Celeste Barber explores the extremities of wellness in ‘Wellmania’

A woman in a blue dress and red heels stands on a table, looking down at three women.
Celeste Barber as Liv Healy in Netflix’s “Wellmania.”
(Lisa Tomasetti / Netflix)

If you’re one of the 9.5 million people who follow Celeste Barber on Instagram, you already know the Australian comedian will do just about anything for a laugh.

There’s no bikini too small and no pose too ludicrous for the 40-year-old, whose self-deprecating spoofs of celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski have, ironically enough, turned her into a major influencer, one who uses her relatable physique to send up the unattainable standards of social media.

Now she’s bringing her exuberant brand of comedy to “Wellmania,” a Netflix series exploring the extreme and often dubious lengths people are willing to go to in the name of wellness.


Loosely adapted from “Wellmania: Extreme Misadventures in the Search for Wellness,” a book by Australian journalist Brigid Delaney, the series stars Barber as Liv Healy, a hard-partying food writer forced to overhaul her decadent lifestyle and trade in cocaine for colonics after a health crisis.

The series, developed as a vehicle for Barber and premiering Wednesday, is a showcase for her extremely physical style of performance: In the pilot episode, Liv crashes through a glass coffee table.

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“It’s my favorite thing to do,” said Barber in a video chat from her home in Sydney, where she lives with her husband Api Robin — a.k.a. “@HotHusband_“— two sons and two stepdaughters.

As a celebration of a messy, imperfect woman, “Wellmania” is in keeping with her other work, including her role in the bracingly realistic postpartum comedy “The Letdown” and, of course, her Instagram persona.

Often billed as a “body-positive” comedian, Barber said activism was never really her goal. “I’m very happy to be caught up in that movement and for people to enjoy my content and have a laugh,” she said. “I’m stoked it resonates with women in that way.”

Also on the horizon is “Fine, Thanks,” a stand-up comedy special for Netflix filmed at the Sydney Opera House. “It’s gonna be Celeste Barber-palooza in the next few months,” she said.


The Times spoke to Barber about her work — on and off Instagram — and why she believes it’s important to “push out the funny.”

What changes did you make in adapting the book for television?

Brigid’s book is a real exploration of the wellness industry. It was like a 15-year process for her. To adapt it for TV, we made it really character-driven. We really built out the idea of this character, Liv Healy, and what is it that’s happened to her. Why has she been propelled into this world, and what is she learning from it? We wanted to make it a real character-driven piece about reconnecting with family. The book is our springboard into the world of this bananas woman.

It’s safe to say Liv’s life is a little different than yours.

She is really unapologetic about her life. She’s turning 40, and we didn’t feel like we needed to explain why she’s on her own or have her trying to figure out why she can’t find love. This isn’t that story. This is a really dynamic, explosive, fun story about this woman who 100% chooses her choices and just runs at them really hard. And I love doing that. That’s a point of departure I have from the character. I’m not as brave as Liv. My sister’s name is Olivia, and my sister will just explode into any room. She will take on anything, and I love that about this character as well. [Liv] will throw anything at a wall and whatever sticks — bang! — she’ll run with it. She’s really proud of treating her body like an amusement park.


What’s your general attitude toward the wellness industry? Are you more of a skeptic?

I’m a very big believer in different strokes for different folks. I think I had a green juice a week ago. My husband is more into it than I am. He’ll be like, “We’re doing apple cider vinegar every morning.” I’m like, “We are absolutely not doing that.” But one thing I’ve noticed, living in the world that we live in now, where wellness is everywhere, is that it is a full-time job. It takes a lot of money. It’s not cheap. I remember looking at a juice cleanse once and I went, “If we did that as is advised, we could buy a car with the amount of money.”

How does Australia compare to the U.S. and California in terms of wellness?

We’re pretty close behind. It’s a Bondi [Beach] thing, a Byron Bay thing. When I order a coffee, [I’ll say] “Can I please have a cappuccino?” They go, “Sure, what milk?” And I go, “Just regular milk.” “We don’t have regular.” So, it’s a thing.

How would you describe Liv’s journey over the course of the series?

