Kris Rothstein's Blog

JFL NorthWest 2018: Beth Stelling

Kris Rothstein

First of all, you should know that Beth Stelling has stage presence. A lot of comedians make a big show of being super comfortable on stage but you can tell that they are not. Beth Stelling stretches and slouches and grimaces and laughs a lot. She is having a great time while sharing all the things she is supposed to keep private.

Stelling’s hour-long set at the Biltmore Cabaret on the opening night of JFL NorthWest was exactly as energetic and entertaining as it should have been. She seemed like a slightly angry, articulate friend on stage, one who has maybe had a tiny bit too much to drink and is finally letting loose.

It might be difficult to imagine comedy topics that haven’t been dissected to death. And it is true that Stelling is not always breaking new ground when it comes to content. She may be talking about airports, sex, pubic hair and the differences between men and women but she can get away with ruminating on these themes. She is indeed doing it in a new way. And she generated a lot of attention a few years when she did comedy about rape and abuse at the hands of a former boyfriend, not an easy topic to craft for laughs.

Stelling’s airport routine is an older joke, but it was perhaps the best one of the night. Her description of purposely messing with airport security is genuinely hilarious. She wants a pat down and she wants it from a man. “Man for Woman!” Yes, she is a lady, but surprise, she is the one who is pervy in this scenario. If you haven’t seen her work, then watch her episode of the Netflix show The Standups from 2017.

She included a fair amount of material about body image and personal appearance (wearing a water bra as a teen, adult acne, getting fat while working in the bagel industry, receiving compliments for taking up less space) but in a way that you can tell she doesn’t care anymore. She is over it. It feels like she isn’t trying to work out her issues. When she talks about her family you can certainly tell who she’s still mad at (spoiler: it’s her dad) but her jokes are more generous than those of most comedians. Her dad moved to Orlando to be an actor when her parents split up. “That’s not where you go,” she says, so it’s no surprise when his best role is playing a pirate at the mini golf course. Her mom attacks the remote control and her cell phone like they are heavy machinery, but she is still a lovable lady.

Stelling is only thirty-two in a profession where artists only get better with age, so I have a feeling she will start to craft routines that are truly sophisticated and complex in the vein of Maria Bamford, Stewart Lee and Mike Bribiglia in the coming years.



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