published Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Curtain Call: 'I feel like I've been doing this since birth'

BARB NELIGAN

Hometown: Chattanooga.

Age: 51.

Education: Notre Dame High School, UTC.

Vocation: Freelance writer, comedian.

FAVORITES

Movies: "The Usual Suspects," "Tender Mercies."

Books: "[I'm a ] huge mystery fan. Love the funny ones like Gregory Mcdonald's Fletch series. Embarrassed to say [I] just started reading Agatha Christie for the first time. Loving those."

Play or musical: "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" by Carson McCullers.

Song: "I'd have to say Lynryd Skynyrd's 'That Smell' because it has what I believe to be the best opening line ever. 'Whiskey bottles. Brand new cars. Oak tree you're in my way.' Eleven words tells the whole story."

Performer: Alison Krauss.

Actors: Kevin Spacey, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Robert Duvall, Kathy Bates, Lucille Ball.

Saying, quotation or expression: "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you." Oscar Wilde.

Growing up as the youngest of five kids in her Brainerd household, Barb Neligan learned early on that to be heard she had to be funny. She also learned she liked being the center of attention.

While at Notre Dame High School, Neligan was active in theater and a folk music group -- anything that got her in front of an audience.

She continued those pursuits at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, graduating with a degree in theater and speech. While there she formed a friendship with Patty McClure, and the two created a show called the "Patty and Barbara Show," which they performed at The Brass Register, The Loft and anywhere else that would have them.

"Roger Keiss and Roger Moss were also doing shows as Roger and Roger," she said. "Clubs were just starting to have comedy. This was the early '80s."

Neligan decided to pursue things a little further. She moved to Chicago where she "did a lot of improv for about five years." She then moved to Nashville and focused on making a living by doing freelance writing jobs.

She has mostly written for corporate training videos, but she also wrote a few scripts for CMT. She also writes songs, most of which were funny, she said. About five years ago, she decided she missed doing stand-up comedy and jumped back into the world of long car rides and staying in "comedy condos" up and down I-65.

On Friday and Saturday, she will open for Karen Mills at Vaudeville Cafe. It will be her first performances here in decades.

"I'm very excited," she said. "It's my first show there in almost 30 years. I'm a lot better at it.

"Plus, I love working with Karen. She is so funny and just so nice."

Neligan said she did not meet Mills, an All-American basketball player at UTC, while there in school.

"Theater people aren't too interested in exercise. We did not bump into each other in the gym, no."

Neligan said her show features jokes, stories and songs. In fact, she recently won a competition at the National Women's Music Festival in Middleton, Wis.

"I was the only one doing comedy and music," she said. "Everyone else was so serious and all about their art. I was there to win. I get 45 minutes onstage there next year."

"A lot of comics use a guitar these days, so I've incorporated a banjo. It's funnier also."

Neligan said she doesn't feel like her latest foray into doing stand-up is anything other than an extension of what she's always done.

"I feel like I've been doing this since birth," she said. "Everything I've learned over the course of the last 51 years I'm using now. At 51, my perspective is different. I'm more mature and better at it.

"The trade-off is the physical part of it. The travel and the comedy condos. Some of them, you wouldn't believe."

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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