An Interview With Comedian Beth Stelling
Chicago based comic Beth Stelling will be at Hilarities July 3 – 5.
LA Weekly named Stelling #2 on a list of “12 L.A. Comedy Acts to Watch in 2013.” She was a New Face of Comedy at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal and a few months after arriving in LA, Stelling made her stand-up television debut on Conan.
Beth was deemed one of the Top 18 Women You Should Be Following On Twitter” by Huffington Post. Nerdist.com has been a big supporter of Beth, including her in their “Four Funny Female Comedians You Need to Know” alongside Shelby Fero, Tig Notaro and Ali Wong.
Ramon Rivas: Beth. Stelling! I’m so excited you are coming back to Cleveland, yet savagely depressed I will not be there to show you around. Hopefully this interview helps the people of Cleveland learn how cool you are, how tight your haunches are and go hang out with you in my stead.
Beth Stelling: I know. I’m so bummed you won’t be there. We didn’t plan this well… BUT I do think I’m just the person to help Cleveland celebrate FREEDOM (my shows at Hilarities are taking place over July 4th weekend).
Ramon: You were last in Cleveland in 2012 for the Accidental Comedy Fest. You actually recorded your debut album at Reddstone! How has life been since then?
Beth: Life is good! I can’t believe it’s been nearly two years! I love Ohio (and grew up there), so I’m happy Reddstone is where we decided to secretly record an album with your zoom. 2014 has been one of my favorite years in comedy. I’m coming up on seven years of doing this, so I feel more myself than ever onstage and I’m thankful for the opportunities that have come my way out here in Los Angeles.
Ramon: For the layperson or new comic, what do you mean by more yourself onstage? Aren’t you always yourself?
Beth: There is a story I heard and I feel bad because I can’t remember who told it. I think it was an anecdote from Hasan Minhaj’s movie “Stand-up Planet.” It may have been Bill Cosby talking about inviting people to his first shows at comedy clubs, and then afterwards being really proud. Then he asked the friends he brought what they thought of his set and they’d respond, “You were funnier in the car on the way over.” That’s what I mean by “feel more myself than ever onstage.”
A lot of people get into stand-up because they’re told they’re funny by pals but it ironically takes years of practice (usually) to be able to be the person you are on the way to the show behind the mic. Mixing personality and innate humor with craft.
Ramon: You came into your comedic voice in CHI and then made the move to LA. What did developing in CHI feel like? Was the move to LA daunting? Did you make preliminary trips out there to get a lay of the land? Can you give a brief comparison between the two scenes and what made you choose LA over NY?
Beth: I have to remind myself that the move to LA was scary. A lot of comics ask me about it and my response is so nonchalant, “Of course you should move here; it’s great!” I’ve been in Los Angeles almost three years and have grown to love it even more than I did on my preliminary visits. I am very happy and comfortable here. But it’s a big deal to leave your home and drive 2,000 miles west in search of comedy GOLD! It’s usually my mom that will remind me how brave I am.
That’s actually why I say that at the beginning of my Conan set from two summers ago– I don’t think it was a big deal to move out here. It’s just what I was ready/had to do. But it’s the moms of the world that remind us that it’s a pretty cool thing to pursue comedy in a gigantic city like LA. You can get good at stand-up in any city you start in, and no matter what “bigger” market you move to, you will have the moment (many moments) of proving yourself to those in that scene and the “industry” if it exists there. So as long as you have gained the confidence and skill, “A good rooster can crow anywhere.” …at least that’s what my fortune cookie told me in 2009 and I’ve kept it taped to my computer since.
NYC has winter and the RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH! LA has the sun, the beach and kale (which goes straight to your thighs). I chose the place I would be happiest with or without comedy. But yes, yes all you NY comics and people— I love your city. I love visiting your city. I’ll move to NY if I strike it rich and don’t have to have 17 jobs to pay rent and eat.
Ramon: What LA comics should Clevelanders get into and hope they make a midwest adventure like you?
Beth: Hmmm. Some of these are bi-coastal and some are NYC.
Kate Berlant is one of my favorite comics to watch. Matt Ingebretson, Phoebe Robinson (CLE born & raised), Jacqueline Novak, Jack Robichaud, Ahmed Bharoocha, Ryan O’Flanagan, Jamie Lee.
Ramon: Cleveland is a great city for biking. I hope my bike isn’t too tall for you! You are a big cyclist. Has that been a hard lifestyle to keep up on the west coast?
Beth: It won’t be! I have legs for days! Thanks for letting me borrow your bike. I was always against cruisers (type of bike) because they’re for old people and pussies… but I’ve recently seen the light and my pal Christian Duguay (very funny LA comic) gave me a cruiser that he’d originally gotten for his mom when she was visiting but she didn’t give it much use. I LOVE IT. Comfy seat, laid back (not leaning forward like my road bike, ready to attack), just cruising to brunches. Which is all we do here in LA.
