Friday, October 12, 2012

Beth Stelling's "Sweet Beth"

Sweet Beth” is the debut album from Beth Stelling and it’s a perfect storm of stand-up comedy. Everything you hope to find in a comedian is present and accounted for: Spot-on timing, one hilarious story after the next, an odd relationship with one’s dad, and your mom’s dog humping the guy you bring home to meet the family.

On top of all that, Stelling has a delivery and style that is originally retro in nature. It sort of put me in mind of the less-than-impressed telephone operator characters so common in movies and on TV in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, most notably the lady behind the switchboard played by Lily Tomlin. But then again, not really. Although Stelling’s vocal inflection, cleverly emphasizing a crazy situation by remaining monotone, is at times reminiscent of the archetype, she doesn’t come across as cold or apathetic. While a character like Ernestine is funny on TV but not someone you’d want to encounter in real life, Stelling is the opposite. She establishes a connection with the audience that makes one wish there was more standup when her set is over. If the sign of a good performance is to always keep the crowd wanting more, then this is a good performance indeed.

 The topics on the album span just about every topic conceivable. Trannies at TJ Maxx? Check. The CVS Extra Care card? Check. A voicemail from mom about a wall of poop found in the basement? Check. An unrequited love that leads to a dead goldfish which in turn leads to a conversation with a parent on how maybe not to be a serial killer? Yep, that’s here, too.

In fact, I”m pretty sure Stelling could take any experience and use it for comedy gold (even the time her comedy gold was literally stolen from her). No matter how traumatizing or embarrassing, it’s all fair game as long as we get a good laugh out of it. And we do. From her dad’s off-the-wall character business (and yes, “Chef Big Butt” really is one of the options you can hire to show up at your event. I checked the website) to the world’s worst bedtime kiss, Stelling shows no shame in baring it all. Even the time she lost her virginity to Der Stuka at the Wet ‘n Wild water park gets its time in the limelight.

Not only does Stelling’s comedy thrive in the midst of awkward situations, it blossoms there. Rather than let it scar her for life, she takes life by the horns and scars it. Getting a tattoo of her boyfriend’s name will never be a choice that is regretted and sometimes you have to be the one to go through the full-body scanner at the airport first to ease the minds of others. Stelling sums it up best when she says, “If you want something...go ahead and poop in it.” Sure, she was referring to the Cabbage Patch Crib her sister never let her play with, but I still think it applies in a broader scope.

This album is a lot of fun and there are a good number of big laughs waiting to be discovered. There’s an extra track at the end where some friends are invited on stage to perform that sort of steals Stelling’s thunder from her and, after the amazing set she just had, is a bit anticlimactic. At the same time, though, it shows how good Stelling is, especially when it’s just her and a microphone. I agree with Stelling’s mother that, if stand up comedy was an Olympic sport, Stelling would get a gold medal. Unlike her mom, I’m not going to separate genders. Gold medal, across the board.

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