My name is Patty Barrett and I’m an improv comedian. Whenever I tell anyone that it’s usually followed up with the statement, “Tell me a joke.” (I’m not that kind of comedian and no!) or the question, “How’d you get into that?” I don’t even know where to begin there, but in all honesty, I just always knew deep within my (incredibly fragile) bones that it was the only job I wanted to pursue.
And so I did. In July of 2005, I walked into (rather, I was pushed into) my first improv comedy class at my favorite Boston comedy theatre, Improv Asylum. That first class, full of men who were all older than me, was pretty intimidating. But soon enough, I was looking forward to class every Monday night. The people there got me. They cracked jokes all the time! They used humor as a defense mechanism because they were awkward! They were mostly Irish Catholic with weird childhoods or depressive tendencies! I found my niche!
It took a whole year and a half to get through the training center and after my graduation show, I felt like I transformed from an awkward girl with no direction to an adult with a purpose in life. I was ready to tackle my dream head on!
And at that point in my life, my dream was to perform at Improv Asylum. The theater has two casts – Mainstage and NXT. The NXT is sort of a training ground for the Mainstage, the cast who performs in the primetime slots Thursday through Saturdays nights. NXT was my first obstacle and getting there was quite the journey.
I spent the next three years doing whatever I could to get good enough for a professional cast. I created my own troupe, joined the cast of a small weekly show at the theater as well as my college’s improv group – I found as many opportunities as I could. The “scene” at Improv Asylum was dominated by men and it was really important to me that I wasn’t just “the funny woman” at shows, but rather “the funny performer.” I spent those years honing a comedic voice that made me unique as a performer so audience members would leave thinking I was good at the craft, not good for a woman.
I auditioned for the NXT cast five times before I made it. Five times! Every time, I would get just a little bit closer. First, I didn’t get a call back. The second time, I got a call back but no interview. The third time, I got an interview – and was told in the interview that I didn’t get it. The fourth time, I got an interview and was told on Christmas Eve that I didn’t get it via phone call. But the fifth time, that sweet fifth time, I was so comfortable (and admittedly over auditioning) that I breezed through the whole process. I wanted to get it, of course, but I had faced rejection so frequently that I just didn’t care anymore. I had nothing to lose. If I made it – great! If I didn’t, I’d still be able to perform and do shows with my friends. Once I decided that I didn’t need Improv Asylum to find success in comedy, they offered me a job in May of 2009.
That first NXT revue is still one of the high points of my career. It was the first time I could really consider myself a professional comedian. After all the hard work, I felt like I actually deserved to be there. I set a goal, worked my BUTT off and accomplished it!
I performed with the NXT for two years before being pulled up to the mainstage cast in 2011. And then I had finally achieved my dream job! I got paid to write for and perform multiple shows a week! I even quit my full-time job at a marketing agency to pursue comedy full-time as my career. (That still gives me the chills.) I performed with that cast at Improv Asylum for two and a half years until finally moving on this past January to achieve my next goal: being a writer/comedian in Los Angeles!
As a born-and-raised Bostonian, moving is never something I would have done without the help of improv. In fact, the most important rule in improv is saying “yes”! Saying yes moves all the action forward. I could have said “no” to moving because I was scared, but instead I said “yes” and opened the door to a million opportunities!
As a woman in comedy, I’m often asked what it’s like working in a male-dominated field or what the difference is between men and women in comedy. Honestly, as long as I’m working with capable performers who know how to support their cast members, then I’m happy. I believe a cast should be comprised of the most talented people. Sometimes, that’ll be four men and two women and other times it’ll be all women! The difference between male and female comedians is less about gender and more about personal experience and sense of humor. Are Kevin Hart and Louis C.K. the same? Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler? Absolutely not.
That being said, I think it’s really important for women to get involved in comedy! It is a male-dominated field simply because there are more men going after it than women. I understand that. Normally, I don’t like to put myself in vulnerable situations. Failing publicly and consistently is not my idea of a good time, but you know what? It’s also thrilling. It’s exciting to know when something doesn’t work immediately – and it’s even better when something does work.
Comedy isn’t a man’s or woman’s game, it’s a risk-taker’s game! Just look at Hollywood right now… Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Zooey Deschanel, Mindy Kaling – women are killing it! So, ladies, whether you want to do comedy or not – I’d recommend enrolling in an improv class. At worst, you learn how to fail gracefully, meet some cool people and become a whole lot more confident. At best, you unleash your inner comedian and help show the world what women are made of: well-crafted menstruation jokes.
Read more about my comedy adventures on my blog, Barrett All. Thank you, Kaelah, for finding my story interesting enough to share on your blog! And thanks for being a super positive role model to all of us!
Rad Gal, Rad Gig is a new feature on The Clueless Girl's Guide where I invite really neat gals to share their really cool stories. Whether your gig is a full-time job or just a hobby, I want to hear from you! If you think you'd be perfect for Rad Gal, Rad Gig, feel free to get in touch or view the information on the Submissions page! Just submit a short description of what you do and why you think it's rad!