, over the top character for your Level 2 Stand Up Show. Is that something you're still doing? How did you come up with it and how has it evolved as time has gone on? Any chance we'll see some videos with that character?
ED: Thank you. I’m originally from the east coast, I never met another Armenian until the first time I went to Glendale, and it was a huge culture shock. The character really evolved visually from the original inception. In the beginning, I would open a button on my shirt to show more chest hair and launch into the bit. A couple of months later, as you saw, I had a tear away suit which revealed the ugliest, gaudiest, club wear underneath. Every time I did that, the audience would go nuts. Recently, I retired him. I don’t like to do the same stuff for too long; I love challenging myself by constantly writing new things and working them out on stage. As far as that character transitioning from the stage to videos, that’s a definite possibility.
TC: Stage time in LA is always hard to come by, but you seem to be getting up a fair amount around town and on some good shows. What has been the key to getting on shows and finding venues?
ED: Joel and I did the audition at Flappers right after the level one class, and we got booked on the same show shortly after. I also got accepted into their 2015 Burbank Comedy Festival and was chosen to perform in the 2nd Best of Fest showcase. I did some bringer shows at The Comedy Store which led to me headlining a bunch of shows in the Belly Room. Joel, Scott Fernandez, and I are always on the lookout for new shows and we share them with each other. Opportunities have also come up by recommendations from other comics. When I do have a show, I’m always on time, I don’t run the light, I’m polite, and very thankful to the bookers.
TC: With your background in video production, I imagine you always did your own writing of sketches and stuff. Do you feel like having that writing background helped with developing your stand up? And vice versa, has your stand up helped you become a better writer? If so, how?
ED: I really can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing a script or running around with a camera. Even as a kid. I always wanted to do stand up, but I never knew how. Anytime I would come up with a joke, I would turn it into a movie. In fact, my calling card short film, “That’s How Sinatra Rolls, Kid!” (https://youtu.be/Jqc3dA8zwuQ) started as a joke I would tell. My foundation in screenwriting has definitely helped my stand up as far as structure, timing, runners, callbacks, etc. And, stand up has helped my writing by always forcing me to think “how can I make this joke more terrible and upset more people?” Doing stand up has also helped me tremendously as an actor. I used to get really bad anxiety during auditions, but now I am relaxed and much more confident in my work.
TC: I believe next April will be your second year anniversary doing stand up, is there something you hope to accomplish by the 2nd year anniversary. Also, do you have a 5 year goal? A ten year goal?
ED: My stand up career is intertwined with my acting career. My daily goal is to always be writing and developing my voice. By year two, my focus is on meeting more people and spend more time at the clubs. By year five, I want to release an album and perform on television. By year ten, the goal is to have a television show and make movies.
Eddie Deirmenjian is an actor, comedian, and filmmaker. He thinks autoerotic asphyxiation is hilarious.
Joel took my stand up classes almost two years ago and watching his progress over the last year and a half has been impressive. I discuss with Joel his unique comedy style and what he's been doing to keep getting better.
TOM CLARK: I always enjoyed your style in class of just doing simple one liners, is that something you're still doing or are you experimenting with some other things on stage?
JOEL SCHOENBACH: Thanks! I learned from the best! I am still doing one liners but they have evolved into runners that elevate and escalate the joke to where it becomes a story in a way. I'm starting to experiment with stand up structure jokes for example like my impersonation of a guy who forgot the next joke in his set or "by a round of applause who here doesn't know how to clap?" kind of stuff. I've also tried a tiny bit of crowd work.
TC: I see you did some "bringer" shows when you started, but you managed to not get caught up in just doing that. I see you're doing booked shows, festivals and even comedy competitions. What's been the key for you in not staying stagnant? How do you challenge yourself?
JS: Basically, there's this running analogy about how if you run the 100 yard dash with people who can't run as fast as you you'll win every time but you won't improve because you're not being challenged. But if you run against people much faster than you, you might come in last every single time but you'll get better because they will make you run faster. Not saying that I was better than everyone in bringers but you gotta play the next level if you want to beat the game. That and Eddie and I have a wager going where first one to get a Netflix special wins 5 bucks and I could really use a five dollar foot long right now.
TC: I know you're very active on social media, do you use any ideas from your posts in your stand up? How do you write in general? Do you sit down and do it or are they ideas that pop into your head?
JS: I always go through my old Twitter posts for material. The reason I do a lot of one liners is because, before I took your class, I learned to write jokes in 144 characters or less. Now, when I post a joke on Twitter and it gets at least 5 favorites then I will try it on stage and that's why I don't have any new material. I try to sit down and write with Eddie and Scott but for the most part the jokes usually just pop in my head while I'm trying to fall asleep or while I'm driving and every now and then, while I'm answering interview questions. Which is good for this interview but bad when I was being interviewed by the cops.
TC: Recently you did the Westside Stand Up Showdown in Santa Monica, which is a very tough competition to get into...so congratulations! What was it like (the waiting to go on, did you watch the other performers, were you nervous)? Anything you learned from doing the competition?
