Monday, March 28, 2011

My Interview with 'Kimmie Gibbler' from "Full House" TV family sitcom

Some people might remember the neon tights. Some might cringe at the thought of stinky feet. Others will recall the image of D.J. Tanner’s cheerful best friend. Whatever the image, the name ‘Kimmy Gibbler’ will inspire memories of the hit family sitcom, Full House, which chronicled the daily life happenings of a widowed father raising his three young daughters. As many times as she appeared in that full house (from 1987 to 1995), Kimmy might as well have been the fourth daughter. In real life, however, she was known as Andrea Barber. And now, fifteen years later, far away from the spotlight and cameras, Andrea has a daughter (and son) of her own. I was able to catch up with her about life as a mom.

It’s a cloudy Friday morning, and Andrea Barber is sitting on my couch. Wearing sweatpants and a pony-tail, she’s grateful for the Starbucks latte I hand her. It’s only 9 am, but as busy moms with children in elementary school, our day started hours earlier. Her younger daughter, a bright and precocious 3-year-old Felicity, is happily sitting in the adjacent room, watching Toy Story.

Now 34 years old, Andrea knew from the time she was young that she wanted to be a mom. “I wanted to re-experience childhood through my kids’ eyes. It was almost like I was reliving my childhood--which was kind of abnormal because I was working. But this time, I can experience a normal childhood through them.”

Living with her husband, Jeremy Rytky, in Southern California, she is currently a stay-at-home mom of two children: a son Tate (born April 2004) and a daughter Felicity (born April 2007). You can definitely see Andrea in both of them.

*Photo credit: Noa Green Photography.

Ask her to describe her typical day, and she’ll tell you that she thought she’d have more free time when her kids started school but then quickly discovered the contrary. “Now that my son is in 1st grade and my daughter attends preschool part-time, I think it’s more work than when they were both home with me full-time. Like most moms, I’m driving everywhere. I might as well put a little Taxi sign on the top of my car. I make lunches, I drop off snacks, I volunteer in the classroom, and oh, the whole homework thing…”

Her perfect day would be to take her time waking up and relaxing with her family in the morning. They’d eat a nice breakfast, go to a discovery type of place, eat lunch at the park, and then just relax. “I’m a very low-key type of person,” she says. “I try not to over-schedule myself.”

I ask her if she ever has moments when she’s tempted to sample the professional world again. “I definitely have those moments, but I would never go back to acting--that was more of a childhood hobby for me; it was like my after-school sport. It was fun, and I had a great experience with it, but it’s not something I’d like to sample again as an adult. But as a stay-at-home mom, I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to get dressed up in heals more than once every few months and chat with adults all day. I have to say, though, it was hard to make that decision to leave the professional world. But, there’ll be time for that again. My kids are still really young, and I have the rest of my life for that. Right now, I love being home with my children; I wouldn’t change a thing for the world. They’ll only be little for such a short time, and I want to soak it up. I mean, there are times when I want to tear my hair out, but I still love it.”

Andrea laughs when I tell her that Wikipedia mentions there is a rumor that she died of anorexia after the Full House finale. “I'm still alive and I've never been anorexic. I was just a gangly teenager who eventually grew into her skin. I’ll read my Twitter comments and I’ll reply to them, and then some will respond back with ‘Oh good! Kimmie Gibbler is alive!’ Actually, there was an event on where somebody in Chicago threw some type of ‘Kimmy Gibbler Memorial’ beer event. A person replied on Yelp that since I was alive it would really have to be a ‘Kimmy Gibbler No Longer A Memorial’ event. Somebody tweeted me about it, and so I started commenting on Yelp. When they confirmed I was alive, they asked me to do a call-in to the event. So, I did. It was the coolest thing, with them first wanting to memorialize my death and then changing it to celebrate the fact I was alive. And get this: They want to make it an annual event. I’ll have to fly in next time.”

Currently, Wikipedia notes that people might have thought Andrea died because she quit acting. Andrea explains that although she did retire from acting, she is, obviously, very much alive. Full House ended during her first year of college. It seemed to her the most logical thing to retire from acting, live on campus, and experience college full time. When she graduated in English from Whittier College, Andrea pursued her career in international education.

Although she did attend a couple of acting auditions after graduation, she realized her heart just wasn’t in it. “Acting was a really cool childhood hobby, and I got to experience amazing things. But just like kids play soccer growing up, many don’t turn into professional soccer players. I wanted a different career as an adult. I mean, I’d never say ‘never.’ If there was a Full House reunion, I’d definitely go to it. But, acting isn’t my passion anymore.”

*Photo credit: Noa Green Photography

What's her biggest passion now? “Besides my kids and trying to get eight hours of sleep, I love traveling. Between college graduation and having my first baby, I was traveling everywhere. I studied abroad in Denmark and got my Master’s degree in England, and I found that international education truly made me come alive. Something sparked inside of me. I helped students have that same ‘coming of age’ experience outside of the U.S. borders and learn about different cultures. I left that profession to stay home with my kids, but if and when I go back to work, that’s the avenue I’d pursue. Right now, my life is busy enough.”

If producers created one TV episode of her life right now, what would she suggest they title it? She thinks for a moment. “I’d want to do a play on words. Instead of Full House, it would be Full Heart. I know that sounds cheesy, but that’s what I’d want.” And the actress Andrea would want to play her character on the show? “I’d love for it to be Keri Russell. I mean, hello, my daughter’s name is Felicity. Keri and I don’t look alike, but I just love her. She’s such a great actress and a mother, I think.”


