Australian actress and comedian Celeste Barber became Instagram famous globally thanks to her own hashtag, #celestechallengeaccepted, and subsequently filmed her first comedy special this summer in New York City. Named one of Variety‘s 10 Comics To Watch in 2019, she had 5.9 million Instagram followers at her Showtime taping in July, and more than 6.1 million as of today.
CELESTE BARBER: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: A decade ago, Barber had recurred onscreen on Australia’s TV medical soap, All Saints (think Grey’s Anatomy with more Oi! Oi! Oi!). But in 2015, as she hoped to take her stand-up comedy career to the next level, she started her own photo series on Instagram, lampooning celebrity and model photoshoots by recreating them herself, side-by-side with the hashtag #celestechallengeaccepted. Her Instagram took off later that year, and by 2018, she’d written a book and gone on multiple stand-up tours across Australia and the United States. Her stage show fills in her fans on how the social media sausage gets made, and how the famous really are different from the rest of us.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: Barber bears a passing resemblance to American stand-up Jaqueline Novak. But Barber’s performance style is more similar to that of other social media stars, such as Colleen Ballinger’s “Miranda Sings,” for example, in how she translates online stardom to live-in-person stage production.
Memorable Jokes: “I used to have a really boring Instagram account, like all of you,” she quips early on. “Well, OK. C’mon. Show of hands. Who took a photo of their dinner tonight and posted it online?”
Barber goes into greater detail about two of the photos that helped her go viral, one imitating Britney Spears doing a handstand, the other pulling herself out of a swimming pool like Kate Upton.
But she really pulls back the curtain by revealing Instagram’s double standards. “I don’t know if you have noticed on social media, but it seems If you are rich, hot or famous, you are allowed to post whatever you want,” she says. “Here’s a photo of my cervix. As long as it’s famous, like!” Adding: “Now if you are NOT rich hot or famous, you’re not allowed to post whatever you want. All of a sudden, ‘terms and conditions’ kick in. And your post can get pulled down.”
Instagram infamously has yet to free the nipple, and Barber shows just how prudish the social media giant is with a game asking her audience to vote on whether certain photos were “ALLOWED or NOT ALLOWED.” Later, she invites the audience to play a game by reading Barber’s DMs and deciding if “He Said or She Said” them to her. Both games have obvious answers.
But that’s not all. Barber also goes after the idea of influencer as a career path, acting out a pose she sees (and displays photo evidence of such) all too often from influencers. “Which if you ask me is just a series of really attractive people constantly looking for s–t they’ve dropped,” she jokes. “What are you looking for? Pardon? Your talent? F–k, We’ll be here a while.”
Since you might be thinking Barber’s an influencer, too, she’ll gladly see your criticism coming and call herself out, noting the companies who have come calling, the Hollywood meetings she has taken, and the backhanded compliments from them and from her supposed fans that keep her feeling insecure. Not to mention her “#hothusband,” whom she’s been with for more than 16 years, but that doesn’t stop a certain Victoria’s Secret model from cracking a joke about stealing Barber’s husband from her. You’ll hear more stories of how Barber’s Instagram stardom has found her rubbing shoulders with other celebrities, too.
Our Take: If you go into this knowing it’s not a typical stand-up comedy special, but more akin to an extended up-close meet-and-greet with an online star, then you won’t be disappointed.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Worth it for the revelations about how social media has defined and manipulated us as a society.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.