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Veteran comedian makes comeback after six years
If anyone knows how to entertain, it’s Jan Barrett.
One of the first female comedians in Seattle, she has opened for Louie Anderson, toured with the Chippendales dancers and won an Emmy award from her show Free Ride.
And after a six-year hiatus, she came back for more. But this time she didn’t tour the country — she kept it local. She has been performing occasionally at nearby casinos and other venues, and while she has performed in front of crowds of 50,000, it’s her recent performance that made her nervous. The comedy show at the Wild Vine Bistro was not only in front of an already nearly sold-out crowd, but in front of some of her closest friends.
“I’ve made this little surrogate family there,” she said. “It’s just like Cheers … we have all of the characters from the cast of Cheers at this place. I’ve met some of my best girlfriends there.”
The owner of the Wild Vine Bistro, Laura Bliven, has become one of Barrett’s best friends. The restaurant boasts live music four nights a week, but Bliven hopes to mix in standup comedy every first Sunday of the month. She is excited for the change, and because she knows Barrett would deliver material everyone will resonate with.
“I’ve never seen her live,” she said before the Nov. 4 show. “I’m really excited. She’s all about the delivery and a lot of it’s so relatable because we’re women, and we’re single women. Comedy is really just life and your interpretation. She’s truly got a gift.”
The idea for Barrett to perform began as a joke. She became a regular at the Wild Vine Bistro and eventually the friendly banter between her and the bartender drew in crowds. After the idea was tossed around enough, she agreed to perform.
Just as her show grew from a half-serious remark, her career began with a bet. A New York native, she attended Bard College and graduated with aspirations of becoming an actor as her father had been. Her move to Seattle was to join her first husband, who wagered $50 during a comedy show that she wouldn’t do the same thing.
“We went to a comedy club one night and a friend of mine was trying to be a comic. I watched him do standup, and my husband said ‘I bet you don’t have the guts to do that,’ and I said ‘I bet you’re wrong.’ And so the next week I went back and did standup and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.
Ron Reid is a fellow comic and former manager of the Comedy Underground, Seattle’s first serious comedy venue, where he and Barrett performed after it opened in 1981.
“She had really, really smart material, a lot of personality — she still does, she has tons of personality. I still actually remember some of the jokes from that time period that she did and I remember thinking ‘Oh, this girl’s really good’.”
Reid has no doubts about Barrett’s return to comedy, as long as she believes the same.
“It’s interesting because the nature of standup comedy is that it doesn’t really have any boundaries,” he said. “The only ceiling it has is wherever your talent takes you, so I think it’s great that she’s coming back to this.”
Anna Chatilo is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.