JS: Getting into the Westside Stand Up Showdown was very exciting, It was surreal and scary to be placed in a competition with comics that I've seen headline and/or were the "surprise celebrity drop ins" at comedy clubs. Waiting to go on was really intense. I was nervous but everyone in my showcase seemed to know each other and were cracking jokes while I was in the corner laughing nervously. I didn't have to wait long to go up, I was second. The crowd reaction wasn't great. Before this show every joke I told got at worst a few sympathy laughs but for this show I brought my "best of set" so when my second joke didn't get a single laugh it definitely through me off. In all I got decent laughs but there were three jokes that didn't produce a sound. Though, the biggest laughs came when I called it out by saying stuff like "that was the joke" or like "okay, never doing that one again" or to where I just flat out put my forehead on the mic from disappointment and sighed. It was a great experience and it made me want to get better. It was awesome that I got the opportunity to get my butt kicked by better comics in front of industry judges. Not too shabby for someone who took your class a little over a year ago. I learned that I have a ways to go but I also learned that this is definitely something I want to keep doing.
TC: When you started in my class, you were a bit shy, but your personality really came out over time. I remember the last time I saw you perform you came out to the Golden Girls theme and high fived the audience as you walked to the stage. What's been the key to developing more confidence and any advice to people thinking about pursuing stand up?
JS: That was fun, I need to start doing that every time. The Golden Girls theme song and high fiving the audience seems to bring the audience's guard down. It doesn't give them time to judge you just on your look alone. At least, that's what I tell myself and in return it calms me down and makes me see them as friends that I'm just joking around with and not me facing my biggest fear. For me, when I'm at my most confident is when I bomb the hardest. I need my nervousness so I don't phone it in. If I'm not nervous enough to where I can eat the day of a show or where I don't need to drink before a show then that's a problem. Though, my doctor thinks otherwise. If you're thinking about pursuing stand up I recommend taking Tom's class for sure. The class will get you a tight five minute set and a showcase filled with friendly audience members that will make your first time experience amazing. After that I recommend taking Tom's second class. Then go to Flappers and Ice House auditions and do open mics. Just keep getting stage time and meeting people and don't be a meanie head.
Joel placed 3rd in a baby pageant when he was just 7 years old. He does stand up now.
Joy completed my Level One Stand Up Class in April. She was always very good about really tightening and honing her act from week to week. Following the class she won a stand up comedy contest (hence the photo above). I wanted to discuss with Joy how being an author helped with doing stand up and what it was like performing standup for the first time.
TOM CLARK: Prior to taking my class you were mainly a writer, what made you decide to make the foray into stand up and performing in front of people?
JOY: A lot of it had to do with my other job, massage therapy. Some of my patients can't relax in the quiet (most of them are in serious pain) so I would distract them by telling them stories to make them laugh. By the end of the week I had a whole one hour routine and I would always think I should do stand up. As a birthday present to me about three years ago I did an open mic wanting to see if I could really do it. I loved it, and knew that was something I wanted to pursue. After that life got in the way. I published two books and did the mom/work thing but comedy was always there in the back of my mind and in the massage room. Then one day I was discussing comedy while doing a massage on a friend and he mentioned your class. He thought I should be pursing comedy and your class would be perfect to get me back into doing stand up in front of people instead of one naked person face down.
TC: A lot of times newer students will try to rewrite their entire act each class, but you were good at making improvements on what you had week to week. Do you think that comes from being an author and having to constantly edit your work?
JOY: I do think that had a great deal to do with it. I am a perfectionist, so I am constantly rewriting, editing, or deleting. In fact it took me two years to let anyone read my finished book. I wanted it to be perfect. Both comedy and writing are something I love to do, so in my mind I want it to be the best it can be so people will take me seriously. I have tons of jokes and book plots in notebooks just waiting for me to flesh them out. It's hard sometimes not pulling out new things and keeping with what you have done already, but that's the process and I respect it. I feel that if you put in the work it will eventually be recognized.
On the other hand, I'm really excited about the second class. I can't wait to practice crowd work. Getting out of my head and just saying things without pouring over them seems like it would be freeing.
TC: What was it like doing your first live performance at The Improv? Anything you would do differently?
JOY: It was amazing. Being up on stage with real actual people in front of me was something I will never forget. Getting that first genuine laugh switched the nerves off and all I wanted to do it get more laughs.
The only thing I would do differently (and this is a total girl thing) is keep my hair up. I never ever never have my hair down. I've been a massage therapist for nine years. I don't want my hair anywhere near what I'm rubbing so it is always up. I had someone tell me to leave it down right before I got in my car to drive to the Improv. She said it looked pretty down and my girl senses took over. The only criticism I've received over and over on my Improv performance was that I played with my hair too much. Damn girl senses.
TC: You recently won a comedy contest...congrats! How'd you find out about it and what did you learn from doing it?
JOY: Thank you. That's a story in itself.
It was actually from another student in the class, Jonathan David. I reached out to him and he told me about an open mic over at JJ's Grill in Santa Clarita. After the open mic Jonathan introduced me to another comedian that ran a comedy competition at Vincenzo's in Newhall. I went and watched that week to show my support and was able to get on the line-up the next week.
