By Ryan Meehan
LA Weekly just named Stelling #2 on a list of “12 L.A. Comedy Acts to Watch in 2013.” Patton Oswalt also just listed Beth as one of his favorite up-and-coming comics during his AMA on Reddit. She was a New Face of Comedy at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal and will be returning to the fest this year. A few months after arriving in LA, Beth made her standup television debut on TBS’s Conan.
Conan announced the release of her debut comedy album, Sweet Beth, on Rooftop Comedy’s record label. Her second appearance was on TV Guide Network’s Stand-up In Stilettos with Kate Flannery. Beth is also deemed one of the “Top 18 Women You Should Be Following On Twitter” by Huffington Post. Stelling started telling jokes seriously in Chicago where she was a cast member of Chicago Underground Comedy. She performed stand-up at the top comedy venues, studied improv at The Annoyance Theater and tri-hosted a show called “Entertaining Julia” that remains beloved today with her friends Tiffany and Danielle Puterbaugh. In 2010 The Chicago Reader named her the “Best Stand-up Comedian in Chicago.”
Beth continues to work bars, theaters, bookstores, sex shops, clubs, festivals and colleges across the country. She’s had the honor and delight of working with Rob Delaney, Sarah Silverman, Kristen Schaal, Andy Richter, Jimmy Pardo, Bill Burr, Nick Kroll, Kyle Kinane, Jim Norton, Dana Gould and Greg Proops among others. Beth runs a weekly L.A. show called The Business with 3 dude comics at The Lyric Hyperion Theater in Silverlake, every Thursday at 8p. Outside of stand-up comedy, Stelling made her network television debut on ABC’s “Detroit 1-8-7″ in Fall of 2010 (she played a murderer’s ex-roommate). She acts in short films, has told stories with The Moth many times and dabbles in voiceover. Stelling obtained a theater degree from Miami University, interned with The School at Steppenwolf and studied with Lesly Kahn in Los Angeles. Stelling’s creation and portrayal of Vern Schultz in “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche” earned her a nomination for a 2011 Chicago Beat Award for Best Actress in a Non-Equity play. “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche” was produced Off Broadway by the SoHo Playhouse and is being published by Samuel French in 2013. and she’s our guest today in 5 Questions.
RM: Where did the term “Sweet Beth” originate?
BS: I started doing stand-up comedy in Chicago and another comic there named Joe Kilgallon began calling me “Sweet Beth” because he thought I was. One night onstage I talked about it and the joke evolved from: “People call me Sweet Beth….one person calls me that.” I was thinking about Joe, of course, but at some point I added the tag, “It was me. I just did it.” And that worked better. So the joke stayed. I also really love candy and dessert, so it has that added meaning. While I’ve always been very affable offstage, when I first started comedy (and somewhat on my debut album), I think there’s an antithesis with my brand of comedy and being called Sweet Beth. It gets a laugh because everything I’ve said leading up to that joke is fairly acerbic.
RM: What was it like working around the Chicago comedy scene when you were young? What made you really want to head West?
BS: I am still young, right?! RIGHT?! I grew up in Ohio and went to school in Ohio but moved to Chicago days after graduating to pursue theater. I became disillusioned with group theater and wanted to have more control over my work. Stand-up is the ultimate answer to that desire. There was such room for growth in Chicago. I look back and I’m thankful for all of the stage time and chances I was given while I was developing as a young comic. It’s hard to watch those early videos because for one, I am much heavier. And second, I was very dark, dry, subtle and slow. There was definitely some anger I was working through with some of my material. I started at Edge Comedy Club and there I really started to gain confidence in what I was doing and traction. Veteran comics who came back to work that entry-level club would see me there and encourage me to continue. I was surprised with how supportive the local comics were- Jared Logan, Carey Callahan, Jena Friedman specifically. I look back and don’t like some of my material or delivery but they saw potential in me, I guess. Many of these experienced comics produced their own shows and that was how I was able to transition to the B and then A rooms. I rose in rank fairly quickly because I am a woman, therefore I am different. I stand out in a lineup. Women are outnumbered in the Chicago scene and every other scene in this country. I was also good. I am confident enough to say that. I have certainly gotten better and I also have a long way to go. Oh, I also promised myself when I started comedy in Chicago that I would not hook up with other comics and I would not graphically speak about my sex life into a microphone. I think this helped the scene take me seriously and now that I have established myself, there is no subject matter off limits. I wanted to head west after I performed as a New Face in Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival. The festival gives you a lot of exposure as a young comic and it provided the opportunity to move to LA with some heat around me. I didn’t have trouble booking shows in LA because people had an idea of who I was instead of just moving here without any credits. I wanted to be in LA because all of my favorite comics live and work here and I aspire to have my own show which would be produced in LA.
RM: What was the overall experience of Just For Laughs Montreal like for you? Do you see yourself as a “Festival” type of comedian?
BS: Just for Laughs Montreal was a week-long party when I was there as a New Face of Comedy 2 years ago. I showcased in great theaters like L’Astral, met really talented comics, watched amazing comedy, drank and was merry. This year’s festival will be more focused for me. I am doing a taping and that, unlike the live shows I did before, are more permanent and subject to YouTube comments eventually :)
I’ve done SXSW, Gilda’s Laugh Fest, JFL Chicago and I’ll be at High Plains Comedy Festival in August. I am not really a “festival” type comedian, because I don’t know what that means, but any time I can travel to a new city and have people come out who want to see comedy, I’m happy with that opportunity.
RM: Where do you usually write your material? Do you set aside a certain time of the day to do that, or it is more spur of the moment for you?
BS: In my mind, onstage and Twitter. In that order. I don’t sit down and write at a computer or pen to paper. Lately I have been trying to listen to all these voice memos of sets I’ve recorded and never listened to in order to catch some tags I improvised onstage that I can’t remember. It’s a slow process :)
RM: What would you really like to do in the entertainment industry that you haven’t had the opportunity to do so far?
BS: Be a series regular on a television show like Parks and Rec. I think it’s the best. I would also like to write for late night television.
RM: What’s up next for Beth Stelling in the twelve months to come? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
BS: Just for Laughs Montreal July 24-26! Opening for Patton Oswalt July 3rd in LA at the FAKE Gallery! Bringing my old Chicago show to LA’s Meltdown Comics w/ my friends The Puterbaugh Sisters July 5th! High Plains Comedy Festival in Denver Aug 23-24! Co-headlining Zanies Chicago w/ Carmen Lynch October 23-27! Hopefully you’ll see me on your television at some point!
Official Website: www.SweetBeth.com
Beth on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BethStelling
Beth on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BethStelling