Beth Stelling is a unique voice in comedy, and she’s about to have a huge weekend. Her first stand-up special airs this Saturday on Comedy Central. Her second comedy album, Simply the Beth, is out today on Comedy Dynamics. There’s no time to rest, though, and like a true professional she’s already working towards her next special. She’s come a long way from her native Chicago, and now that she’s living in Los Angeles she’s been a guest on Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, @Midnight, Chelsea Lately and more. We recently chatted with Stelling about her special and album, perfectionism and why comics are replacing newscasters.
Paste: This is your second album and your first special. Congrats. What is different about your special?
Beth Stelling: The special is all tried and true material. I don’t like my first album and I guess that is somewhat natural because that was three years ago and I have changed. I am a better comic and I know how to record an album now. Back then I would record a set, casually. Now I know what I am doing. Some of those bits are in the special, but are just better now. At least two of those. The fleshlight bit is how it opens which is interesting because I am a fairly clean comic.
I made sure that everything on the special is on a CD.
Paste: Would you describe your comedy as autobiographical?
BS: Yes. Everything is one hundred percent true.
Paste: Do you think there are any rules when writing comedy from truth? Do you have to change any details? Is it important for you to stay true to the story?
BS: Even the stories from my first album. the story of my dad and the raccoons in his backyard. The highest number they counted was 73. First of all, why would I choose 73? It was true. When I first started I had a lot of material about my stepmother and she heard it and did not like it. I was 22 and didn’t change her name. I understand that. I don’t think of myself as a vengeful person. Was I telling true stories about the time she called us [Beth and her sisters] vampires? Absolutely.
I never felt bad at the time.
Paste: You said that you do not like your first album, which is something some comics will say. Do you feel like you needed to make that album in order to make this one? Is it not the process?
BS: Yes, I am a perfectionist. Sometimes I will change things in my head to be a negative memory when they aren’t really that bad. There are some good jokes on there. I don’t love how I delivered some of the jokes like, “You guys have heard this!”
I don’t love admitting that I look back at my first late-night sets and I kind of hate it in my head but—it’s a good set. It’s what happened afterwards and how I let that dictate how I feel about it now has changed for me. You can’t practice an album coming out or being on television.
Paste: I know that the laughter is not sweetened, specifically at Conan. You got laughs.
BS: Yes. It is what it is. For better or for worse.
Paste: Are you the kind of comic who enjoys a weird room? No laughter, for example.
BS: When I first started I really enjoyed silence. Now I don’t think I do as much. I was slower at telling the jokes. I don’t get off on making my show weird. That being said, on the album, you can hear two jokes I told because I knew I was in a good place to tell them. They are not my go-to headlining jokes. For example the joke about the little girl who asks if I am a kid or a mom, and it ends with me saying if I were a mom and my kid died, people would say “I’m so sorry” and I would feel like a kid again. This was when I was recording at Beat Kitchen in Chicago where I performed regularly.
Paste: How was it transitioning from the Chicago comedy scene to LA?
BS: I was somewhat consumed by a day job at a coffee shop. That was a distraction. I think I subconsciously did that. “If this doesn’t work out I can always…” I worked a ton and let my mind be there so that I did not overthink my comedy. What I needed to do was prove myself. So I did my best material the first six months I got to LA. I didn’t have a lot of trouble getting booked because of Just For Laughs in Montreal. When I moved to LA, everybody knew I was a new face but they did not know who I was. So I was getting booked out of curiosity. I came to LA set up nicely as opposed to moving blindly.
The only thing that worried me was becoming stagnant.
Paste: How would you want someone to describe your comedy, say if you could write your own review of it?
BS: I rely so much on other people’s reviews to tell me what kind of comic I am and what they are getting from me. I think that is the oddest part of being a comic. You can put what you want out there, you don’t always know how it is going to be received. The ideal for me, someone listening to it, whether you are a fan, or watched it blindly, I want people to be happy.
Paste: What is next for you? I know that is daunting since you just released a special but I had to ask.
BS: It’s valid. I am very happy with the special and album so I can’t wait for my next special! I am working towards that. I remember the difference between Chicago and LA comics is that the Chicago comics would say, “We are comics and that is it!”
My whole reason for getting into this is because I love being funny and stand-up has always been number one. But if someone is going to pay me to be in a show with my friends and be funny, well, absolutely.
Paste: Do you think it is a good time to be a comic right now? Some say it’s a comedy boom. Is it bad for comedy?
BS: It feels like a boom. It feels like a good time.
Now there is comedy happening that doesn’t have to be in a comedy club. There is a nerd culture and an alt-scene that is growing. You can put together a tour in bookstores, sex shops, rock venues. More people are doing comedy and there are more places to do it.
Paste: And with this comedy boom, more comics are not just in comedy clubs and whatnot, but they are all over the news, replacing journalists at times. What do you make of that? What responsibility does a comic have now?
BS: Yeah, everybody is looking for a comic host or correspondent. There is so much less privacy. Take Brian Williams, for example. When his lies were exposed we lost trust. I think more people are proving to be clowns. So why not just trust a comic to do it?
Beth Stelling’s album
Simply the Beth
is out today on Comedy Dynamics. Her Comedy Central Half Hour special airs on 10/10 at 12:30 AM ET/PT.