I think she learns that you can’t keep running. You have to deal with things that have happened in your past, whether they were out of your hands or not. And it’s your connection with family, with friends, with yourself, that is the most important thing. It’s a pretty excellent, big arc to play. I just think she’s bananas.


Have you tried any of the treatments she receives?

I had a colonic years ago, but not for the show. I had emergency open-heart surgery when I was 25. And then as part of recovery a year or so after, I had to get it done. Horrible, horrible thing. However, I felt like I was walking on clouds after that. I had a lot of s— in me. I’ve also had cupping. And sometimes I put lemon in hot water and call myself a hero. But no, I’m not a crazy detox-y person. I have kids. I don’t have the energy or the time for it.

Barber's character Liv prepares to get a colonic.
(Netflix Inc.)

You had open-heart surgery when you were 25? That is really intense.

It was crazy. I had a hole in my heart, and they were meant to just put a little stent in during the hour-and-a-half surgery. But when they tried, it didn’t work when they tried to pull the stent out; it snapped in my heart. It was full on. But so long ago.

Does having that kind of a health scare inform your perspective on things?


It gives me a perspective on more than just how I look. You know what I mean? But I think I was like that even before the surgery. I’ve always put my strongest suit forward. And that’s my sense of humor and my ability to make fun of myself. I love doing that. I think for women in entertainment, we’re told we’ve got to be hot first. And then people will pay attention to the things that you do outside of it. I did the complete opposite. I was like, how I look is the least exciting thing about me. This is my strong suit. I just kept pushing out the funny.

Tell me about how the #celestechallengeaccepted started on Instagram.

In the early days of Instagram, my sister and I would send photos to each other. Someone walking through a field of daisies holding a baby going, “School dropoff.” And we were like, “Challenge accepted.” We’d send photos back and forth to each other. And then it got to a point when those images were being passed off as every day, and if you’re not taking your kids to school like this, you’re probably not a good mom. So I liked to show the complete opposite.

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When did it all blow up? Was it the Kim Kardashian dirt pile?

That’s the one where it went bananas. I went down the street to a dirt bike track. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I walked out of the house in fishnets, heels and a trenchcoat. My husband was like, “Where are you going?” I walked down to the end of the street and there’s all these teenage boys on their BMX bikes. I walked up and I was like, “Hi, I’m about to do something. It’s gonna be pretty weird for you boys. You’re welcome to stick around and feel awkward, or you can leave.” And they were like, “See ya!” I did that and it took off.

What’s the most elaborate one that you’ve done?


I did one years ago in Bali. It was Lady Gaga doing paddleboard yoga in a pool. My husband surfs, so he had a surfboard, which is a lot smaller than a paddleboard. And I did it for the photo. It was hilarious, but I came off it and the surfboard shot up in the air and came back down and cracked me on my nose.

I wanted to ask you about “The Letdown,” which is just a gem of a show. What do you hear from people who’ve watched it?

People like discovering it again. I really would love to do another season of the show, maybe our kids are school-age now. I’m really trying to pitch to Alison [Bell] and Sarah [Scheller] that we can do another season of that show. I get so many messages from women saying, “I was up at 3 a.m. breastfeeding a screaming child for the ninth night in a row. I haven’t slept. I just was watching the show and I felt like I wasn’t alone.”

Were you always funny or was comedy something you discovered later on?

I always thought I was funny. But it wasn’t until later, when I was going through acting school, it was like, “If I want to be a serious actor, I need to be doing Lady Macbeth.” I always just found comedy very easy. I thought, if it’s not a challenge, maybe it’s not worth doing. Then I was working on my first TV show, “All Saints,” a medical drama here in Australia I was on for five years.

And my beautiful friend Mark Priestley, who has since passed away, we would film stuff at my house at night, just stupid sketches. I remember one day sitting on set, in between really heavy scenes, writing little sketches. And he said something to me, and I responded like, “Ah, no, it doesn’t matter.” Very dismissive. And he just looked at me and went, “Can you stop doing that? You’re the funniest person I know. And it’s getting really boring that you don’t know that. You need to accept that this is a really amazing talent of yours.” And, bang, it changed that day for me.



Where: Netflix

When: Any time, starting Wednesday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17 with advisories for coarse language, nudity and substance abuse)