To be alone onstage with nothing but a microphone, quick wit, and cool set of nerves as your weapons… I can’t think of anything more terrifying. But for stand up comic, filmmaker, and actress Ashley Barnhill, there’s nothing more exhilarating. The up-and-coming comedienne is gaining major buzz in the comedy world for her fun and fearless sense of humor. Ashley’s been opening for some big names lately — names like Chappelle, Maron, and Hinchcliffe. And the hype is real: this is one funny lady (check out her twitter feed and prepare to laugh out loud). Not that she hasn’t tanked before. “It’s good to bomb,” says Ashley offhandedly. “It makes you a better comic.” It’s the fearless attitude required to claim stake in an incredibly competitive field. Join us as we spend an afternoon with Ashley at the The Virgil in Los Angeles to talk about stage freight, good jokes, and what it’s really like to be funny for a living.
So… you started out in law school and now you’re a professional comic. We love it. What inspired that transition? Was it a gradual shift or more of a “aha” moment?
It was definitely more of a gradual shift from what am I really doing in law school to “Hey, I really like writing these jokes that make people laugh.”
What do you love about what you do for a living?
That moment when you come up with an undeniable killer joke, that is the best.
What’s your favorite joke?
My opener is one of the first jokes I ever wrote and still one of my favorites. It goes something like “my dad nicknamed me Bambi, he said because I have brown eyes like a deer but really he was just hoping my mom would get shot.”
What’s your creative process like when you’re working on new material? How do you “test out” new lines?
Open mics are the best for new material. If new jokes don’t go over well I try to tweak them or eventually just abandon it. Some jokes will never work no matter how much you wish they would.
Do you ever get stage freight?
Of course. Mostly when performing new material or when it’s more of a high-stakes show.
When was the most nervous you’ve ever been before performing?
Recently I’ve been performing on a show at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles called “Roast Battle.” Two comics face off roasting each other in three rounds of verbal insults. It’s the most exhilarating experience as anything goes and you never know what’s going to be thrown at you. I get more nervous for it than anything I’ve ever done on stage.
Have you ever tanked on stage? What was it like? How do you get back out there after that’s happened?
Definitely. It never feels great, but it’s apart of it. It’s good to bomb, it makes you a better comic.
Tell us about some of your favorite gigs and projects you’ve worked on:
Recently I opened for Dave Chappelle for six shows at Austin City Limits Live. It was an unreal experience and it was great to get to go back to Austin for it.
What’s your average day look like? Do you work on material during the day and then perform at night?
It really varies. I try to write something everyday whether it’s stand up jokes, tweets, a short film idea or dialogue for something.
What’s the hardest thing about what you do for a living?
I’d say the hardest thing is constantly pushing yourself to take risks with new material and not fall back on the tried and true that you know works.
What’s your pre-show beauty routine?
I try to not show up with wet hair.
What are you reading right now?
Lately I’ve been reading as many books as I can on Alfred Hitchcock and watching his films and tv shows. And also the graphic novel Y: The Last Man.
What are some of your favorite funny movies?
War of The Roses is my all time favorite. My parents loved dark humor and also Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. This past year my favorite movies were Wild Tales and Force Majeure. I also love the Channel 4 tv show Utopia.
Who are some funny ladies who inspire you?
I was really lucky to do some shows on the Oddball Comedy Tour last summer and meet Whitney Cummings and Sarah Silverman. They are two of the funniest people in the world right now and of course immensely inspiring.
For any young woman looking to get started in comedy, what advice would you give her?
Get on stage and write, write and write some more.
What do you think about LA? Is it a hard town? Any advice for someone looking to move out there and try their hand in the biz?
I’d say LA takes at least a year to adjust. My advice would be don’t rush moving out to LA, but also don’t wait too long to move to a bigger city, such as LA or New York.
What’s up next for Ashley Barnhill?
I just got off a 7 week, 22 city tour opening for Dave Chappelle, Marc Maron and Tony Hinchcliffe and performing at some festivals. So now I’m excited to have time to do some writing and directing. Currently, I’m working on a filmmaking project for this Summer with the other Project Greenlight finalists. And hopefully will be sharing much more info on it soon!
We can’t wait! Thanks so much Ashley, for giving us a peak into your rock-star life. We’ll see you at the next open mic (safely from our seats in the audience.)