TC: Any advice for people contemplating doing stand up?
JOY: Do it!!!! One thing I have learned from my years as a massage therapist and as an author is we all have stories. Every author has pulled something from their life and wove it into their books even if it's fiction. When I massage people, they have some of the greatest stories and it is actually my favorite part of my job (that's a lie. When I get to rub a hot guy that's my favorite part. Shhh) If comedy is something in the back of your mind that nags you. GO FOR IT. Just remember like anything it is something that you'll have to practice at to get better but there are plenty of places to go to hone your skill. And the support of other comedian's will show you is awesome.
Joy Eileen is the mother of three boys, a massage therapist, and an author. She has two books published at the moment, and is working on her third.
FOR MORE INFO ON JOY AND HER BOOKS GO HERE:
On May 20 and 21. 2016, I performed at JR's Comedy Club, which is actually located inside a Marie Callendar's in Valencia, CA. I was surprised to find out one of my recent student graduates was doing a guest set that night. In addition to it being only her second time on stage, she was also performing on one leg due to a knee injury she suffered a couple weeks prior. I interviewed her following her performance and it'll hopefully give you some insight into doing a guest set and life after classes. I'm going to try and make this an on-going series.
Katie Kerr is a classically trained actress, born and raised in Los Angeles. When she isn't acting, she runs a peanut butter company (SpreadPB) and curls on the Irish national team.
TOM CLARK: How was it different then the student showcase set?
KATIE KERR: I barely remember the student showcase because I was so terrified. It is also a giant stage(The Hollywood Improv) and audience, so your odds of getting laughs are pretty good. Whereas the pie shop was a very tiny stage and crowd, so it felt like a lot more pressure. Harder to win over a small room than a giant one.
TC: How was it performing on one leg?
KK: You know, I never thought I would be performing stand-up comedy on crutches, but I did it. Crutches made getting up to stage a bit difficult and I couldn't even lower my own microphone stand. But instead of complaining about that I made it part of my set. A lot of comedy seems to be about making fun of your own insecurities, and I really hated going out in public on crutches because everyone looks at you like a sad puppy. Addressing the crutches right from the start and working them into my set was a fun challenge and I think it helped the audience to stop feeling sorry for me and instead be willing to laugh along with me.
TC: Did it help being able to go up 2 consecutive nights? Did you make any adjustments from Friday to Saturday?
KK: Getting to perform back to back nights was really helpful. I noticed that not just myself, but the other comics as well, made adjustments to the parts of their sets that fell flat in the first night. Thank goodness I remembered to record night one because when you're up there you really don't actually remember where the laughs came and where they didn't. I made sure to listen to that recording the morning after night one (sounds like a terrible rom-com) and make adjustments for night number two. Nothing major, but just minor adjustments that made it flow a lot better.
TC: What did you learn from watching the other comics on the show?
KK: I learned that I can't compare myself to people who have been doing this for 20 years. Just because you might be a naturally funny person does not mean you'll be nailing your stand-up sets when you are first starting off. A big part of me wanted to never perform again after this show. But it was inspiring to see what the other comics who have done this for years were able to accomplish on stage, so hopefully if I keep at it I will get there one day too. And I noticed that all of them record their sets every single night as well, so listen to Tom and just do it.
TC: How was the Marie Calendar's show different from The Improv in terms of audience?
KK: Doesn't even compare. People come to the student showcase at the Improv with nothing but support in their hearts. They are going to laugh at anything you do. Whereas the folks at Marie Calendar's are just as excited about the pie as they are about seeing somebody try and do comedy. It was a tough audience, and completely different night one and night two. I noticed jokes that got laughs in night one didn't work at all the second night with a different audience. Tom in particular was fun to watch because he interacted with the crowd a lot and got to know them throughout his set. Think that helps with knowing who your audience is and what jokes are going to go over better with that crowd. Hopefully that will come with experience, just being comfortable on stage and being able to feel out the room so you know what you should do to make it work.
FOR MORE INFO ON CLASSES CHECK OUT: www.standupteacher.com
FOR MORE INFO ON KATIE GO TO: www.spreadpb.com/gallery/
“What people who don’t write don’t understand is that they think you make up the line consciously — but you don’t. It proceeds from your unconscious. So it’s the same surprise to you when it emerges as it is to the audience when the comic says it. I don’t think of the joke and then say it. I say it and then realize what I’ve said. And I laugh at it, because I’m hearing it for the first time myself.”
- Woody Allen
I thought this was a great quote. I think that’s why sometimes a joke can become stale. Because we’ve done it so many times and we lose the spontaneity of the joke. That’s one reason why I enjoy crowd work so much because I never know where it’s going to go and I’m responding in the moment. Even I find my own response funny because I didn’t expect it. I think that’s why I enjoy a comic like Bill Burr because it just feels so conversational and in the moment. Sometimes I can get stuck in my set routine, but I feel when I go out on that limb those are the moments I appreciate most and have the biggest payoff.