After less than a decade performing stand-up comedy in the Valley, Leslie Barton has become one of the scene’s most prominent players. The 50-year-old Phoenix resident produces the Hashtag Comedy Corner weekly comedy show on Tuesday nights at Grand Avenue Pizza Company and performs improv every Monday at The Rock in Phoenix in the Workin’ It Out show. She’ll be making people laugh during the Big Pine Comedy Festival in Flagstaff, October 8 to 10, and you can catch her performing at Crescent Ballroom this Wednesday, September 2, as part of The Switch comedy show.
When she’s not performing stand-up, Barton manages Bragg’s Factory Diner in Phoenix. She also is a visual artist who has shown her artwork at the First Friday artwalk in downtown Phoenix, and you can see her video work in an installation in one of the bathrooms in AZ/88.
Barton shares her journey as a stand-up comedian and has tips for aspiring stand-up comedians, and you can hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.
What brought you to Arizona?
My parents. We moved here from Colorado because my mother had a job here, and I’ve lived here since seventh grade. I graduated from Thunderbird High School and went to Phoenix College, then went to school at Al Collins Graphic Design School and got my degree in art and design.
I was born in Fort Lee, Virginia, and my family moved around a lot because my parents were in the Army. I’ve also lived in Illinois and northern California in San Francisco.
What has your career evolution been like?
I had a career in graphic design after graduating college. I went to Alaska for five months to work at a cannery when I was 29, and when I came back to Phoenix, I was playing in a lot of bands throughout the years.
In about 2007, I was in a band with Damon Brasch, the owner of Green [vegan restaurant] and his friend Eric. One night after practice on a Wednesday night, we asked Eric what he was going to do, and he said he was going to go to the Hidden House and watch some stand-up comedy. We gave him a hard time that it was dumb, but then a couple weeks later, we decided to go with him. I met the cream of the crop of comedians who were doing things then. I went there every week for a year and watched stand-up comedy and never considered doing it, even though I liked the idea of performing.
The organizer kept pushing me to perform, so I did, and it was a great time. The more I wrote, the more I made people laugh. I started to really find my voice, and I had a really great time doing that.
In 2009 of January, my mother died, which was super-heartbreaking, because it was just me, her and my father, a really tight nuclear family. I started doing more stand-up, and then I started concentrating on doing theater work with Space 55. I did a number of plays, including A Bloody Mary Christmas. I got back into doing more comedy after that, and I’m having a really great time doing it. There are loads of open mics around town — you just can’t be lazy.
What’s your earliest memory of being interested in comedy?
I was probably around 9. My dad was in the operating room, and he had put some scrubs on me. I walked through the waiting room and was like, “Next!” My dad said everyone just fell down laughing. I would always perform for my parents, singing songs.
I never really thought about doing anything with it, but now I notice I can be really obnoxious, and all my friends will be like, “Don’t worry about her. She’s just a comic who does stand-up.” It’s my way to be a jerk or funny or stand up for myself.
How would you describe your stand-up comedy?
I can hold my own. I like to write jokes. I heard about a restaurant in Hong Kong, where the owner was arrested for lacing his ramen noodles with opium in order to attract customers. That’s a true story I read. That’s funny, because 30 minutes later, not only were you still hungry, you were a soulless, dead-eyed hooker, taking it up the ass for ramen noodles.
I like the idea of looking something up in the news and utilizing that somehow, and just writing stuff and seeing where that takes me.
What is your writing process like?
I carry several notebooks around me at all times, and I carry my schedule around me at all times, so I know what I’m doing at all times. If something strikes me as funny, I write it down, so at least I can come back to it later.
Who are some of your favorite comics?
I’ve always been a big fan of Paula Poundstone. I really liked Elayne Boosler back in the day and Joan Rivers. I like Tig Notaro and Amy Schumer. I wish Amy Pohler did stand-up comedy, because she’s hysterical.
What advice do you have for aspiring stand-up comedians?
I’d say don’t take anything personally. Find as many open mics as you can, don’t expect anything, don’t be afraid, and just go up and do it.
If you can remember the time someone said something mean to you and made you feel horrible, hold on to that, and let that be the worst thing that happens to you. If you can get over that, you can get over anything. You can get over whatever that person who’s probably hurt or insecure says. Keep your head clear, and stay motivated. Talk to whoever approaches you, and say yes to new opportunities.
How would you describe the Phoenix stand-up comedy scene?
I see people coming in from L.A. all the time, getting in on open mics, and we’re a great stop for that. It’s really inspiring to see national comics coming through here.
There are also so many opportunities to perform here, including longer sets on a weekly basis. Longer sets are huge for beginning comics, because you don’t have to worry about cutting off laughter or cramming all your jokes in a five-minute set.
As long as you go out to the open mics and are funny, you’re going to get on shows here. If you’re willing to drive, you can perform on three sets a night.
What’s your favorite place to perform here?
I like Stand Up Scottsdale a lot. I like their stage, and I like the way it’s run.
Chop and Wok has a great bar show I like on Thursday nights.
Wednesday nights, Jill Bryan runs a great local show at Dos Gringos in Tempe.
What are your goals?
I want to tour in Austin [Texas] and go to L.A. I hope to be able to give back through any advice I can give other comics, which feels really good since people have been so kind to me. I’m trying to stay busy and do what I like. I want to meet like-minded comics who have fun and maybe get a good writing group together, too.
Learn about other Valley stand-up comedians: