We May All Be Barb, But There’s Only One Shannon Purser
By Ashley Prince
It’s a Friday in Atlanta, Georgia at 1:50 p.m., and my friend and I are nervous about the interview and photo shoot we will soon conduct with Shannon Purser, simply known by most as Barb: everyone’s favorite wet blanket; the responsible friend who drives her other friends around while they smoke cigarettes in someone’s mom’s backseat. Like the hashtag says, we are all Barb.
Through my research ahead of interviewing America’s unexpected sweetheart from last summer’s hit Netflix series, Stranger Things, (besides the three times I had already watched the show), I learned that Purser earned the second most-mentioned tweets with the hashtag #StrangerThings, only falling behind the Eggo-loving Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown. She earned even more tweets than Steve, and he’s a dreamboat. What is it about Barb that draws people into loving her more than the writers think we should?
It’s now 2:04 p.m.: I’m afraid she’s not going to show up. What if she doesn’t show up? My editor is going to freak. Suddenly, a tall redhead in dark jeans and a green-and-black, gingham-collared shirt appears. Her purse is cool. This is Barb? She looks nothing like the square, familiar nerd we all know and love.
We introduce ourselves, and she apologizes for being late because of parking. “OH MY GOD, PARKING WAS A NIGHTMARE,” I screech, in that familiar tone that only Atlanta people take on when conversing about the traffic.
You know those people who make you feel, when you’re around them, that everything is going to be okay? That’s Shannon. My nerves about saying and doing the right things are immediately allayed once I shake her hand and look into her kind eyes and freckled face.
Before we begin, I ask if people often recognize her in public. After all, we’re shooting outside, so I don’t want her to be bothered by any of the folks lingering around Little Five (the neighborhood where we’re shooting). Yet I am also genuinely curious, because the person I’m looking at right now is not the same one who quizzed Nancy about science and third-wheeled it at Steve’s house before tragically being taken from us following a failed attempt at shotgunning a beer.
“At first, no,” she says, “but after it got to be a thing, I get recognized every once in a while.”
We head outside and, luckily, no one bothers us. It’s a beautiful, cloudless day, one of many during a really dry season, and we hike along the shaded half of the sidewalk, just Shannon, my friend who’s helping with the shoot, my camera, and I.
While we’re crossing the street, we talk social justice. I quickly learn that Shannon is incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to issues both domestic and international. We also discuss statistics from Netflix documentaries, and she tells me how awesome, albeit secretive, a company they are to work for and with. (Relax. She still doesn’t know much about Stranger Things Season 2 as of October 2016.)
Near the end of our time together, I remark on how down-to-earth and relaxed she seems despite achieving so much success with one project in such a short amount of time. “Since Stranger Things, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some pretty big-name actors. Of course when I was younger, I would fangirl over them. But then you talk to them.... you get to know them, and you realize they’re just people, too.” As far as staying grounded, Shannon advises, “Keep yourself in check. Surround yourself with good people.” For their part, her friends find it weird that other celebrities’ confidantes will sell pictures of them to a tabloid or website, which says a lot about her trustworthy squad.
On the way back to our home base, I ask Shannon what women have influenced her professional and artistic journey thus far. “Melissa McCarthy,” she says without hesitation. Lucky for us, Shannon and McCarthy are set to release Life of the Party in 2018, a new comedy starring McCarthy and co-written with her husband, Ben Falcone, as well as directed by him. We break protocol and fangirl over last summer’s all-female Ghostbusters reboot and the impact it had on young women. Shannon saw the film while working at a movie theater in North Atlanta, where she only stopped working a couple of months following the release of Stranger Things.
Since leaving her day job behind, Barb has become a household name. Even my mom knows who Barb is. People have been gushing about Barb since they first met her onscreen, and that’s okay. There is a little Barb in all of us. She’s the girl who’s always trying to be a little cooler. Maybe if she wears one more ruffle or doesn’t tattle on Nancy for underage drinking, she’ll make it to the upper echelons of her high school’s social stratosphere without having to sacrifice too much of her own dignity. Hers is an archetype that transcends genre and time, and that’s why people gravitate to her character. But it’s also why Shannon, the real girl behind so many now-beloved memes, should captivate the world. She’s who I want my future daughters to watch onscreen. She’s intelligent, kind, thoughtful, and above all, true to herself. I can’t wait to see where she goes next—if she ever escapes the Upside Down. ★
Styling: Megan Poole using pieces from Clothing Warehouse. Hair and Makeup: Randi Garza.