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‘AGT’ finalist Vicki Barbolak’s career going just swimmingly

Vicki Barbolak will never forget the phrase that led to the most important performance of her life:

“Lose the sarong!”

Not exactly what the 60-year-old club comic, who launched her stand-up career when she was nearly 40, had expected to hear while prepping for a national-TV appearance. But Barbolak did shed the sarong and produced a piece of visual comedy that nearly won her the championship of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

Barbolak, headlining from Monday through Oct. 28 at Laugh Factory at Tropicana, ascended from a trailer park in Oceanside, Calif., to the show’s top 10 — Vegas singer Daniel Emmet was among the other finalists. Magician Shin Lim wound up winning the title.

Seeking to bust out and get noticed in that field, Barbolak devised an act especially for “AGT.” She planned to approach the mic in a black polka-dot, pink-sleeved robe and say, “I thought the finals were a swimsuit competition!” and then open up to reveal her jiggling bod in a flowery one-piece.

“Well, the people at ‘AGT’ didn’t like me going all the way with that, probably because I would have blinded the entire TV audience, and for three days they were telling me, ‘You need to wear something more!’ So they gave me this sarong,” Barbolak says. “I had planned to wear that over the swimsuit, but I had it twisted real tight like a rope so it looked like a swimsuit anyway.”

But about three minutes before Barbolak was to take the mic for her final, live performance, a stagehand rushed up and said, “OK! Lose the sarong! Lose the sarong!”

“I thought, ‘Great! I’m already there!’” Barbolak says, laughing. She strutted for about 30 seconds, drawing a standing ovation from the lone comic on the judging panel, Howie Mandel.

“I can’t help it!” Barbolak said as she slipped back into the robe. “I love to get undressed.”

Barbolak broke comparatively late in her career, after a long stretch in her “Trailer Park Mom” persona. Comedy Store founder Mitzi Shore advised Barbolak to draw from her unique lifestyle, and also put her in lineups where she had to get funny — quick — or give it up.”

“Mitzi wanted an amplified version of myself onstage,” Barbolak says. “Then what she would do is put me like third or fourth in the lineup with behind Chris Rock or George Wallace. I was in these horrible positions, following those guys, but I did it, over and over again until I gained some confidence.”

Barbolak says she can quantify her success on “AGT” by the the crush of viewers on here social-media video clips since she left the show. “It used to be, “Wow, 39 people like my video!’ Then it was, ‘Hey, 220 people like my video!’ Now, it’s one or two million.”

Barbolak is in talks to develop an all-female comedy series in Las Vegas, possibly downtown.

“My dream has always been to have an all-female comedy room in Vegas,” she says. “There are so many funny women. Men can be in the audience, too, but this is a place for women to perform stand-up.”

Sounds like a blast, and we already know the dress code.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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