Comedian Don Barnhart Named Best Of Las Vegas
The Las Vegas Review Journal Lists Comedian Don Barnhart As Best Of Las Vegas.
- (1888PressRelease) April 27, 2012 - It's not unusual to find performers in Las Vegas who wear many hats in their day-to-day lives, but comedian Don Barnhart's head must have its own wardrobe. From comic to hypnotherapist, motivational speaker to filmmaker, booking agent to author, Barnhart divides his time between making people laugh and helping them to become better versions of themselves. He recently opened a studio at 1617 E. Fremont Street.
When he's not on tour or engaged in one of his other many ventures, Barnhart teaches improv and standup classes at Sin City Comedy Club inside The Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort to help young comics fine-tune their acts, which led to the documentary, "Finding the Funny," to be released soon. The Best of Las Vegas talked to Barnhart about his background, what motivates him and whether or not you can actually teach someone to be funny.
"I love comedy, I've been doing this since I was 18, and I wanted to help other guys get better, so I started teaching these classes. A friend of mine, another comedian, John Bizarre, thought it was a bunch of BS, so we got into a debate, can you teach someone to be funny? I said "Why don't you come in and watch the classes?" And he said, "Well, can I film them?" So we filmed six weeks of classes, following different students from the beginning-creating material, character, point-of-view-all the way to their showcases. Then we went around interviewing comics at different levels, from Brad Garrett to Louie Anderson, Marty Allen, Wendy Liebman, to the road comic. So John filmed and directed the film, and we just finished it."
BOLV: So can you teach someone to be funny?
DB: The consensus is that I can teach you a curveball, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to play for the majors. It just depends how much hard work you want to put into it and if you have a natural gift. But I can teach you to be more entertaining, and work on your technique, and, if you have the knack, I can really help you fine-tune that and turn it into an act.
BOLV: Where are people going to be able to see the film?
DB: Right now, it's at a major pay cable network, sitting on their desk, waiting for the thumbs up, so nothing is official yet, but it will be available on DVD after that, and through Amazon, Netflix, out of the back of my car, and so on.
BOLV: Besides comics, who can benefit from standup classes?
DB: Standup is really about one individual performance, you know, a person on stage, his jokes, his characterizations. I've gotten a lot of people from the business world, Toastmasters, and people who just want to be more comfortable giving a speech, who could use a little humor in there. Of course, we also benefit the professional comic who wants to fine-tune his career and do what I'm doing. My theory is if you're not getting paid it's just a hobby. The comics that have taken my class, I've been able to fine-tune their acts and get them even better gigs because now they're doing what they need to do to get bookings.
BOLV: With the economy in the state that it is, do you think this is a good time for people to be getting into comedy?
DB: I think it's a great time. I've written several articles already about how in every recession, comedy is booming. This started back with the Depression, after World War II, when the black and white comedies came out, you know, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplain. Every recession, people need to laugh. Comedy is escapism. Yes we sometimes take on serious issues and poke fun at things and be political and make people think, but it is escapism where we can kind of laugh and get away from our worries.
BOLV: What advice do you have for those considering a career in comedy?
DB: Marry well! The best advice is getting some stage time. That's the most important thing. You can write, practice in your living room in front of your mirror, your wife or husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, lover, stuffed animals, whatever, but you've got to get on stage. Leno first said to me, if you want to be good, go on the road, get out of your home town. Go see what it's like to perform in mid-America, then come back and see if you could get paid to do this.
BOLV: You've also done a lot of shows overseas for the troops. How was that experience?
DB: Probably the greatest perk out of doing stand up was when I got offered a USO tour years ago. We got to go to Bosnia during the war there, and I was one of the first comics into Afghanistan. And my wife even went over and hosted the shows for us. Although she's not a comic, she's an attractive young lady and most of the guys were more than happy to have her stand there and just read the introductions. In fact, one comic got booed offstage, it was hysterical. It wasn't even that he wasn't funny, he didn't even get his words out. It was just that they said "We don't care, we just want to see a girl! We want girls!"
BOLV: Switching from comedy, you've also written and produced a couple of movies, the most recent being "Freeloader," in which you tell the story of a homeless veteran. Do you find comedy helps when tackling social issues?
DB: Oh, I truly do. What's the old saying? A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down? I like to make people laugh, then I like to kind of shine light on a few issues. The first film I did, "China Dolls," is kind of an action thriller that dealt with human trafficking. It's sort of a thriller-comedy, but we kind of open the door (on that subject) to make people interested, and if they're interested they'll do further research on it. With "Freeloader," it's about a returning Veteran who ends up homeless, and becomes a sort of Robin Hood of the homeless, and it shines the light on homelessness. We don't make fun of homeless people, but we shine a light on it and we show, through humor, what's going on.
BOLV: You're also a certified hypnotist. How did that come about?
DB: That came out of my own dysfunction, when I was 18 trying to figure out where I was going. I was kind of the Jeff Spicoli of my neighborhood. I would (go to auditions) to be an actor, and I would get very nervous before going onstage, so I started learning about meditation and yoga, and I got a book on self-hypnosis. I learned how to do that to relax myself and get over my own limited belief system before an audition. I've been practicing that for over 25 years, so a few years back I decided to get certified so I could do hypnotherapy and help more people along the way. I started working with friends, then I put a show together, and next thing I knew, it took off. Now I'm getting booked just as much as a comedy hypnotist, I'm doing seminars.
BOLV: And this led to your book, "Creating the Life You Desire?"
DB: The book is basically a shortened version of everything that I know about hypnosis and how to start using that to rewrite your inner script and live the life of your dreams. With hypnosis, most people think you're in a trance or you're a zombie run by a mad scientist who is going to get your ATM card and make you go rob a bank or something like that, but it's really just a heightened state of suggestibility where you can rewrite your inner dialog, break bad habits, change negative thinking or, in a comedy show, tap into your creative talents and just have some fun onstage. What I do in the book give an overview on hypnosis, then I go through my life and how I'm applying it.
BOLV: So this has really changed your life?
DB: It changed my whole life. When I was 16, I grew up hanging around the TV studio, my dad was a TV director. I hung out on the sets of "Mork and Mindy." We all got into a lot o trouble and were very unfocused, so through hypnosis I was able to change my life.
BOLV: Unlike many comics, you actually travel and work closely with your wife. How does that work for you two?
DB: It's awesome! Oh my God, it's a dream come true. My wife gets to travel with me, so she'll run the sound and lighting, merchandising, graphics, and runs the whole business, so I'm basically just the figurehead, she's the brains of our operation. I just did a one-nighter in Rochester, and I was only away for a day, but I was like, "Oh, I miss my wife! Where's my friend? Boo hoo hoo." It's a blessing.
BOLV: Comedian, instructor, filmmaker, hypnotherapist, writer, motivational speakerů do you have any free time?
DB: I am so absolutely blessed, things are booming. I've got more work than I could possibly do so that's another reason I started doing the comedy classes. I'm more of a comedy coach than a comedy teacher. I'm so grateful, things are booming right now. I'm constantly working, and I've built up my whole life to get this kind of momentum going. I'm so passionate about the life that I'm living that, how could I not share that?
Don Barnhart's next improv comedy workshop at Sin City Comedy Club is April 29 from 4 to 7 p.m.; his 6-week stand-up course begins May 13, fro 4 to 7 p.m. Sign up at donbarnhart.com.