A Conversation with Comedian Vicki Barbolak

Comedian & America’s Got Talent finalist Vicki Barbolak visited ‘Jake’s Take’ for “A Conversation.” (Photo courtesy of Vicki Barbolak)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com

It is a privilege to welcome comedian Vicki Barbolak to Jake’s Take.

Vicki became a household name when she first stepped onto America’s Got Talent (AGT): Season 13 stage. Her performances received praise from veteran judge Howie Mandel. Also,  Got Talent creator Simon Cowell, who called her “the best comedian we’ve had on this show.” But before she got to AGT, she spent countless hours practicing her craft at the Los Angeles’ legendary entertainment venue: the Comedy Store.

It was the store’s owner, the late Mitzi Shore, that took a chance on Vicki and made her a regular. In addition to the Shore family, other entertainment industry heavyweights took notice of her talents. After Vicki won Nickelodeon’s Funniest Mom in America, Roseanne Barr hired her as a writer and gave her the chance to open for the former Roseanne star during a Las Vegas run. Several members of Jay Leno’s staff selected her to be a part of the Jay Leno Laugh Squad during The Jay Leno Show.

Currently, Vicki is touring the United States with her stand-up show: Vicki Barbolak’s Trailer Nasty. Throughout the summer, Vicki entertained fans across the country. She is scheduled to appear at venues in San Diego, New York City, New Orleans, Cincinnati, and Orlando. Also, fans can expect her to compete in the upcoming ITV series: Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions.

In this edition of A Conversation, Vicki talked about her early career; her experience on America’s Got Talent, and shared some of her memorable fan encounters.  

Jacob Elyachar: When did you get interested in comedy? How did that passion evolve into the desire to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?

Vicki Barbolak:  I was about 38 years old, and I had been selling carpet at my parents’ carpet store for 19 years. I was using my bathroom, and there was an ad sticking out of the trashcan for a stand-up comedy club. Everything in my life, I ever done well would always involve making people laugh, and just doing anything. However, I was miserable working in the carpet business, which is what I wanted to do, but I figured, oh well, that’s what I was going to do. I did not know you could change your life. I just thought oh well, I screwed up and I was losing out. That’s just what I thought, and then I had two kids, and I was happy with that, but none of my marriages worked out. Anyway, I took this stand-up comedy class and Sandy Shore, Pauly’s sister, taught the course at the legendary Los Angeles venue: the Comedy Store.

 I walked in, and these four entertaining guys were there. They became close friends of mine. I walked in with three big books so that people would think I was smart. That’s just how I was back then. I didn’t even know what the books were, but I was that lame. Sandy, right off goes, “You have a special talent, and you’re really funny.” Nobody ever said anything like that to me, that I was good at anything. She had recently written a dictionary of alien language because aliens abducted her. She was a real character, but she did believe in me, and it meant a lot to me.

 I just started doing open mics for two or three years. At first, I was terrible, but I kept getting better. I used to bring baked goods on Sunday night to the Comedy Store for the employees, but the manager would never put me on. The manager became a good friend of mine, but he did not like women comedians. He was a brilliant guy, but he did not see me as anything that would ever be funny.  Then, one night, I was there with my baked goods hanging out, and Mitzi Shore [The Comedy Store’s legendary owner] was showcasing people. She saw me at the bar and asked: “Who’s that?” They said, “It’s Vicki Barbolak.” She said: “Is she a comic?” They responded: “Yes,” and Mitzi stated: “Put her on.” I had been working very hard, but nobody knew it. The manager gave me a great set, and I was called over to her booth after my performance. She goes (impersonating Mitzi Shore) “You were funny. You are a regular now. Now, go away.” At the time, I did not even know what a regular was, but that changed everything.

Jacob Elyachar: I think it is fantastic that the Shore Family saw potential in you.

Vicki Barbolak: Yeah, it was. When I drive up to the Comedy Store in Hollywood, I would say, and I still think this when I drive up there, “I can’t believe I get to drive up Sunset Boulevard to turn into this parking lot and park in the comedians’ section. A mom from Vista. At the beginning of my career, I still had the house and was still married to the girls’ father. Then, the marriage fell apart. I lived in the garage for four years, trying to keep the family together. I lived in a garage apartment because we could not get along. After five years of doing stand-up, I told my parents: “Sell this shop, I don’t want it, I’m just going to do stand-up.” They sold their carpet store and retired, and I bought a trailer for $11,000, that was 800 square feet with one bathroom.

