“Don’t ask me about my mes­sage”

Ce­leste Bar­ber has found fame on so­cial me­dia thanks to her par­o­dies of celebrity self­ies, but in­sists there’s no wider mes­sage – she just wants to cre­ate com­edy

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents - Styling GEMMA KEIL Interview LOUISE ED­WARDS

Her take on vain celebrity self­ies has earned Ce­leste Bar­ber mil­lions of so­cial-me­dia fans. But the down-to-earth Aus­tralian co­me­dian says that her par­o­dies of air­brushed per­fec­tion aren’t so­cial com­men­tary – she’s just mak­ing peo­ple laugh.

She may be adored by mil­lions as the will­ing sub­ject of hi­lar­i­ously awk­ward, whip-sharp photo par­o­dies of vain celebrity self­ies, but Ce­leste Bar­ber would like her pub­lic to know she takes the task of mak­ing them laugh very, very se­ri­ously.

“I’m not a clown,” she tells Stel­lar. And her achieve­ments are no fluke ei­ther. “It an­noys me to be de­scribed as a mum of four from the [New South Wales] Cen­tral Coast who’s struck overnight suc­cess. I’ve trained as an ac­tor, I’ve worked in TV for years, done stand-up. I’m a writer. I have a bit of a bee in my bon­net about peo­ple think­ing this is just my hobby.”

Bar­ber is a self-con­fessed pop-cul­ture fa­natic, and it is a trait that has served her well. On her so­cial-me­dia feeds, she posts side-split­tingly shame­less pho­tos and videos – fun­house mir­ror im­ages of the painfully per­fect ones the world’s big­gest stars like to share, that nail the dis­con­nect be­tween celebrity life and Bar­ber’s nor­mal one. And yes, de­spite her in­cred­i­ble on­line reach (she has 2.4 mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram), you can still con­sider Bar­ber “nor­mal”, since she has been paid for just five of the nearly 900 posts she has made.

This labour of love of laughs is re­mark­ably sim­ple: Bar­ber sees a pic­ture of a celebrity do­ing some­thing ridicu­lous, then re-cre­ates the photo. “But it’s a par­ody… I add some­thing to it, a twist, or some­thing re­ally mun­dane.”

Her other half – she does not talk much about her fam­ily, who do some­times ap­pear in the shots, and only refers to him as “hot hus­band” dur­ing our interview – is usu­ally be­hind the cam­era. Though they some­times “work­shop the funny” to­gether, the most suc­cess­ful im­ages are usu­ally the eas­i­est ones to or­ches­trate, re­quir­ing just a cou­ple of tries to nab the shot.

The pho­tos may be out­landish, but their ori­gin story is not. “It started when my sis­ter and I would text each other pho­tos for a laugh,” Bar­ber ex­plains. “We would see some celebrity on so­cial me­dia say­ing, ‘ This is me, just drop­ping my kids off at school.’ Well, this is what I look like drop­ping my kids off at school.”

But what be­gan as an in­side joke has en­tered a whole dif­fer­ent league. For the hun­dreds of thou­sand of words writ­ten about sex­ism, bod­ies, celebrity cul­ture and our age of nar­cis­sism, Bar­ber’s sim­ple vis­ual par­o­dies seem to cut right through the rhetoric around those is­sues. Though she is pleased to make an im­pact, fan re­ac­tions don’t al­ways sit so com­fort­ably.

“It’s just me tak­ing pho­tos of my­self, but be­cause I don’t look like you should in those sort of pho­tos, then peo­ple go,” – sharp in­take of breath – “‘Ooh, brave! She’s be­ing br­rrrave.’ But, like… is that re­ally brave?”

Asked if she in­tends to make a point about sex­ism or the ob­ses­sion with vis­ual cul­ture, she pulls a face. “No. Never. Nah. Oh, god. I wish I was that deep.

“Sure, I am a fem­i­nist, and who gives a sh*t about what you look like? But I can get peo­ple laugh­ing,” Bar­ber con­tin­ues. “That’s how I get my mes­sage across. Don’t ask me what my mes­sage is though, ’cause f*cked if I know.”

She re­marks that her so­cial-me­dia au­di­ence some­times reads too much into what she does. “Peo­ple are ob­sessed with grab­bing onto the idea that here’s some­one who is not a beau­ti­ful, per­fect model, and she’s not wear­ing much,” Bar­ber says. “Or peo­ple write com­ments like, ‘Wow! I’m so happy there are other fat girls out there like me!’ And I just think, ‘Huh?’ I some­times look through the com­ments and the ones that irk me the most are those that say, ‘Ce­leste looks so much bet­ter than that stupid model.’ No. No, that’s not the point! I’m like, ‘C’mon, how funny is my face?!’”

Bar­ber’s wide au­di­ence in­cludes dozens of celebri­ties, some of them the ones she has hap­pily par­o­died. Ash­ton Kutcher, Cindy Craw­ford, Rosie Hunt­ing­ton-white­ley and Mar­ion Cotillard are all fans. The Kar­dashi­ans also re-post or share Bar­ber’s par­o­dies of them, and she re­veals a num­ber of mod­els are now ad­mit­ting to “tak­ing my pho­tos just for Ce­leste Bar­ber”. She also gets re­quests to cre­ate per­sonal im­ages, most re­cently from Rob­bie Wil­liams’s wife, Ayda Field.

