Beth Stelling is one of comedy’s rising stars right now, and there’s no more exciting time in a comic’s development then right when they are breaking as a headliner. She recently premiered her first comedy special for Comedy Central as part of their Half Hour series, and earlier this month released her second comedy album, Simply the Beth with Comedy Dynamics. Stelling’s voice in her album and special are strong, unique and fresh so I was excited to talk with her about what it’s like to be in this moment where everything is happening so quickly. Plus we’re all HUGE fans. I found that in addition to being hilariously funny and original, she’s also incredibly focused, smart, self-aware and very appreciative.
Stelling developed her comedy muscles in Chicago and in 2010 was selected by the editors of the Chicago Reader as one of the top comedians performing in a city filled with great stand up acts. Since then there have been non-stop accolades and resume builders including getting recognized as one of the Just for Laughs new faces, being selected by LA Weekly as a top comedian to watch, performing on Conan, Chelsea Lately, Carson Daly, @midnight, The Meltdown, and The Pete Holmes Show to name a few. She appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live after Kimmel saw her perform at UCB and was so impressed that he showed up in the green room to invite her personally to be on the show, and she’s beloved by some of the country’s top comedians like Patton Oswalt, and Paul F. Tompkins who recently called her one of his favorite comedians.
For someone who is so talented at making others laugh, her approach to comedy is very serious and she’s self-critical but without being self-deprecating. It’s not that she’s hard on herself, she just wants her work to be the best it can be and she doesn’t have time to rest on accomplishments or bask in compliments. Her new album, which is terrific by the way, is already something she’s ready to improve upon. “I think I’m definitely a perfectionist. And I’m very very happy with my special and I’m happy with my album,” she said. “I think some of it was really new and I’ve been working that material since I recorded the album, so that’s the only reason that I say that.”
Stelling recorded her album in Chicago at the Beat Kitchen, a home club of sorts. “I’ve been a member of Chuc [Chicago Underground Comedy], so I was very comfortable there. I performed there on Tuesdays when I lived in Chicago.” So many great comedians have come out of Chicago, and continue to come out of Chicago, so I asked Beth what she thought it was about the city that grooms so many talents. “It’s a great place. In the past everybody sort of used it as a great place to build your act and get up a ton. I think now, it’s still a great place to get started, and perfect your act. And even when I moved I thought I was in a good place, and when I moved to LA I was worried that I wouldn’t really grow or challenge myself because I would just be having to prove myself so often,” she said. “But you change and time goes on, and I’m very comfortable in LA. I mean there was also a time whenever I would tour to a new city I thought to myself- are they going to like me here? And it’s like, well….it’s just a new place but people are kind of the same.”
Transitioning to Los Angeles has proven to be a great move for Stelling who has adapted to the city beautifully despite some initial concerns. “I remember taking meetings and not everyone was totally into wanting to manage me because it was kind of like, where’s your pilot or where’s this? Are you writing?” Stelling explained that you can make more money selling a show or writing on a show in Los Angeles than you can getting up at the clubs, so getting management without those credits can be challenging. “It took me awhile cause I was dragging my feet on it. But I’ve written since. I enjoy writing,” she told me.
Chicago, she said is more pure for developing as a stand up performer, because all you’re thinking about is what you’re going to say on stage. While out in Los Angeles, people are thinking about so many things. “How else can I parlay this into my life; and you’re kind of saying that by even moving there. You’re saying this is what I want to do with my life. Whereas in Chicago, my life was also a lot of other things. It was babysitting and managing a coffee shop. Living my life there. By moving, you’re saying I’m ready to make this my full-time job.”
There’s no question that Beth is in this for the long game, and she loves the challenge. It can be immobilizing, and she does sometimes feel overwhelmed, but she loves being busy. “It is my full-time job now, therefore if I can dedicate my weekends to working on my comedy, actually listening back to my sets, making the jokes better, when I do other outside projects like working on a tv script, a web series, any sort of pitch, that’s actually going to benefit my comedy in a way because I’m thinking comedically in a different format. Which can really only inform and enhance my stand up.” She explained, “cause sometimes if you’re looking at a joke just one way, it benefits you to look at a joke from all different angles. So if you’re living your life and looking for jokes– its like, I can put this in a category of, oh that’s going to go in a script somewhere. That’s not going to work on stage, but it’s a funny situation I’ll write down for something else. So basically you have different folders to put your funny things in.”
