There’s a bar right next to Go Bananas Comedy Club called The Belle and the Bear; on a Sunday night, it was virtually empty apart from a pair of couples playing cornhole and celebrating a birthday. There was a giant Connect Four board on the table in front of me and the deep bass line of the music playing vibrated the room.
I was early, of course. I don’t drink and so I’m uncomfortable in bars. I’m especially awkward with my iPad Pro and keyboard out, but I need to write. I ordered a Coke so I wouldn’t be a complete freeloader and settled in to wait for my interview subjects to arrive.
I was a bit nervous.
I shouldn’t have been. He has been nothing but kind and supportive, but there’s something about the aggressive nature of Ran Barnaclo’s comedy that unsettles me. He is without question my favorite Cincinnati-based comic. But his confrontational style scares me just a little.
Anna Mazza also intimidates me. Her comedy is droll, but with a bite. Her jokes sneak up on the audience, and while her persona seems self-conscious, there’s underlying confidence and strength that makes her a little terrifying. Also, the only conversation I think we’ve had in person is when she complimented my “Friends”-themed t-shirt that my team at work made, which I felt compelled to awkwardly explain at length. I’m certain she didn’t care and just likes the show, “Friends.”
I also didn’t know what to expect when the two got together, with all that energy. They agreed to meet me before recording a new episode of the podcast, “Rumble Lips.” On air, their banter belies real-life chemistry. It’s not just for the podcast. I know because as soon as Anna arrived, The Belle and the Bear came alive — at least in our corner of the bar.
Ran arrived first. We caught up and I explained what I was writing. We talked about what he’s been doing, where he’ll be appearing, and so on. Then Anna walked in and Ran went into full roast-mode.
I knew that she worked at the airport. “Were you flying today?” I asked innocently. She smiled and said, “I love that people think I’m attractive enough to be a flight attendant. No, it’s an office job.”
Ran, with impeccable comic timing, said, “But you are eligible to be a service animal though, right?” Coming from anyone else, it would have been insulting and grounds for the end of the conversation. But with this pair, anything goes.
As they settled into the interview, their jokes ranged from esoteric to gross, including an extended back-and-forth about tasting poop. “It’s hard to find people you get along with so well,” Anna said. “We’re the same person.”
I know what she means. There’s a commonality between them, but they are also individually quite unique. So is the level of trust they have for one another. “We’ve got each other’s backs, no matter how mean we are to each other.”
It was 2015. “I was a funny bartender. On Sunday nights, there was no music or anything. I’d just riff the whole time.” At the time, a local comic would come by the bar to write jokes. “He told me I should do comedy.”
Ran bombed hard the first time and doubted he’d do it again. Local comedians John Hays and Karl Spaeth had other ideas. They encouraged him to give it another try.
In 2017, Ran Barnaclo won the “Funniest Person in Cincinnati” contest in the amateur division. That win earned him a spot at Go Bananas hosting for legendary road-comic, Robert Hawkins.
In 2019, Hawkins brought Ran on the road to open for him in Oklahoma. He also featured for Chad Daniels, one of the most-streamed comedians of all time, in Philadelphia. He started an open mic called “La Jokesa Nostra” at The Corinthian in Cincinnati that now regularly has big audiences.
He headlined at Wiley’s Comedy Club in Dayton (and will do so again this April.) “We’re starting to get recognized from the club,” Ran said about himself and fellow Cincinnati-based comics like Lee Kimbrell and Andrew Rudick. “People know us from Go Bananas and are starting to come out to see us.”
Barnaclo is somewhat enigmatic. During the interview, he sat quietly, relaxed, almost appearing disinterested. But like a stealth bomber, he would come alive with a statement or a joke and a burst of energy that reminds why he’s so good on stage.
Talent like this can’t be “on” all the time. But instead of turning it off, he remains on standby, just waiting for the right opening. A master of crowd-work, he lives for those moments when someone in the audience gives him an opening. He’s ruthless but never unkind. He’s infinitely entertaining.
He lives simply. We talked about apartments. “I just need a couple of rooms and a kitchen.” He’s not looking to get rich, necessarily. “I just want to be able to do whatever I want to do in comedy. I want to do comedy at a high level until I’m an old man.”
“He said I should go up,” Anna said.
Ran interrupted. “I made you go up. I put your name on the list and Josh called your name, and you went up and crushed.”
Anna doesn’t know if she crushed or not. I have a feeling she never knows how well she did. Especially when she’s great.
They met with Ran was dating Anna’s best friend. “I kept Anna in the divorce.”
As a child, she remembers recording herself laughing at the sketches on Saturday Night Live. Comedians like Chris Farley and Adam Sandler left an indelible mark on her. She credits her Mom, too, with influencing her comic sensibilities. Her siblings, too. She tried improv while working on her film degree at Xavier University. (She’s won three national awards for her film work and still helps mentor young filmmakers at Xavier today.)
But it wasn’t until that open mic in 2016 when things clicked. “Nothing ever felt so right,” she said.
One night at “La Jokesa Nostra,” a comedian started a bit and unfunnily started to bully Anna, who was sitting in the front row waiting for her turn to go on stage. He intimated that she had sex with dogs or something equally ridiculous.
It wasn’t funny and his routine sucked the energy out of the room. However, when Anna took the stage moments later, she addressed it with awkward hilarity. She handled that impromptu moment with class and showed that she can riff with the best of them. Yet, she prefers to prepare her material ahead of time.
As a writer, she finds the rhythms and beats in a joke on the page before working them out on stage. Her joke vault includes a story about the first time she got her period while on the job. On stage, she might talk about dating apps or her family. Her sets are relatable but with a perspective that is distinctly her own.
Unlike Ran, Anna isn’t sure what she wants to do with her comedy career. At one time she considered law school. That was a long time ago. She’s currently working on a nursing degree, thinking a career in the medical field will allow her the flexibility to pursue her dreams while still earning a paycheck. She loves to travel, having been to Scotland and Korea in the last year. And she just started producing a monthly open mic of her own at Northside Distillery in downtown Cincinnati.
She’s got a lot going on, for sure.
Ran’s podcast, Rumble Lips, has suffered from multiple personality disorder over the years. When I first heard it, it was a solo rant with Ran sometimes taking a walk and commenting on the things and people he observed. Other times, he was in his bedroom telling stories about obnoxious old men he’d encountered in McDonald’s. Once in a while, he’d invite another comic to be his guest, and on one particularly memorable episode, he shared the mic with his Mom.
But for the last few months, Rumble Lips has been produced by Anna. “She gets to use her film degree,” Ran says, talking about the video version of the show that is posted to YouTube.
“We always wanted to work together,” Anna explains. Ran is a master riffer; give him a microphone and he can talk about virtually anything — and make it entertaining. And Anna is a perfect foil for him. She takes his barbs, laughing the whole time. She’s learned to go with the bit; it’s funnier that way. “I want to be his Andy Richter,” she says with admiration.
Like Richter on the Conan O’Brien show, she’s also likely to give it right back to him, which either causes him to up his quick-witted game or devolves into hilarious sibling-like bickering. Some of their conversations are funnier than others. All of their conversations are mesmerizing.
Scheduling the recording sessions can be a bit of a challenge. Finding the motivation to do the show, especially for Barnaclo, can be hard at times. But once Anna hits record, they are ready to rock and roll.
The podcasting world and comedy community is better off as a result.