Be­fore she be­came a so­cial-me­dial di star, Bar­ber was best known as Bree Matthews in TV drama All Saints. “I al­ways thought I was funny,” she says, “but I thought funny was silly and stupid – that be­ing funny was just be­ing a nui­sance.” It was only when her co-star Mark Pri­est­ley con­vinced her oth­er­wise that Bar­ber de­cided to ex­plore it fur­ther.

The two were clearly close and Bar­ber’s voice falls to a hush as she strug­gles to share the mem­ory. “When he told me that, I just rolled my eyes. But he per­sisted and said, ‘No, you need to get your head around that and just re­ally do it.’” In Au­gust 2008, Pri­est­ley, suf­fer­ing de­pres­sion, took his own life at the age of 32.

It was a loss that would prove to spur Bar­ber on. “That time was the worst,” she says. “I felt like we were just start­ing to do a lot to­gether and re­ally find­ing some­thing, but then it stopped… I thought, well, all that just stops now. But it didn’t. Some­times, if I was doubt­ing what I was do­ing,di I’d ’d get a b beau­ti­ful­tif l mes­sage fromf Kate Mul­vany [an ac­tor and Pri­est­ley’s for­mer girl­friend] and she’d say ‘Oh, Mark would love that!’”

Bar­ber was the loud kid in class, of­ten get­ting “kicked out for be­ing an­noy­ing”. She was di­ag­nosed with ADD as a teenager and re­calls over­hear­ing her mother speak­ing to doc­tors about their de­ci­sion to put her on Ri­talin. “I heard my mum say, ‘Fine, if it’s go­ing to help her. But we don’t want Ce­leste to change. We want her to be ex­actly who she is.’”

Hear­ing this as an im­pres­sion­able teenager helped Bar­ber to be, what she terms, “unashamedly me”. She ex­plains: “I’ve never re­ally got any­where on how I look… I’ve al­ways worked on what’s go­ing on in­side, on who I am.”

Bar­ber has her own im­pres­sion­able teenagers now – two step­daugh­ters – and two young sons. Asked what they think of their famo fa­mous mum, she re­calls the time her elde el­dest son, six, ques­tioned her brazen­ness. ““‘Mum, isn’t that pri­vate?’ he asked. I’m like, ‘Turns out it’s not!’”

Her stepda step­daugh­ters, she says, are “OK with it. Aroun Around me they’re rolling their eyes and sayi say­ing ‘Urgh, no-one cares…’, but then whe when they bring their teenage friends aroun around and they freak out, they’re like ‘What?’ a and pre­tend to be all coy.”

This Oc­to­ber,Oc­tob Bar­ber will ap­pear in the ABC TV/N Tv/net­flix com­edy The Let­down, about the tri­al­stri of be­ing a new mother. Fol­low­ing se sell-out shows in Syd­ney, Bar­ber will al­soa be tour­ing her stand-up rou­tine arou around Aus­tralia and Europe. She’s cur­rent cur­rently writ­ing a TV show and is in dis­cuss dis­cus­sions for a book as well.

While her face lights up most when she speaks ofo be­ing a writer, her com­edy ca­reer is wha what’s tak­ing off. She re­cently won the Wh Who­haha award for the Fun­ni­est Lad Lady on In­sta­gram, along­side other cat­e­go­rycat­ego win­ners in­clud­ing Amy Schumer an and Melissa Mc­carthy.

Bar­ber prefer­spre to see her role as that of en­ter­tainer,t tainer n not so­cial com­men­ta­tor. She talks about times when there are neg­a­tive com­ments about a model she’s par­o­died, and peo­ple call on her to say some­thing. “I’m like, no. I’ve en­ter­tained you guys. It’s not my re­spon­si­bil­ity to join the con­ver­sa­tion. Sure, I’m happy to have started a con­ver­sa­tion, but re­ally that’s not the point. The point is to be funny.”

But there’s truth in Bar­ber’s work, too. At a time when al­most any­body has the tools to cre­ate per­fectly pol­ished im­ages, her pictures leap out for their au­then­tic­ity. And she is adored by fans for be­ing av­er­age.

Even so, Bar­ber says she’s sur­prised when­ever a fol­lower in­ter­prets her posts be­yond be­ing a sim­ple gag. “Peo­ple can say what they like. I do what I like – I take in­ap­pro­pri­ate, un­flat­ter­ing pho­tos of my­self. I’m not try­ing to make any­one feel bad. I’m just mak­ing peo­ple laugh.”

“I’ve nev­ern got any­where­anyw on looks.looks I work on wh who I am”

Pho­tog­ra­phy DAMIAN BEN­NETT

SPOT DIF­FER­ENCE(left, Funny Bar­ber from THEla­dy­has top) par­o­diedCe­leste im­agesKim Kar­dashi­anof Bey­oncé, and Nicki Minaj; (top right) Bar­ber with her “hot hus­band” and two sons; (right) in her new TV show The Let­down.

Carla Zam­patti coat, car­lazam­patti. ear­rings, com.au; Su­san Driver su­san­driver.com.au; (pre­vi­ous dress, spread) Lee Mathews leemath­ews.com.au; Witch­ery shoes, witch­ery.com.au CE­LESTE WEARS

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