AmericasComedy.Com has been tracking Beth Stelling’s burgeoning career for some time. Her profile has really been blowing up lately as she’s performed at The Purple Onion, been reported in major news outlets like The Chicago Tribune and Huff Post, and recently appeared on Conan while just finishing her debut album, Sweet Beth.
AC: First, tell us about your album. You joke about the title in your act, but do you consider “Sweet Beth” to be your on-stage persona which emerges when you perform?
BS: I’m no Sasha Fierce. “Sweet Beth” was a nickname that a Joe Kilgallon (Chicago comic) gave to me regarding my general disposition. I always try to be kind to everyone and it became a bit ironic, especially in the beginning of my career, because while I was not doing “mean” comedy…I was very dry and on the darker side. I most certainly love sweets though.
AC: You’re very young and you have experienced a great amount of success. What has been your strategy for success in an industry that is known for its difficulty?
BS: I set goals. My early goals were to perform at Chicago Underground Comedy, The Lakeshore Theater, Zanies then they became bigger (Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal), and bigger (late night TV). I have a realistic but positive outlook on comedy as a career. I’m not in any rush to fame; I would just like to make my living being funny so I work towards that everyday.
AC: Your style seems part bawdy and part adorable. Did you preconceive the idea of branding yourself in this particular way or did it just happen?
BS: I didn’t go into stand-up with a style or direction. I was 22. I just wrote about my life and stories and that is how they came out of me on stage. I had no plan. I like to think that I’m continuing to evolve and become closer to my conversational self, which is a bit more fun and lively. I think you’ll begin to hear that on the album but I can’t completely abandon my deadpan roots.
AC: You seem very relaxed on stage- like you could be paling around with your audience. Do you ever feel yourself slipping into stand-up mode in regular conversation?
BS: I’m the roommate that comes home and puts on a show in the living room about what just happened to me and my day. That’s instinctual. Yet I wouldn’t say anything I told them into a mic. I feel disingenuous asking, “What was funniest about the conversation/presentation I just gave in our living room?” I know comics that make it their job to remember all the funny things they put out in conversation and it works very well for them. Always room for improvement…
AC: Before living in LA, you lived and did stand-up in Chicago. How does the scene in LA compare to the scene in Chicago?
BS: There is less room to dick around in LA. Every showcase can feel consequential which hinders production and experimentation, but you don’t have to let it. There are safe spaces to play.
AC: A lot of performers consider Chicago a “starter city.” Tell us about when you knew it was time to move. Why LA?
BS: Chicago hates that, yet in all but five cases it’s true. There is a great sense of Chicago pride from NY and LA comedians that started their careers in Chicago, myself included. But if they hadn’t migrated to the coasts, Chicago wouldn’t be on the map. Chicago Comedy’s claims to fame (Hannibal, Kinane, Braunger, T.J. Miller) all moved from Chicago. It was time to go when I felt confident in my act, wanted a change and more opportunities. I believe you can find this in NY, but they have winter and it’s very expensive and dark. You can make it very far in Chicago, but not on the path that I want to go.
AC: You joke about your unconventional femininity. Is your subversive description of womanhood a reaction to anything in particular?
BS: It may be best summed up by a fellow comic who said, “I don’t know what it is about you, but I think you’re sexy.” Oh you don’t know what it is? Not my face/body/brain or tenacity or party thighs or courage or personality or sense of humor or fervor for life? Okay.
AC: Where/when do you create your best comedy?
BS: When I fucking let go and just enjoy the present. It’s easier to find funny when you’re not worried about your next job or how long you’ve gone uncovered or if a stranger hates you. When I just let myself comment on situations without a filter or judgment. Amongst funny people.
AC: Can you recall one of the first moments that you were aware that you had made someone laugh?
BS: My mom asked if I had a sub one day after kindergarten (meaning substitute teacher). I said, “No. I had a sandwich.”
AC: What was the last thing that made you laugh?
AC: Lastly, what is your ultimate career ambition?
BS: To make a living writing funny things for myself or a television show or movie or sketch show.
About the Author: Christine refuses to sing the made up "So good's" in public renditions of "Sweet Caroline" and will ask you at inappropriate times if it is okay for her to pet your dog. You can also follow her on Twitter: @bawdybynature.