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Melissa Peterman Brings ‘Class’ to Reba Tour

Melissa Peterman may be known best to Reba McEntire fans as ‘Barbara Jean,’ the husband-stealing nemesis to the singer’s character on ‘Reba,’ but in real life the two are thick as thieves. Earlier this year, Reba guest-starred on Melissa’s new CMT sitcom, ‘Working Class,‘ and Melissa has been traveling with the country icon on her co-headlining tour with George Strait.

“The touring started when the ‘Reba’ TV show was over,” Melissa tells The Boot. “I got a call from Narvel, Reba’s husband, [who said] ‘We have an idea: would you think about doing stand-up to open up for Reba at her concerts?’ And I was like, ‘Yep. Sounds great!’ Then, it was one of those things were I hung up and thought, ‘What did I just say yes to? Can I do that?’”

The actress soon got over her self-doubt. “I’d been writing forever and doing improv, and hosting things were you use a lot of your own material,” she explains. “I thought, ‘Yes. I can do this.’ It was a great opportunity that forced me to do something I’d talked about doing way too much. It was a really natural fit, because the people who were a fan of Reba seeing her concert, you probably watched the TV show. I had a built in audience. It wasn’t like they were hostile.”

Despite Melissa’s fears, the one tour lead to another and another. “It terrified me,” she admits. “Stand-up is the scariest thing — whether it’s TV, movies, improv — stand-up is the worst. I started with just her and it worked. I was opening for her, then Reba and Kelly Clarkson had their Two Voices tour and they asked me if I’d go along on that, which was amazing and fun. Then George, Lee Ann Womack and Reba came along and they were like, ‘We can’t have you do a half-hour show and open, but we can still do the fun ‘Survivor‘ bit, when she’s singing the ‘Reba’ show’s theme song. And it works.”

Even though ‘Reba’ has been off the air for almost four years, ‘Barbara Jean’ has not been forgotten. “We’ve mixed it up and have a blast,” Melissa says. “It’s a testament to the fans of Reba and the TV show. It is in syndication so people are still watching it and discovering it, so the bit still works.”

Andrew Goodman, Getty Images

The bit includes Melissa barging on stage and requesting ‘Survivor,’ singing along to it and generally annoying the superstar before performing it. It’s a case of life imitating art … or is it art imitating life? “A lot of it is that they love the chemistry of Reba and ‘Barbara Jean,’ but that’s totally our chemistry in real-life when we’re playing and teasing one another,” Melissa explains. “You don’t get that very often in your life. If people would have told me 15 years ago that my perfect comic partner was going to be Reba, I would have said, ‘What?!’ I can look at her and go ‘I know that you’re with me,’ and she looks back and says, ‘Gotcha!’”

Being on tour with Reba has also allowed Melissa to ever-so-gently plug her new show, ‘Working Class.’ “I’ve been able to get it in there,” Melissa admits. “I was with Reba when the show premiered, so I ran out to her on stage and said, ‘I just want to make sure you’ve got your DVR set, because tonight’s the premiere of ‘Working Class.’ I try to fit it in whenever I can.”

With fans loving ‘Barbara Jean’ as much as they do, has it been difficult for Melissa to bring a new persona, ‘Carli Mitchell’ from ‘Working Class’ to their attention? “It’s been really fun, actually,” she says. “I was nervous about it, though, because people love ‘Barbara Jean.’ I love that character. It was a defining moment in my career. I hope when I’m 80 someone still goes, ‘Hi, Barbara Jean!’ I was really nervous about doing another show.”

That calm didn’t come until the tour, though. “I was relieved being out on the road and giving ‘Working Class’ shout-outs, and people were really responsive,” Melissa explains. “When I’d say, ‘I know it’s Friday night and you’re all here at the Reba and George Strait concert, but I hope that when you get home you watch the new episode of ‘Working Class,’ people would just scream ‘Yay!’ and ‘CMT!’ That was a relief. You get nervous when you’re identified with something that is really great and positive for so long. You don’t want to not be that person but there are going to be other roles in your career.”

The ‘Working Class’ season finale is tonight (April 1) with two half-hour episodes beginning at 8:00 PM ET/PT.

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