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: