Beth Stelling - Sweet Beth
Release Date: October 16th, 2012
Record Label: Rooftop Comedy Records
The problems regarding the representation of women in comedy are quite daunting. Granted, they’re a skeleton of what they used to be in someone like Lucille Ball’s time, but the deck is still stacked against them. Being comedians, they have an obligation to at least make people laugh, and if they can’t do that, well, hopefully they can at least make an audience view a topic from a different perspective. However, herein lies the issue; it seems whenever a female mines comedic tropes to give the female perspective, the typical male listener (and I’m running pretty fast and loose with the term ‘typical’) takes one of two routes. One, they get grossed out by a woman talking about a personal or slightly inappropriate topic into a microphone, and then whine about how ‘she was only really funny to women.’ Even worse, however, is the tendency to focus on the physical appearance of the comedian, with the actual humor playing second fiddle.
Both by-the-books double standards, they are still unbelievably prevalent in 2013; to fact-check, hit YouTube. Luckily, there are a handful of rising stars in the female comedy game right now who are talented and eager enough to buck this trend, and one of them is Beth Stelling. On her debut record Sweet Beth, Stelling relies on her tight joke-writing, impeccable sense of timing, and flawed sense of self to send a message: “It doesn’t matter what gender I am, it doesn’t matter how attractive I am; first and foremost, I am going to make you laugh.” Let’s just say she fulfilled her obligation and then some.
A recent transplant from Chicago, Stelling has been taking Los Angeles by storm, and it’s not too hard to see why. From the opening seconds of her set (which was recorded in Cleveland, a move even the opening emcee questions), Sweet Beth dumps out her bag of tricks and shows what she’s capable of. Drawing the crowd in with a masterful re-telling of a smash & grab, she manages to combine a couple contradictory beats (self-deprecation, heightened state of faux-bravado), while simultaneously highlighting her longer story-telling and shorter joke-writing abilities. Weaving through this tale of a theft gone poorly (for the thief), Stelling couldn’t have started out stronger; everything that makes her brand of comedy so enjoyable is found in full force within the first three minutes of the record. The rest of what makes it enjoyable is found in the next 48.
It should be known that many of the topics on this record are fairly commonplace. Relationships, parents, airports, most of these are subjects we’ve heard a thousand times over. It’s these topics that best exemplify Beth’s talent, however, and the rationale for that circles back around to perspective. While many of these premises would land solely based on the fact that crowds are more familiar hearing them told by men, Stelling has the luxury of being confident enough on stage to be able to successfully downplay or overplay herself in any given moment. When the scenario calls for it, she’ll quickly take shots at her own weight, style choices or eating habits. On the flipside, she’s equally willing to play up her own skill as a comic to a police officer or feign dominance at a security checkpoint. Many bits live or die based off how the person delivering them views their role in the situation, and luckily for Ms. Stelling, her role can be whatever she wants it to without it ever seeming out of character.
All in all, this is an incredibly strong debut from a comic who has a lot to say and is unafraid to edit the manner in which she says it, regardless of how it may make her look. I can’t tell you how excited that makes me for the future of women in comedy. If strong female voices like Beth Stelling stick around, they will inevitably tear down the inequality wall that still hovers over stand-up, however weakened it may currently be. I’m more than ready to see where her career takes her, and I won’t be the least bit surprised if notoriety and acclaim lay close ahead. Her obligation to us might be to make us laugh, but one record in, just by having a unique voice and raw talent, her contribution to stand-up is already much more.