We’re so accustomed to seeing hour-long specials curated by Netflix that it’s almost jarring to view one that’s only half the length. That’s what The Standups is, though: a series of half-hour stand-up specials by six different comics. One of the best features Beth Stelling.
Half-hour specials can feel unfulfilling, like they’re too heavily edited or often ending right as the comedian hits their stride. That isn’t a problem for Stelling, whose laid-back, care-free style shines throughout the entire run time of her very own episode of The Standups (episode 5, to be exact). Between podcasts, late night television appearances and writing credits, and a Comedy Central half-hour special in 2015, she has been in the limelight for quite some time, but now gets an even larger platform to show audiences what she’s made of. Stelling’s secret weapon is subtly, the kind that demands your full attention in order to understand what’s special about her. If you give her that, the laughs will sneak up and overpower you.
Stelling performs a tightrope walk that’s challenging for almost any comedian, going for the edgy jokes, but not so far that she risks offending anybody. She spends a decent chunk of time comparing the child she used to babysit to a romantic relationship. “On the last day I was babysitting him, he left his sock in my car. Much like when a woman leaves her jewelry at your house, he wanted to hang out again,” she says to the audience with a sly smirk. Based on this setup, the joke could have gone horribly wrong and in questionable territory. Instead, she focuses on the sock, and not the child relationship. Stelling rides the rest of this bit right on the edge, but sticks to the smarts rather than raunch.
What’s surprising about Stelling’s set is that her topics, while familiar, go in different directions that separate her jokes from the rest of the pack. How many times have you heard a comedian talk about their travel experiences at the airport? You’d probably need at least six hands to count those. But Stelling sets her sights on current frustrations with the TSA, specifically calling them “performance art.” This point of view immediately had me go from rolling my eyes to laughing with renewed interest, because while I’ve heard an endless list of airport routines, I had never heard of the TSA being described this way. Purposely breaking the three ounce rule while going through security and preferring a male agent for her full body search because it “shakes things up a bit” are refreshing takes on a tired bit.
Stelling takes her moment on stage to get even more personal when addressing her own weight loss and uses it to poke fun at men who only seem to notice the least positive aspect of it. “I hate to pin it on men, but you’re not the best at noticing what’s different about a woman.” Whether it’s speaking about her physical appearance or venting her frustration about Facebook’s time hop feature where they post photos of you from six years ago (a brand new frustration for all of us), Stelling is at her best and most comfortable when getting personal and choosing to focus on the specifics.
The goal of Netflix with The Standups appears to be giving viewers a little taste of what each comedian is capable of. I finished this episode wanting to now see a full hour from Stelling, a talent who I assume will be able to let loose and go further than she did here if given more time. Her material on the surface sounds like you’ve heard it numerous times before, but adding a quirky twist to the details makes all the difference. Beth Stelling is certainly someone to keep an eye on, and I’ll be excited to see what seemingly familiar topics she tackles next.
Christian Becker is a writer and improv comedy performer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @TheAmazingBeck.