Barbara Holm is a comedian based out of Seattle, Washington. She’s noted for her wit, one-liners and off-center humor. She is hosting Sketchfest in the Mission on January 20 and performing at the Rooftop Comedy Showcase on January 21.
Spinning Platters: Where are you from originally, when did you reach the city of Seattle and what is the stereotypical disposition of a Seattleite?
Barbara Holm: I’m originally from North Bend, Washington, which is a tiny little lumberjack town where they filmed Twin Peaks. I moved to Seattle for school six years ago. I think the stereotype for Seattle is that we’re artsy, pretentious hipsters but I don’t think that’s true for everyone.
SP: What is the most common misconception you receive based on your appearance or material?
BH: When I first started a lot of people thought I was doing a character or a fake personality but I think as my stage fright lessened I developed a more natural stage presence. And now some people might still think I’m being fake, but I don’t really care anymore as long as they’re still listening to my jokes.
SP: How long have you been interested in comedy?
BH: I was a huge comedy nerd growing up, so I’ve been interested (obsessed) for a very long time, but I didn’t think I could be more than just a fan until I was in college and then I started writing my own material.
SP: What were the subjects of your first comedy writings as a child?
BH: When I was in 2nd grade I wrote a humorous short story about an extra terrestrial girl trying to invade earth. But I was writing it during a math lesson, so my teacher sent me to the principal. I thought I was going to get in trouble but the principal thought it was so funny that she asked me to bring her more things I wrote. So I was like, ‘Okay, I guess better keep doing this forever.’
SP: What were your formative comedic influences?
BH: Maria Bamford is really important to me. I used to watch Comedy Central Presents all the time and I would get bored of seeing the same thing. When Bamford’s first Presents came out, I knew comedy was a really special art form. She really resonated with me and made me love stand up. I love Wendy Liebmen, and she has had a lot of influence on me. When I was a really little kid I liked Monty Python and I would act out all their sketches outside and film them with my dad’s video camera.
SP: This year’s Sketchfest heavily features The State. What is your favorite State/Stella sketch/movie?
BH: I love pretty much everything those guys have done. “Wet Hot American Summer” is great. I really liked the episode of Stella where Michael Ian Black campaigns for their apartment resident’s board.
SP: When did you first try stand-up?
BH: About two years ago. I did an open mic at a comedy club and I think I did about 2-3 minutes. I was so nervous that I sweated really hard and I was trembling but I heard that it went okay.
SP: What were the hurdles you encountered in your start?
BH: Not a lot really. I had to deal with a little hazing but nothing out of the ordinary. Most of the hurdles I encounter are inside my own head.
SP: When did you hit your stride as a performer and figured out what you do on stage?
BH: I hope I haven’t hit my stride yet, because I’m still so young in comedy; I really hope I have a long way to go. I started with an idea of the way I wanted to write, but I wasn’t able to do it right away. More and more frequently I write jokes where I’m like “oh that’s so me.” I know what my writing voice is and I can feel that I’m in the process of growing into it but I can tell it’s a marathon not a sprint.
SP: Who has been your favorite comedian to open for?
BH: I’ve had a really great time working with some amazingly nice and funny people and I feel very honored to open for everyone I have. I really liked working with Anthony Jeselnik, Hari Kondabolu, Jackie Kashian, Aparna Nancherla, Moshe Kasher. They have all been very nice to me and working with them feels like an honor.
SP: From your art and some sharp-turning jokes it’s clear you possess a very particular and imaginative sense of humor. Has that always been the case and do you think that you are as whimsical as you want to be?
BH: I’ve always been really imaginative and surreal. I like my whimsical jokes, and I hope to be able to write more of them. I don’t want to be any more or less weird on stage than I am naturally, but I am always looking for new ways to explore joke writing.
SP: You’ve performed at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, the Bumbershoot Festival and the Women in Comedy Festival. What did you gain from these festivals and what do you expect to gain from San Francisco Sketchfest?
BH: I feel really honored to have performed at so many great festivals and I think all of them are amazing. Each festival has inspired me to work harder and reach a new level. I’m not really going into Sketchfest assuming that I’m going to get anything out of it; I just want to do the best that I can and to learn more about the San Francisco scene and have fun.
SP: Is SF Sketchfest your most anticipated event of 2012, keeping in mind the Hobbit comes out this year?
BH: SF Sketchfest is my most anticipated event of 2012 because I have anticipation for things I don’t know about and I know what happens in the end of the Hobbit.
SP: Are you bringing out your ukulele to San Francisco? Have you tried to play any other instruments while on stage?
BH: I haven’t decided yet about the ukulele. There’s a lot of stigma around guitar comedy and sometimes people think it’s hacky so I am a little uneasy. I don’t want to let anyone down. I have also played bells once on stage. I like the rhythm of ukulele strumming with one liners, I think it does something cool for my timing.
SP: What is the one question you are tired of answering. (Follow up) Will there ever be a time when it is stricken from the record?
BH: The one question I’m tired of answering is “is it hard being a female comic?” I hope that one day no one even wonders that. With comedians like Maria Bamford, Aparna Nancherla, Mary Mack, Jackie Kashian and Tig Notaro constantly getting funnier and writing hilarious, unique material, I hope one day it’s just accepted that ‘yes, women are funny’.
SP: Are you more comfortable on stage or off stage?
BH: I am more comfortable on stage, usually, than around large groups of people.
SP: Your act largely focuses on your social anxiety. What happens when your career gains you fame and recognition that pushes you into intense social situations?
BH: This is my favorite question. Comedy has introduced me to a lot of people that are amazingly kind and hilarious and I’ve grown a lot in the last few years as far as getting over my anxiety and agoraphobic tendencies. It’s better, but it’s not there yet and I’m constantly working at it. It would be my dream to one day have the thing I love the most (comedy) teach me how to handle the thing I fear the most (large groups of people).
SP: What aspect of comedy makes you the happiest?
BH: The aspect of comedy that makes me happiest are the jokes. I love jokes the way some people love puzzles or brain teaser games. Yesterday one of my mentors and friends (Rylee Newton) said something brilliant, completely absurd and yet somehow relateable and I was like “I want to do that someday.”
SP: Do you plan on doing any bullshit tourist things while you’re in San Francisco like walking the Golden Gate Bridge or going to Alcatraz?
BH: Not unless anyone wants to pay for me! But I’m excited to walk around and see the city.
SP: Where do you want to be by SF Sketchfest 2013?
BH: In a year I hope to have done more comedy festivals, written for more websites or publications. (I currently contribute for womenincomedy.blogspot.com and I’d like to do more.) I’d love to get more of my writing out there and to perform in more parts of the country.