July 14, 2020
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Delaney Barker ’20 might never have auditioned for Kenyon’s stand-up comedy group, Two Drink Minimum, if she hadn’t been passed over for the “Funniest Girl” senior superlative in her high-school yearbook.
“I felt like I deserved it,” Barker said, “so I decided that if I was going to be funny, I was going to get credit for it.”
Since then, Barker has become a regular at the comedy troupe’s Peirce Pub shows, performing a brand new set for each of her four semesters at Kenyon. Jenna Rochelle ’18, one of the co-presidents of Two Drink Minimum, praised Barker for her perfectly timed delivery and knack for finding comedy in her daily life in Gambier.
“Delaney has an interesting way of taking very mundane, everyday events and finding humor in them,” said Rochelle.
Barker, who identifies as biracial, isn’t afraid to incorporate her background into her sets. The joke that caught Rochelle’s attention during Barker’s audition involved Barker and her friends deciding where to go to dinner. After a white friend suggests that Barker might be more comfortable at Kentucky Fried Chicken than she would be at the allegedly discriminatory Cracker Barrel, Barker corrects the friend. “Hey man, it’s Caucasian Barrel,” she begins, before going in for the kill: “I think my people have been through enough.”
Growing up in the predominantly white town of Monroe, Ohio, Barker learned that humor could be used as a coping mechanism and a way to approach otherwise serious issues. “I would make jokes about my race so it didn’t seem so scary that I was different,” she said. “If I was the one making the jokes about my race, then I could set the rules for how my race can be brought up.”
Performing with Two Drink has helped Barker access another side of herself. “I was shy [in school] and didn’t usually say a lot,” she said. “I think I first realized I was funny to other people in the fifth grade, and that was the first time I ever felt popular. What I learned was that you don’t have to talk the loudest to grab someone’s focus, sometimes all you need is a funny joke.”
At Kenyon, “my friends are my biggest fans; they come to the show an hour early so they can be in the front row and be there for me. I’m not sure I could have done comedy as well as I have been if I hadn’t had them to look at when I was telling the jokes,” she continued.
Barker, a political science major, used to downplay her liberal views when performing comedy.
“Because I come from a very conservative area, and I am not a conservative, I wanted to try to keep my material open to the people from home who wanted to support me,” she explained. “However, I realized that being non-political just isn’t who I am. I want to inject as much of myself into my comedy as possible,” she said. “I find myself really loving the work of Aristophanes, because of the way that he explores deep philosophical questions about politics in his comedy.”
She also looks up to more contemporary comedians, including Bo Burnham (“he explores his mental health and isn’t afraid to be painfully vulnerable on stage”), Jerrod Carmichael (“some of his joke structures are just inspired”) and John Oliver (“he uses his exposure to actually make a difference in people’s lives”). “Tig Notaro is quite an obvious pick, but she has my total admiration,” Barker added. “She wants to make the comedy industry a better place for women, and I so admire that.”
Although some professional comedians shy away from performing on college campuses, for fear of encountering a hostile room obsessed with political correctness, Barker believes the socially conscious vibe of Kenyon audiences actually improves the quality of Two Drink’s comedy.
“I think there’s a difference between a comedian who will say a joke about a marginalized group and comedians who really sit, and are clever, and master-fully craft a joke that will allow that group to laugh along with everyone else,” she said. “As a biracial person, when I’m talking about race, that narrative has value. Talking about it and getting other people to learn about it — in a way that also entertains them — is really special.”
Unlike visiting comedians, members of Two Drink face a double-edged sword, according to Rochelle. “We have a better understanding of what will make people laugh and we have better insight into that community, but we also have to live with the consequences of maybe making a bad joke,” she said, “(which) makes us a lot more thoughtful in how we construct our jokes, rather than just going for low-hanging fruit.”
Despite the advantages of performing for a familiar audience, one of Barker’s goals is to organize a Two Drink Minimum tour. This would give the group the opportunity to refine a set by testing it in front of multiple audiences during the course of a week, instead of writing new jokes for the same crowd every semester. She hopes to use Kenyon alumni connections to book gigs on college campuses or in comedy clubs across the country.
Regardless of the audience, Barker is glad to have made stand-up a part of her life. “I’ve become such an open book now that I do comedy,” she said. “I’m less worried about how a story might embarrass me, and more, let’s see if this works, let’s see if people will laugh at this.”