Stelling has enjoyed a lot of milestones and credits in the last few years, and one of those milestones was the day Jimmy Kimmel showed up in the green room at UCB and personally invited her to be on his show. She killed, of course, and was even invited to apply to be a staff writer. “It got down to the final interviews and I didn’t get it,” she said. But she’s ok with that, because she knows there will be other opportunities for her. “Honestly I’m very patient. Of course I’m bummed but nothing’s really gonna crush me,” she explained, adding, “it was even cool for me to get that close.” She had been approached by one of the Kimmel writers who invited her to submit a packet once before, about three years ago. At that time, she didn’t even get to the interview stage, so fast forward three years, and there she is, in the office for final interviews. “That was enough for me. That’s progress to me. That’s so cool cause my forte isn’t writing jokes for Jimmy Kimmel. I’ve been writing jokes for me. So I challenged myself and I did that and got a little recognition for it just by getting that far in the interviews. “
Now Stelling is touring all over the world. She went to Ireland in May, and New Zealand and Australia over the summer. “That was a huge milestone for me. Traveling to a different country and getting to do stand up like that essentially just took me to a new level of fearlessness.” Her first international gig was in Ireland, and she admits to being a little too timid there, but turned that into a growth opportunity. “I think that was a nice preview to what I knew I needed to do in Australia, cause I was headlining those shows where as in Ireland I was doing a festival. I grew a lot from that. It made me sort of fearless in that way.” She compared the move from the festival gigs in Ireland to the headlining gigs in Australia, to her half hour special that she recorded over the summer for Comedy Central. When you record your Comedy Central Half Hour, you are with a group, and everything is set up for you– the theater, the night, the stage set. All you have to do is walk on stage. That’s similar to a festival performance. Whereas recording your own hour special you make all the decisions. “iI’s like oh I’m in charge. I’m responsible for what happens here, I’m not just part of a show, so that’s I think the transition that you’re wanting to make over many years.”
It’s a good metaphor, she said, for the progression of a career in comedy. “For so many years I’m a feature or I’m opening for somebody where my job is to make them laugh; to set this up to be great. I can do that. I can do my 15 or my 25 and that feels comfortable. To become a good headliner you have to act where, okay these people are here to see me. I’m in charge. I’m the funniest. And so I’m going to deliver,” she said. “For some people that’s really easy to step into. For others, its like, well this doesn’t feel right.”
When you’re not as famous as those ahead of you, and you feel like you aren’t drawing in a big enough crowd, Stelling explained, it can be hard to feel like you deserve to be on that stage. “It takes years to be a really good headliner but I’m on my way.”
Stelling does set goals, although she’s gone back and forth between setting general and specific goals. “I found a goal list of mine from 5 years ago, and it was like when I was really new. It was Do Letterman. Work at Zany’s or do this. And I didn’t even necessarily love Letterman.” she said. “ It wasn’t until I started doing Late Night that I realized you can do a show that’s right for you or not. And Letterman just isn’t really right for me. And now it’s obviously not even an option. But I was setting goals about what I should be shooting for.” When she moved to LA, her goals changed and became more open. “I just want to do anything where I get to be funny.” Now, she’s back to setting more specific objectives. “I’m realizing it is good to get certain thing in your sights. And I guess the new goals are include seeing some of the shows in development that she’s working on come to fruition. But that’s not her “end-all.” Stand up is her first and always, and she’s gunning for a new killer hour special, one that she’s in charge of this time. “That’s the thing that I want to work towards over the next year. A really great hour special.”
Beth Stelling’s new album “Simply the Beth” is available now every where digital music and stand up is sold, and you can also catch her recent Comedy Central Half Hour Special on Comedy Central On Demand and on the Comedy Central App. Follow her on twitter @BethStelling and visit bethstelling.com to find out where she’s touring.