Published Feb 18, 2020"One of my favourite things in comedy is when you say something you think is only for you, and the crowd laughs and are basically like, 'Yeah, we do that too,'" comedian Beth Stelling tells Exclaim! "Or at least they can understand where you're coming from. I like trying to think of the most random, private things that you wouldn't normally share, then say them out loud, and then you get a laugh because everyone's just admitting it."
A student of Chicago's vibrant comedy and theatrical communities, Stelling is a standup and writer who worked on both seasons of the HBO show Crashing, and recently contributed to the script for the Seth Rogen-produced Good Boys. Ahead of recording her next hour-long special in Minneapolis on March 7, Stelling is appearing at Vancouver's JFL Northwest comedy festival.
Raised by a single mom, Stelling's father was (and is) an aspiring entertainer; Stelling was initially drawn to plays and considered becoming an actor. "It's interesting; I hadn't really connected my love of theatre with telling a personal story, but it is a valid point," Stelling says. "When you're in theatre, you have professors that are passionate and want to show you what's going on in the current scene. I was immersed in this upper echelon of Chicago theatre for a summer when I was 20 years old.
"There's definitely a huge connection between childhood and our actions as adults and how you're formed and raised. I think those stories and plays I watched that I was extremely connected to were ones of pain and love stories and things that were very complicated and beautifully told. I guess I do yearn for groundedness in all my work. I don't want to waste your time; I want to do something important."
Though she hasn't shied away from using her father as fodder for her act, as her parents age, she is more conscientious of her connections to these two people, who played rather different roles in her life.
"Seeing friends who have lost parents, that makes me more aware and appreciative and honestly, worried about repairing things before it's too late," she reveals. "I am who I am because of my upbringing and I'm thankful that I faced that adversity when I was young, because it definitely made me a better person.
"I didn't come from a rich family that I could fall back on in comedy. I had to work anywhere from two to three jobs while I was pursuing comedy and at the time, it's tiring and you wonder, 'What's it all mean?' But I'm thankful for the way I came up — that I worked for everything, appreciate everything, and I remain connected to the people I was with."
In particular, Stelling has made a real effort to not only connect but also work with her own mom, Diane. The pair now host a podcast together called, We Called Your Mom.
"My mom and I go into the studio and just call my friends' [moms] and some of the people I've worked with — we just call their moms," she explains. "My mom is so much of who I am. Her strength and everything she overcame to raise me is definitely how I am and why I'm here.
"So I like to know about other moms and what the similarities are between moms and the artist children that they have. I think the stories of the earliest signs of being different, unique or creative are always interesting. Especially their senses of humour come early and those are the funny things that you get to hear about that only a mom would remember."
Thus far, Stelling says they've spoken with: Maria Bamford's mom, Marilyn; Rogen's mom, Sandy; Baron Vaughn's mom, Charlotte; Jonathan Van Ness's mom, Mary; Sam Richardson's mom, Lydia; and in a yet-to-be-released episode, Will Forte's mom, Patti. Sometimes Stelling will ask comedians for permission to call their moms, other times she might just directly text, say, Will Forte's mom, and get her on the show.
"Will was in the movie Good Boys, which I wrote on, and he is just unbelievably nice," Stelling says. "I knew I'd see him at the premiere and he'd be ok with it. He's unbelievably kind and considerate and patient and I apologized and he was like, 'No, of course.'
"Not everybody has their mom," she adds. "I don't know if it's healing, fun or helpful for people who've lost their mom to listen to other moms. Maybe it is? Maybe it's too painful, I don't know. But it's fun to hear their funny stories. Jonathan Van Ness's mom was talking about how she sat the boys down to tell them that their dad and she were getting a divorce. And before she really finished the sentence, Jonathan goes, 'Can I have your ring?'
"I started the podcast so I could do something with my mom so we'd have something always," Stelling continues. "And I knew if I was going to start a podcast this late in the game, it'd have to be unique and I didn't really want to bother my friends. So, I just bother their mothers; they have more time on their hands."
See Beth Stelling perform live at Vancouver's Biltmore Cabaret on Thursday February 20, as part of JFL Northwest.
Listen to this interview with Beth Stelling on the Kreative Kontrol podcast via Apple Podcasts or below: