From the Working Comedian: Interview with Beth Stelling

Comedian Beth Stelling dropped by our office in Oakland and cracked everyone up with material from her new album, Sweet Beth. Beth was featured at the prestigious Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal and, in 2011, and was awarded the Rooftop Comedy’s Silver Nail Award, recognizing the Best Underground Standup Comics. Beth has also been named “Best Standup Comedian” by the Chicago Reader, and this past July, she made her late-night television debut on Conan.

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Do you do comedy for a living? Do you have a day job?

Beth: In Chicago, I was able to make a good amount of money doing standup, and I managed my friend’s coffee shop a couple days a week, and lived above it. So that was my jam there. Then I moved to LA thinking that I would be able to sort of just have one job and be okay, but that’s not the case. So I was working for a coffee shop for a while but my last day was September 1st, 2012. After Conan, I was able to book some things where I knew I would be able to take care of rent, and that was enough for me to get out of the service industry. I’d been doing the day job so long, I realized, ‘I really can’t do this anymore.’ So right now, I’m just doing standup, and I also took on a job with Doejo, the company that did my web design and branding, so I’m doing business development for them in LA. So it’s a way for me to not be totally reliant on standup.

Did any comedians inspire you to do comedy, or did it grow out of your background in theatre?

Beth: Growing up, I was a huge Jim Carrey and Robin Williams fan, so I knew the whole Mrs. Doubtfire movie, and definitely all of Ace Ventura. So those were my life. I would say those two–I just really wanted to be funny, so I would often impersonate them.

And now that you’re a working comic, are there other comedians who inspire you today?

Beth: Yeah… my peers. A lot of guys that were in my Just for Laughs New Faces group. Nick Turner, Dan Soder, Sean O’Connor, Ali Wong, Ron Funches. And there’s more, of course, but we are all kind of continuing to do our thing, and it’s interesting to see where everyone goes. Some people have had more success than others, but that’s inspiring, just to know that we’re all still working for it.

Above that, I love watching Bill Burr, Maria Bamford and Chelsea Peretti–I’m sure there’s more. It’s like that quote from Home Alone, “I could go on forever, baby!”

What’s the weirdest show you’ve ever done?

Beth: I didn’t get to do a gig because I got fired, and it kind of ruined me because I am a perfectionist overachiever. But they told me, ‘We were thinking you’d be more like Bill Cosby.’ Um, I’m 25 and white…and a girl. They just kept asking for a rewrite of my transcript, and I would edit out things that they considered dirty and then edit more things they considered dirty, and then finally, on my last draft–it was a high tea, and I wrote this joke: “Ladies, we’re here to eat some tiny sandwiches. Just sit back, relax and take comfort in knowing that the crock pot’s off, your sister’s at home and the kids are dead. You shouldn’t have left them with your sister.” And then they wrote back, ‘Yeah, it’s not gonna work out.’ I kind of self-sabotaged that one. So, that was awkward because I’d never had an experience of somebody hiring me and then going, ‘That’s not what we want. We watched your clip, but that’s not what we want.’

Since you started doing standup in Chicago and then moved to LA, what are the biggest differences between the two?

Beth: The weather. I became a real wuss, real quick. Because I used to ride my bike through winter, during cold weather in Chicago I would be out. And then when I got to LA, I was like, “This is so nice!” And then the first night the temperature droped and I was shivering, like ‘Where’s my coat?’

Comedy-wise, everyone was very welcoming in both cities. I would say they were more welcoming in LA, but that’s also hard to say, because I wasn’t where I was in my career when I came to Chicago versus when I came to LA. So that’s the main difference. Chicago…I mean, there are comedy cliques everywhere, but…that’s a good thing because they form collectives and stuff. I just feel that the ones in LA are friendlier. There’s always competition, but there’s so much opportunity–that’s why people come there: to expand out of standup, or to go further in standup. In Chicago, it’s just, ‘We’re all standup, who’s the best?’

What can Pandora listeners expect from Beth Stelling comedy?

Beth: They can expect to hear jokes and stories and basically my observations on life…my perspectives – I don’t know how to answer this! You can expect to hear a very soothing voice…it’s a very chill album. So you’ll hear the warm, calming tones of my caramel mocha voice and then you might also get a bonus track of “Entertaining Julia,” which was the show I that I ran in Chicago with my best friends Tiffany and Danielle Puterbaugh. It’s a little raunchy, so earmuffs, families, put on earmuffs for the bonus track! Just think of it as a “boner” track and maybe skip that one…

-Kelly (Comedy Analyst)

* photo by Jencie Ferraro

Kelly Anneken

Comedy Analyst http://www.pandora.com/profile/kanneken

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