A cool new web series called Barmaids hit the Internet last month. You should check it out. Coming from the creative team of Anna Callegari, Caralyn Stone (who both star in the series) and Brett Haley (who directs), this series looks into the life of two female bartenders. Anna and Caralyn have strong comedy backgrounds, having trained at UCB and regularly performing with sketch groups. They are both bartenders, too. Barmaids was borne out of a desire to stretch themselves creatively, share stories that draw upon real life experiences, and inhabit strong, nuanced female characters. Along with Brett – who is about to shoot a feature film that he successfully Kickstarted – they have produced a first season of five episodes which convey both humor and attention to character development.
The series was shot in the Boat Bar on Smith Street (sister bar of Ontario Bar on Grand Street) Each episode puts forth a different story, with the relationship Callie, played by Anna, and Emma, played by Caralyn, evolving all the while. One thing that attracted me to the show was how relatable it seemed. I haven’t worked in a bar, but I do know what it’s like to feel untethered in your 20s as you try to figure out what you’re really doing with your life. I also have seen my share of self-indulgent karaoke masters. That split between the funny details and the larger emotional resonance is really well handled in Barmaids. The first season is good and I’m sure it will get even better as it goes on.
I met up with Anna and Caralyn to discuss Barmaids, the creative process, their partnership with Brett (he also stars as Jeremy, the karaoke master in Episode 3), and much more. It was an insightful and fun discussion. What follows is edited down for publication, but I think you’ll get a sense that these are two genuine and talented ladies. And do make sure you watch the show, which you can do here.
GP: How did you meet?
Anna Callegari: I’m part of a musical comedy duo called Forklift comedy and we make a lot of videos. My friend Dan directs all of them. I was scheduled to do a College Humor shoot and he was like, “Oh, my ex-girlfriend Caralyn is gonna be on that shoot. I think you guys are really going to get along.” And I said, “Dan, you’re my friend, how do you want me to act towards her?” I get on set and it was “I’m so sorry that you guys broke up, but Caralyn and I are friends now.”
Caralyn Stone: Dan and her started working together at the end of my relationship with him. So we never ended up meeting while that happened.
Anna: But we always knew of each other. We’ve only known each other for a year but we are very similar. Everyone in comedy fits into certain categories and I feel like we fit into the same category. We like creating our own stuff and we like getting shit done right away.
Caralyn: We also both have an acting background. And we’re so self-motivated. It’s hard to find comedy partners who are as driven as you are. Both of us wake everyday and we’re like, “These are the things we’re going to do today.”
Anna: We’re both kind of intense. And our director Brett, if we think we’re crazy, “Oh, we like to get stuff done,” he’s out of control. He made his first feature at 22.
GP: Your background is in improv, acting, and sketches. Was this the first time you’ve written a series?
Caralyn: We’ve both made other web series.
Anna: They’ve been strictly comedy sketches. This was our first one that was more plot and we had character arcs. Also, one of the things we really focused on was writing strong female characters. It’s a trap everyone falls into.
Caralyn: Even we do!
Anna: Yeah, we’re the biggest women in comedy supporters ever, but sometimes when we’re writing, we’ll be “Oh, and then the wife will be like ‘Honey, stop!’”
Caralyn: That’s not what a woman says, that’s not a real character.
Anna: Yeah. It’s just so easy to fall into those comedy tropes of women that we were like. Brett was really on board with this too. “Yeah, I want to do something where it’s two women talking like women talk.”
Caralyn: I think he was even the first person to say that he wanted three whole episodes where we don’t even talk about guys.
Anna: Just the second episode.
Caralyn: Right. Because that’s real too. It’s like a trap of feminism that you hate men or that you’re never sexual or something. I wanted to show this character who also kind of could be portrayed as slutty but that’s not every part of who she is.
GP: I was wondering about that heightened reality aspect, when you find something that happens in real life, “Oh this would be hilarious to use.” Do you find it’s hard to change it? Maybe sometimes it seems funny, but when you’re actually writing it —
Caralyn: It’s not? Yeah, that’s definitely real.
Anna: Sometimes things that are so funny in person, when you try to write it down, you’re like “Well, I guess it was funny because I was with my best friends” But there are also things that aren’t that funny and when you write down it and embellish it a lot, it becomes super funny. Little things like Caralyn running into people she dated at the bar? That’s mortifying and terrible.
Caralyn: It wasn’t that awkward, but I was like “Oh shit…(laughing) the guy I’m dating is here and I’ve dated this other guy and now I don’t really know how to behave.” We kind of combined like four or five different people into one person to add a little bit of depth.
Anna: Another example, when I first started bartending, I wasn’t as bad as Callie was in the first episode. But for the camera you have to. If she just made a couple little mistakes, it would be “Alright…cool. She’s normal, why am I watching this?”
Caralyn: Also, what all of my regulars at my bar said, was “I love watching Caralyn the bitch” because I’m a nice bartender. It takes a lot for me to actually get upset. But there’s that type too. We were playing a little bit with types until we figure each other out and become real.
GP: How much do you find yourselves in the characters versus it being pure creation?
