If you’ve spent any time on Instagram in the past few years, you’ve likely come across one of Celeste Barber’s hilarious takes on celebrity culture. The actress, author, and comedian is perhaps best known for her #challengeaccepted parodies, which poke fun at the insane beauty standards often promoted by Instagram culture (and society in general). And while her pre-pandemic tour (if you can recall such a time) centered around that theme, the Australian multi-hyphenate is back on the road with a whole new act, Fine, Thanks.
Ahead of her appearance at Austin's Paramount Theatre on Wednesday, August 10, CultureMap “sat down” (so to speak) with Barber for a few laughs over the phone.
CultureMap: Hi Celeste, so great to connect with you and looking forward to your upcoming show. How does it feel to be back on the road?
Celeste Barber: Well, it’s a whirlwind tour — we already did Australia and New Zealand, and this leg of the tour is 40 shows across America before we head to Europe and the UK — and it’s been so nice seeing people again and getting feedback everywhere.
CM: What has been your most surprising tour stop thus far?
CB: We’ve been eating some really excellent food. We had great pizza in Atlanta, and sliders last night in Detroit, so I’m really enjoying the food.
CM: Just wait til you get to Austin! Have you visited before?
CB: I haven’t been before! I was actually just in a film that was at South By Southwest called Seriously, Red, so I really wanted to come and I’m excited to get a chance.
CM: Tell me about how you got into comedy?
CB: I’ve been doing it forever, really. I was trained as an actor, but I’ve always done “funny” very easily. I was always given the funny role, and then when Instagram kicked off for me, I started doing tours and it’s been so well received.
CM: Was that a difficult transition at all?
CB: I started out in TV and on stage in Australia, so I started booking shows when the Instagram posts were received well and was lucky enough to have people come. It’s translated so well to the stage.
CM: And going back a little bit, when did you first get the inspiration to do the #challengeaccepted posts?
CB: My sister and I would send these ridiculous screenshots of celebrities to each other with the tagline, “challenge accepted,” and we would try to replicate the content in the most ridiculous way. I always think it’s funny to take the piss out of yourself.
CM: I know you’ve been doing them for a while now, do you have any favorites?
CB: That’s like choosing a favorite child, but I do like the ones where I dance around in my bikini.
CM: Can you walk me through your process of deciding when and how to create them?
CB: A lot of people send them to me, but it’s not hard to find when you think about what most people would look like doing those photos. They’re doing half the work for me.
CM: And am I right in saying the posts inspired your book, which you describe as “253 steps to becoming the anti-it girl”?
CB: Yes, I toured around the same time the book came out, but not specifically to promote it. It’s a little bit memoir-y, but also introduces the #challengeaccepted story to the world, talking about celebrity culture and the beauty industry, and the multibillion-dollar body-shaming industry women are up against.
CM: I love seeing the celebrity comments on your posts: What has been the general celebrity response to your videos?
CB: They’re smart and understand it’s not a direct attack, and no one looks worse in those photos than me. People are allowed to not like it, take it or leave it, and I always say it’s important to unfollow accounts that make you feel like shit. But on the whole, it’s been a positive response and some celebrities even send me photos and videos to do.
CM: And as for your new tour, what should the Austin audience expect from your show?
CB: It’s a really physical show, and a real workout for me. I talk about the international pandemic shit show; what it’s like being married to someone who’s really attractive, that kind of thing. Overall, my humor is a self-deprecating sense of humor, just going after the industry, and I do a pretty excellent homage to Rage Against the Machine. I also get sent some very fun, interesting products from companies, and I talk about one of those products in full detail. I think a lot of my audience is excited to see me doing other stuff. People have moved along with me, and I’m getting such lovely positive feedback, so that’s really heartening.
CM: Well, I look forward to seeing it for myself on Wednesday: Good luck with the show.
CB: Awesome, I will see you there!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Celeste Barber performs at the Paramount Theatre in Austin on Wednesday, August 10, and limited tickets are still available on the Paramount website.