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Comic Ashley Barnhill is Texas Strong

A near fatal accident didn't stifle this multi-hyphenate entertainer's ambition

Comedian/actress/writer and UT Law grad Ashley Barnhill's journey epitomizes “Don’t Mess with Texas.” Summer 2020 an accident left her in a coma - and consequently with a titanium skull. However, she made an astonishing comeback, even returning to her role as opening act for comedy great Dave Chappelle. We caught up with the Texan about her projects, advice from Chappelle, what she’s most thankful for and more.

You got hit by a car and nearly died, how did the experience change your life?

I almost died multiple times in a coma, had 5 brain surgeries, an almost fatal brain infection and got two new skulls. I had to relearn my name and how to walk and am very lucky to be mentally and physically able. I am now half blind and struggle with exaggerated startle response PTSD. 

You have a law degree from UT, when did you decide to pursue a career in comedy instead?

Born and bred in San Antonio, I’d been raised studious and academic, it was moving to Austin that I first saw stand-up and experienced a creative culture city. I decided to take a swing at pursuing comedy near the end of my first year of law school and after my first year I moved to LA for a year and worked at Funny or Die/Gary Sanchez Productions and on the TV show "Children’s Hospital."

If you were going to use your law degree, what kind of law would you want to practice?

If I practiced law in the future I think it would be entrepreneurial law to protect forward-thinking nerds that want to make the world a better place. 

How many shows have you done with Dave Chappelle? 

I’ve been touring with Dave for over 8 years, so over 500 shows. 

How did that come about?

The first time Dave saw me perform, he walked in unannounced on a Roast Battle at The Comedy Store. I was on stage and had taken the first round and my opponent Barbara won the second. Before the last round, Jeff Ross decided I should have the last joke. That day Barbara had tweeted at me ‘Whoever loses has to leave comedy.’ My last joke was on the fly, ‘Today Barbara tweeted whoever loses has to leave comedy. Maybe Dave Chappelle can give you that address in Africa.’ It rippled the room. Jeff Ross gave me the win because I went after not only my opponent but the biggest person in the room. Dave agreed, closing out with, ‘You’re the most diabolical b-tch I’ve ever seen.’

Has he ever given you advice? 

I recently talked to him about how draining and discouraging it can be having done stand-up for over a decade and still often getting rooms of 3-8 people. He reminds me the longer it takes to have success the better it will be. That’s not easy to hear when death has been at your doorstep many times, but it’s why I try to stay hopeful and keep schlepping along. 

Where's your favorite place to perform in Austin? 

I’ve got a lot of love for my home club Cap City. 

Do you have any shows scheduled in Austin coming up?

No specific dates, but I’ll have some November and December.

What current projects have you most excited?

I have a dark comedy sci-fi TV series I’ve been working on for years. I paired with “Peaky Blinders” and “Lioness” director Anthony Byrne on it. I’ve been working with a UK production company to pitch a personal dark comedy thriller series involving my disability and am editing a stand-up set about my accident called TEXAS TITANIUM. 

What are 3 things you're grateful for?

1. My family. They’re why I’m still alive. 

2. I’m grateful to be alive and have half my eyesight. My uncle is fully blind and a massive inspiration to me. Also, thanks to my surgeons and those who showed me support. 

3. I’m grateful to be a Texan. I truly think it's why I have survived and try to stay strong, yall. 

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