Standup comic/comedy writer reflects on her growth onstage and the final year of Whiskey Bear Comedy Festival
Don't judge Lisa Berry. It won't get you anywhere.
The local comedian got into comedy as a writer. Indeed, that was the role she envisioned for herself — writing, maybe performing some sketch comedy — with the dream being to perhaps write for a sitcom. She knew there was a level of vulnerability to standup that she hadn't quite negotiated, but when her then-boyfriend-now-fiance suggested, a few years ago when Berry was at a particularly low point, that she try an open mic night, she picked a date, brought a couple of friends along and gave it a shot.
“I'd kind of written everything out, but I hadn't shared it with anyone, because I was uncomfortable enough with the idea of being judged onstage,” Berry said by phone from her home last week, her 9-month-old son, Lincoln, on her lap. “I ended up loving it and learning so much.”
“Once you bomb, you get over the whole judging thing,” she said. “You come to realize it doesn't mean I'm not funny or that I'm not supposed to be doing [comedy]. It made me a little more comfortable with the idea of failure in general, and it freed me a lot from some of that stuff.”
Judgment played a part in an early joke Berry would tell about being robbed in her apartment she lived in by herself.
“The guy's holding me at knife-point and says, ‘Your apartment is too messy for a girl to live in,'” Berry said.
Freed to an extent from the fear of judgment in her personal life and onstage, Berry began to bring more of her true self to bear in her act. From a breast cancer scare to underrepresented aspects of being a woman — “I love my son, but I didn't grow up always wanting to be a mom. It's just a perspective you don't always get to hear,” she said — Berry became more confident in herself as a performer.
“My comedy is personal, always very reflective of where I'm at at the time,” she said. And yes, that meant taking the stage through the late stages of her pregnancy, and working some Lincoln-based material into her set as she's found her way back into the scene following his birth last year.
“Working deep into my pregnancy really boosted my confidence as a performer. There were times I maybe wasn't feeling great physically or emotionally, and I had to get out there and do it,” Berry said. “I think the added life experiences have made me better as a writer, too.”
Berry still plies her trade as a writer with Monday Night Live, a monthly sketch comedy show, as well. And she has found unexpected satisfaction in her role as a co-producer of the Whiskey Bear Comedy Festival, which marks its fourth and final year in 2019, running May 16-21 at various local venues.
“Everybody gets into comedy for the logistics,” Berry joked. “But it's been cool to learn and figure things out with the comics, the venues, the money…”
Berry and some of the festival's co-producers plan to launch a new festival next year, as founder Dustin Meadows plans a move out of state. Meantime, Berry will perform three times during this year's festival, continuing to navigate life off-stage by sorting through it onstage.
“It's just me out there. I maybe kick it up a couple notches, but these are real stories based on real things,” Berry said. “I've become more confident with that vulnerability.”