I moved in with my daughters and just started doing stand-up full-time, and we barely made it. I did anything to make money. I did a little carpet side work, anything I could do. Then, I won the Search for the Funniest Mom in America at some point, and I earned $50,000 for that. That kept us going for a few years. I did not travel that much because I had the kids, and I had no support. My mother and father were ill, and so I tried to take care of them. I could not travel that much, so I made money from a little bit of comedy work that was meager pay, and fundraisers. I would be fundraising for schools and women’s clubs, and stuff like that after I won Funniest Mom because people thought I was clean enough to do fundraisers, and I was because I did it. And so that’s how we got by.

Vicki Barbolak made an impact on America’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent: The Champions. (Photo property of NBC’s Vivian Zink & courtesy of Vicki Barbolak)

 Jacob Elyachar: Last year, your life changed for the better when you auditioned for America’s Got Talent (AGT). How did the AGT experience help you grow as a performer?

Vicki Barbolak: I think that the most important thing was, it made me know that I could do something complicated and see it through, no matter what. I mean, then it would feel like for the rest of my life I wouldn’t… my dad always called me a quitter. From the time I was three years old, he said: “You’re a quitter.” I mean, I don’t know what he expected me to finish when I was three, but he convinced me that I was a quitter. I did not finish college, and so I think that AGT, the whole year-long experience, just made me feel like after I did that I could do anything.  I committed to it, and I feel like I succeeded at it, so that was, for me, a big thing.  I also think that it even happened because of the Comedy Store, the opportunity that Mitzi gave me, and how I hard I worked over the past 20 years. I was ready, and then America liked me, and they liked my comedy, and millions of people watch that show. It completely changed my life in an instant. I was that twenty years overnight success story. That’s what AGT does for people; they make dreams come true! It’s amazing.

 Jacob Elyachar: What were some of your favorite memories from your time on America’s Got Talent?

Vicki Barbolak: I enjoyed hanging out with Courtney (Hadwin, Season 13 finalist). She is funny and loved my little dog, Jimmy. I felt like I was helping Courtney whenever her dad couldn’t be near her, and I felt like I had a purpose. I also loved hanging out with Hans. He is my soul brother, and we have a special friendship. Another favorite memory was the first night of Judge Cuts and met the judges for the first time. Howie said that I looked a lot like Joan Rivers. Simon also said that I was the funniest comic that they have had on the show. I guess I just never knew how much it mattered to me to be accepted.  I was so used to so many years of rejection from the industry because I was too old, too fat, too ugly all the time. I just had given up on that industry approval, and so it just blew me away that first Judges Cut night. Before I went on stage, my daughters told me: “Mom, when Simon buzzes you, keep going, and then if somebody else buzzes you, you gotta keep going.” They said that because they were worried that I did not know the rules of the show. They also gave me advice on how to act if someone buzzed me. You never know how things are going to go when you’re a comedian because it’s so subjective. It was fun, and they all liked it so much. It was more than fun, and that was the most significant instant moment of my life, I think.

Jacob Elyachar: Several fans are concerned that since Simon became a judge that more kid acts made to the finals. In the cases of Grace VanderWaal and Darci Lynn Farmer won the series over deserving adult performers. In your humble opinion, do you think that there should be an age limit for AGT, and should there be a Kids Only edition of AGT, why or why not?

Vicki Barbolak: I do not think so. I never wanted to be on a TV show where all the contestants were comedians. While I did compete and won Funniest Mom in America, it was a different experience because it focused on moms, and I felt that the show was unique and fun. I love America’s Got Talent’s openness. The show is open to people that are different ages, from various countries, and have a variety of experience that ranges from two years to 20 years performing. It does not matter. The AGT experience is so fun because little kids get to watch little kids. Meanwhile, the old people get to watch little kids, and the little kids get to watch older adults.

Jacob Elyachar: You had the opportunity to participate in both America’s Got Talent: The Champions and the upcoming Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions. What were some of the similarities and differences between your experiences?