The voice belongs to Felicity, confirming that her mom is still nearby. Seconds later, a little ‘mini-Andrea’ has climbed up next to her mom. Andrea is delighted. “Hey Sugar.” A couple of minutes later, thrilled that her mom has helped her figure out the game on her Leapster, Felicity happily returns to the family room.

*Felicity. Photo credit: Noa Green Photography.

I have to ask. “Were you tempted even just a little bit to name your daughter ‘Kimmy’?” “Nooooooo. Oh no!! Never in a million years. I never even wanted a license plate frame that had anything to do with Kimmy Gibbler. She was a great character and had tons of laughs and witty lines, but I’m ready to bury that.” She laughs. “Can you believe that I still get questions like, ‘Do your feet really stink?’ And, I’m like, 1) the show went off the air 15 years ago and 2) no, my feet don’t stink. I was once in a parade riding in a convertible, and people yelled out, ‘Kimmy, don’t take your shoes off!’ So, a big fat NO to that question. Kimmy Gibbler and the show have definitely ended.” She laughs again.

But, the re-runs still live on. In fact, since multiple channels are airing the old Full House episodes, a new generation is becoming familiar with the Tanner family…and with Kimmy / Andrea. Her children, however, have not yet seen the show. “They’re still a little young for it,” she explains. “They’re really into cartoons at the moment, especially Lego ones, like The Adventures of Clutch Powers.”

Andrea and I then spend the next couple of minutes reminiscing about the shows we loved as a kid: Sesame Street, Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood, and Romper Room. “Even now as an adult, I enjoy watching cartoons with my kids,” she adds. “I love shows like Dora and Blues Clues.”

She also loves spending time with her husband. They first met in Southern California about 11 years ago when he was stationed as a Marine at Camp Pendleton. It was a Friday night when Andrea and two girl friends were hanging out in the Irvine Spectrum and randomly (or serendipitously!) bumped into Jeremy and his two guy friends. There was an instant connection, and each paired off, with Andrea and Jeremy together. Out of the three couples who started dating after that night, two of them eventually got married and had kids. “The other couple who married ended up having triplets!” Andrea notes. “Apparently, that was a very successful Friday date night.”

It was Jeremy’s clean-cut haircut that initially caught Andrea’s attention. “It was probably a 0 with the shaver. He just had that military look. We went country line dancing soon after that, and after all these years…here we are.”

You should see Andrea’s facial expression when I ask her which of the three men on the Full House show would most closely resemble her husband. “Ew. None of the above. I can’t even go there; I can’t even think of those men in that way.” She laughs. “Danny is too clean. Joey is too much of a comedian, joking around with kid voices. Jessie is too motorcycle cool. But, my husband would have been a great guest star on the show.”

Enter Andrea’s daughter again, and I decide to include her in the interview. She’s a bit shy at first, but always smiling. It’s the Kimmy smile. And, it’s adorable. Apparently my offer of letting her pick something from the ‘fun box’ works because Felicity starts to open up. “Sometimes I play restaurant with my brother and then sometimes I play play-doh with Mommy and cover her hand with it.” What does she love most about her mom? It’s a no-brainer. “Sometimes she gives me candy after dinner.” It doesn’t surprise me when Felicity picks out the Fun Dip candy from my jar.

“What surprises you most about raising kids?” I ask Andrea. “By the time you get the hang of one challenge, it’s over and you’re already onto the next one. It’s always ever-changing. All the things I mastered (changing diapers, helping them walk, etc.) are no longer relevant. There’s always something new to learn. The challenge as a parent is to maintain patience through it all.”

If ever she needs parenting advice and has to choose between a parenting magazine, a licensed expert, or Google, Andrea admits that she often wants parenting advice and has become a ‘Google-whore’.

But, what if she was able to give parenting advice to Danny Tanner (the father character on Full House)? “Okay, I have to be honest that I have some issues with how he parented his youngest daughter, Michelle,” Andrea confesses. “I mean, I know she was the star of the show, but the scripts made sure that her character was treated so differently than the other two daughters. She was clearly the favorite and was totally babied. For example, in one of the episodes, the older two girls wanted to go to a teenage concert but when Danny found out that little Michelle wanted to go, he was like, ‘Okay, need to give your ticket to Michelle.’ Who lets their first grader go to a concert??!? As a parent of two kids, I’ve learned that you shouldn’t favor one kid over the other.”

And, Andrea doesn’t play favorites. She makes sure to spend one-on-one time with her son and daughter. “Felicity and I love to read the Fancy Nancy books together. My son Tate loves the Magic Tree House books, and we have our special moments together.

But both of them love going to LEGOLAND, so we go as a family. In fact, we went there for the Halloween Costume event, and Tate’s costume (the army soldier from Toy Story) won first place! The prize was four annual passes to LEGOLAND! That was great news.”

With regards to news, I ask her if she was featured next month on the front page of a magazine, what she’d want the headline to say. She smiles and answers:

Kimmy Gibbler / Andrea Barber... I’m Still Alive.

# # #

Meet Andrea, and you’ll immediately see that she still has that sweet and bubbly personality that her Kimmy character had on the show back in the day. Talk to her for a few minutes, and you’ll discover that Andrea is humble, appreciative, witty, and so very passionate about making sure to enjoy even the little moments of motherhood.

And as for those Kimmy Gibbler tights… Well, her twitter bio sums it up best: “The neon tights are officially retired, people.”

*Photo Credit: Noa Green Photography

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