Third annual comedy festival promises more laughs for local audiences

Georgia Barnes has a day job. That means she has to be generally polite, cordial and professional most of the day. It also means she's “bottling up the silly until I get onstage,” she said.

This works well for audiences at Barnes' comedy shows, where they get what the comedian described as “Georgia … on the edge of losing it completely.”

“Everything [that happens onstage during a set] comes from a true place, but I definitely like to take that and see how ridiculous I can be and still get people to stick with me. I almost feel like I'm the fourth grade version of myself,” Barnes said in a recent interview at a suburban bistro.

The California (Bay Area) native started doing standup about four years ago while an undergraduate student at Ohio State. An open mic night at the nearby (and since-closed) Scarlet & Grey Cafe seemed like something different to do, Barnes recalled. Afterward, she thought, “I can do better than that.”

“Around my friends, I was always the funny one. The aunt I'm named after had a big personality, did voices and told silly stories around the table to get everyone laughing. And my stepdad was always a very goofy guy,” Barnes said. “When I had to write a presentation for school or something, I always tried to put some humor into it, but I never thought of myself as a comedian.”

The first couple of times she tried it, she wasn't great. But she felt she was doing some things well, so she didn't quit, and she found support in the Buckeye Standup Comedy Club on campus, a sort of workshop/support group for young comedians. Along with tips and critique, Barnes also learned “you just gotta keep coming back.”

As she refined her craft, Barnes also began to find her own voice. “I'm talking about being a woman but not talking about my lady parts, and that's a little bit different,” Barnes said. “I just try to be a comedian who happens to be a woman.”

Which is not to say that she doesn't approach issues both lofty (political and social issues) and less-lofty (fashion; Barnes said she has a bit about women's pockets, because “they infuriate me”) from a woman's perspective.

“I just talk about living my life, things that are from my unique, different experience,” Barnes said. “I would describe myself mostly as an absurdist. I take something kind of personal to me and just get real weird with it, mostly just silly, where you think you're going to get something deep, but no, it's just ridiculous. Comedy is like magic in the sense you want to surprise the audience.”

Barnes will tour for the second straight year this summer, and will travel to a handful of out-of-town festivals, but admitted that doing her adopted-hometown Whiskey Bear Comedy Festival for the third time is a special experience.

“You feel some responsibility for the scene and for the comics who come from out of town,” she said. “It's like summer camp for comics.”

Lansing, Michigan's Pat Sievert shares Barnes' opinion that the event is special. “There's a punk-rock attitude about Whiskey Bear,” said Sievert, who will also be making his third appearance at the festival this year. “It's low-key, nonstop fun and really comic-friendly. But at the same time, the audiences are always strong and they're there to see comedy.”

Participating in unique-to-Whiskey Bear shows like “The Pop Culture Mixtape” and “Hot Dog!” stokes Sievert's creative fires. “It forces you to write something outside of your normal standup material,” he said.

Creating a fun, relaxed experience for both comedians and audiences is something that's been a goal of the producers of Whiskey Bear throughout its three-year history.

“We always keep an eye out for new talent, but we're not going to pass on someone who's good just because they've done the festival before,” said co-founder and co-producer Dustin Meadows, who will also perform throughout the festival. “We always end up with a real nice blend of locals and out-of-towners.”