Vicki Barbolak: Both versions of Champions are very similar because it is a quick experience. America’s Got Talent stretches over a year, so it is very different from Britain’s Got Talent. However, I had a fantastic experience going over to London and filming Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions. My daughters got to come, and it was a dream come true to do that. However, I had a hard time dealing with giant theaters. I do not hear very well when I perform in them. I did not feel a dialogue between the audience and myself. I think that happened because I did not ask for a monitor, so I was only guessing if people were laughing. Large theaters do not feel that authentic to me. I need to start admitting that I need a monitor and I will never do another show again without one.  As a comic, I think there is a dialogue between you and the audience, even if there are 18,000 people and that’s my one regret on those big theater shows. I am never going to go to a theater again without a monitor because I think it will help me feel like I am with the audience.

Jacob Elyachar: Let’s talk about your tour: Vicki Barbolak’s Trailer Nasty! Could you describe the show to my readers?

Vicki Barbolak: Trailer Nasty is an adult show, so it is what fans saw on TV but steroids. I have never felt like anyone has been offended. At first, I worried that my audience thought it was going to be PG-13. I have worked in clubs all my life performing for adults. It has been fun to do an hour for people and meet everybody afterward.  I have had so many fresh experiences with people that I met on the road; it has been ridiculously fun. Some of my audience members asked me to come to join them on their boat or visit their beach house, and I say “Yes.” They are shocked when I show up because they believed that I would not show up.

The shows have been fun, the audiences have been unbelievably amazing! People have painted me pictures and brought me gifts. I feel the love that people show me all over the country has been… I cannot believe it, but it’s true. I am so happy about the way I have gotten to know so many people. I have met some real kindred people that have become good friends, and I am surprised by that. I did not know that would happen.

Jacob Elyachar: What have been some of your favorite memories from the tour?

Vicki Barbolak: My mom is originally from Iowa. When I had a show in Iowa, a radio disc jockey named Simon invited me to come on his show. He told me that his wife had been through some health issues, and she watched me on AGT and that I cheered her up. She met me at the radio station and gave me a painting that she painted for me. They are lovely people. Also, they are dog trainers. The couple asked me, “Do you want to come to our facility tomorrow before your show?” I accepted their invitation and went up there, and that was wonderful, and then the next day, Saturday night, they came to my show.

I had such a great time, and they go:  “Did you love it here in Des Moines?” I go, “Yes! The one thing I wish would have gone to the State Capitol, it looks so beautiful, and I did not make time for that.” The couple asked me:  “Do you want to go tomorrow?” I told them that I thought it was closed. They told me:  “No, do not worry about that.” They called a friend of theirs who is a state senator, and he opened up the State Capitol the next day and took us on tour. While we were there, apparently the building caught on fire. He did not pay any attention. We kept walking and touring, while all these alarms are going off for an hour. I was nervous, but I was not going to show it. All of a sudden, the fire department burst through because a part of the building was on fire.

When I performed in Philadelphia, a woman and her wife came to my show. She is a lieutenant with the Philadelphia Police Department and asked: “Would you like to come to tour the Philadelphia Police Department tomorrow? My friends and I went there and spent two hours with all of these cool police officers at Philadelphia’s main police headquarters. The next day, she had two extra tickets for the (Philadelphia) Phillies game, and invite us to see the Phillies play.  Then, I went to Boston with my daughter because she did her undergraduate work at Harvard and wanted to see some of her friends. While we were there, two guys approached us and asked if we had plans to watch the St. Patrick’s Day. They invited us to come to their bar because they had the largest St. Patrick’s Day roof party along the parade route. I cannot believe these events happened. People are so nice.

Jacob Elyachar: If you had the opportunity to meet with aspiring comedians who want to audition America’s Got Talent, what advice would you share with them?

Vicki Barbolak: I have shared this advice with a lot of young aspiring comedians. I say: “Try out, definitely go for it!” Be your most authentic self because that is the currency that no one else has. There is no experience for stage time. It does not matter, even if there is no open mic. I used to go to bars where there was no show scheduled and bring my little PA speaker.  My friends and I ruined people’s beautiful evenings with our shitty comedy. You have to get up as much as possible and perform your material. To audition for America’s Got Talent is a great opportunity. I would never have done it on my own. I would never believe they would take me, but it’s open to everybody, they are fair, and it’s a great thing to do.

For more information about Vicki Barbolak, visit her website. You can also connect with her on social media. Visit Vicki’s Facebook,Instagram, Twitter & YouTube channels.

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Copyright 2019 Jacob Elyachar