Anna: I think we both find ourselves a lot in both of our characters. Throughout the process you kind of realize Emma, even though she has a really hard exterior, she actually cares a lot about everyone in her life. And Callie, she basically reminds me of everyone that, from the outside it’s like “Oh, you still don’t know what you want to do?” Everyone is that person or knows that person. And people judge those people like crazy. Playing that part, I feel it’s like “No, everyone has to take their own time to get into it.” It was really nice to see especially how a character like Emma would react to a character like that. You initially write off people like that, but when you get to know someone it changes.
Caralyn: Yeah, I think Emma’s definitely a harsher version of me. I’m never that immediately judgmental. But I related to her a lot in her drive. I moved to New York by myself, I didn’t have anything and I was like “This is what I want and I’m going to make it happen.” I was really glad I got to portray a part of that. And then the same thing, there is a large part of judging somebody falsely and it was fun to let go and remind myself through these different girls you can find a similarity and care about each other. There’s never a part that she thinks she’s better than anybody, she just kind of gets tunnel vision. I really liked portraying these girls. And I liked that Callie’s character, we didn’t let her stick in the “I’m dumb, I don’t know how to bartend.” In the first episode —
GP: Yeah, she stands up for herself.
Anna: And for Emma, she’s not just a bitch. She’s got shit to do. There’s people at this bar that need their drinks, she kind of has to be a little mean to keep on it because people are going to leave the bar and she’s not going to make any money.
Caralyn: It was fun to discover those different sides of ourselves and each other.
Anna: I love those girls a lot. I know the videos haven’t gone viral or anything, but the people that have seen them and the notes that they’ve sent us have been so wonderful. The scene where we’re like “We’re just bartenders, what are we doing with our lives?” Everyone has something in their life that they connect that to. It’s really nice to hear people that are like “Yep, I hear ya.”
GP: I think what’s cool is a lot of your episodes kind of come back around. At the beginning of the karaoke one, you’re talking about the cleanse and no gluten, and then that has to do with Jeremy’s issues. The next one is “I just want to get fucked up,” and by the end they do and it’s this party. The series itself seems very structured. I mean, it’s funny, but it also is not just about making you laugh. It gets into “What are these people like?” and “How is this friendship growing?”
Caralyn: The other actors, like Brett, we could have just left his character the karaoke host as just a ham. We could have left it at that, but we were like “That’s not interesting. We’ve all experienced that, but what else is there? Why is he stealing the mic every five seconds?” It could be a silly reason like he has celiac disease, but to him that’s really intense and he needs this outlet.
Anna: He’s really sad.
Caralyn: And we’re like “Ok, we’ll be friends with you.” Yeah, to have these people change all the time was really important.
GP: I liked the guy in the last episode, he was a pretty good drunk. How he’s like “I think it’s going pretty well” (everyone laughs).
Anna: When we first wrote that episode, it was really terrifying. But we realized it would be weird if everything up to this episode is, not necessarily like super light, but it’s very realistic and it’s mostly funny. Even though there could be dramatic situations, it’s mostly funny. And then the night before, Brett’s like “Alright, I realized it’s too much.”
Caralyn: Those moments happen. That was definitely a moment I’ve experienced.
Anna: Yeah, me too.
Caralyn: I mean, not to that degree, never, but I’ve had to call the police on people and it’s a reality of the bar business you don’t really ever talk about. I usually work that bar by myself. I’m glad too that we were able to add that little softer moment.
Anna: He was just an idiot drunk guy, not a scary rapist.
Caralyn: And we really wanted to have each other help the other girl get home safe and not it be like “Oh, some drunk slut who’s passed out at the bar.”
Anna: But it’s still funny because it’s like “Oh, we’re just going to clean around her while she’s sleeping.”
Caralyn: We wanted to make sure that was kind of a nice end moment, too. To go back to what you were saying about the whole show, the very first moment is them not getting along and the last moment of the season is —
Anna: Us walking off into the sunrise.
GP: Yeah, I like it. I think it’s good. Do you have plans to do more?
Anna: Yeah. Brett’s doing this movie all summer. But we’re going to start writing it.
Caralyn: We’re already starting to brainstorm and get down some ideas. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it in fall. People have already asked me about it. We’re very excited. Everything we want this series to be, it is.
Anna: Yes. Normally, people put a lot of content, and I’m very critical of myself. And I feel like there’s something where I’m like “You know what? What can you do? That didn’t go perfectly.” Or there’s some things I acted in and I’m like “Oh God! I never want anyone to see that.” But this I’m genuinely really proud of and it’s a really good feeling.
Caralyn: Anna wasn’t able to come but our sketch team performed at Cornell a couple weekends ago. I was meeting some of the people and this one guy who I hadn’t talked to at all, he came up to me and was like “Oh my god, I watched Barmaids, it’s so good.” It was more than anything I’ve ever been proud of, I was really excited that these kids gave it a shot and had really nice things to say about it. And this one girl was like “You girls are really inspiring to me. I want to write and I feel like I can. These boys are always trying to knock me down,” and I was like “That’s so nice to hear!”