Ramon: You are a native Ohioan, do you think your Midwest rearing was a hindrance or benefit for your development in comedy?
Beth: Thank god I was raised in Ohio. I don’t wanna know what I’d be if everything that happened to me, didn’t. When you don’t grow up with anything and everything at your disposal, you’re much more thankful when things come your way as an adult.
Ramon: Do you find comedians from the different pools (midwest, LA, NY, etc.) tend to come at comedy from different angles? NY comics seem more into the minutiae of misery, midwesterners kind of slice of life and LA comics are kind of operating from a place of enlightened living for lack of a better term, i.e. the Kale. Wtf is Kale? It’s showing up in a lot of juices and starting to upset me.
Beth: Haha kale is just a different type of lettuce or “greens” out there. It’s a “superfood” I think, but many people don’t think it tastes super. I like it in omelets and smoothies… I’ve drank the kale juice and I like it! I see what you’re saying about the different pools having varied themes to their comedy but I guess it’s less where you started and practice comedy and more where you grew up that informs your voice. I could be wrong though.
Ramon: You have been touring a lot for the past few years, what’s your favorite part of it? Worst aspect? Anything you try to do when visiting a city for the 1st time?
Beth: I like being on the road. I think whenever I get to perform in a new city there is a futile worry that the people *here* won’t like me. Just because you cross a state line doesn’t mean the humans on the other side can’t laugh at my ex-step dad.
I like to find the specialty coffee shops when I’m in a new city. I don’t care if this sounds pretentious. I love the bean and respect it’s origins. And candy… I like finding candy.
Ramon: YES, even though I don’t like coffee, here is where I’ve heard you should go for cups in Cleveland: Rising Star Coffee on w. 29th Street and Detroit and my deceased grandmother’s for authentically made cafe bustello MADE WITH A SOCK AND SHIT! When did you develop your love of the bean?
Beth: I will check out Rising Star for sure; I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother.
One of my favorite jobs in Chicago was managing this cafe called Dollop that I also lived above. That is where I started liking coffee. During my first year in LA I worked for Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea and that’s where I got all snooty about it. I’m kidding, it was cool to see how much thought and care went into their business, especially how well they treat the farmers who work really hard to make enough beans for us angry Americans to get all jacked up on.
Ramon: Also, duh, CANDY & SWEETS! There’s a reason you’re named SweetBeth.com! What’s your hierarchy of sweets.
Beth: 1. Ice cream and frozen yogurt with toppings
2. baked goods (cake, cookies, chocolate croissants)
3. Swedish fish, Sour Patch varietals, gummies and I’m fine putting Twizzlers in here too
But sometimes these switch around. If I’m eating healthy for a while, fruit and frozen yogurt will satiate me and ice cream will seem too heavy. I wish that happened more.
Ramon: Your kindness to me when I first started out helped inform my behavior as a comedian. A mutual friend gave me your contact info after I’d done comedy twice and I sent you an annoying email message of dumb questions. How does it feel to still be learning a craft but already be influential to a new crop of comics?
Beth: I was happy to meet you through the internet and give you the advice/knowledge I had learned thus far in my comedy life. Our friendship has been symbiotic! Sometimes people look at networking as fake and stupid, but it only is if you are. Everyone shits on nepotism until they benefit from it.
People like to work with humans they know, trust, and enjoy being around. It’s very simple. I have seen comics enjoy a power trip while acting like the best comic in town at that particular time, but the tide will turn and you won’t want it to rip away your clothes so that you’re just beached and naked and no one wants to throw you a towel because they’re enjoying laughing at your tiny, shriveled penis. I love making analogies only I understand. Love, Beth.
Ramon: You are an actress on top of a comic, what roles have you been able to secure and what’s the acting process like compared to prepping for a stand up set?
Beth: I prepare for acting auditions like I do stand-up sets: last minute and just go with my instincts. So… I could prepare more for both but then I might actually see my true potential and what if it’s not good enough?!?!?!
I have more fun acting in projects with people who know my style so they know what I can do and no one is surprised by much. That being said, I think we both remember my greatest role of all time in 2010 when I played a murderer’s ex-roommate on Detroit 1-8-7. Thank youuuuu!
Ramon: AND FINALLY! Your work ethic and consistency back when I moved to Chicago was really inspiring. In the summer of 2010 I saw you smashing in front of all sorts of audiences and being very much yourself. Are you yourself more now then you were then? Were you “faking it til you makinged it” back then and still doing well?
Beth: Haha that is really nice to hear. I’ll admit to having a skewed vision of myself at times. I think I just may be less presentational and more conversational, which I enjoy more while performing. I could just be being hard on myself but I think I’m a little more lively nowadays. I think I’ve always appeared pretty relaxed behind the mic, and I am. I like it there.