Megan Stalter recently shared a video of a churchgoer in the United States’ Midwest upset over being served by a Starbucks barista sporting Halloween cat ears. (“We aren’t allowed to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, but we are permitted to attend Satan’s parade?”)
It was of a piece with the dozens of bite-sized character sketches Stalter has released during the Covid era, and it was played with a wonderfully straight bat. However, not everyone received the message.
On a video conversation from New York, Stalter adds, “I get hundreds of mean comments every day thinking it’s real.” “However, I’m like, ‘It’s a joke!'” You simply need to look at my profile for two minutes to figure out that I’m a comic.”
Not just any comedian, but one of the most popular in the United States right now – and in the United Kingdom, where her first performance this month at London’s Soho theatre has already sold out.
Stalter, 31, is a one-of-a-kind humorist who thrived in a repressive environment. Her web videos and live broadcasts skyrocketed in popularity. Little Miss Ohio, a YouTube special, presented her cringe-comedy photos to a broader audience.
Then she was cast in HBO’s Hacks, which won numerous Emmy awards for comedy in 2021. Stalter says, giggling over Zoom in her typical bright blue makeup, “I couldn’t have gotten any luckier.”
It’s the stage where Stalter feels most at ease, despite her popularity on television and online. “I’m never happier than when I’m on stage,” she admits, hurriedly but convincingly adding, “I mean, aside from being with the ones I love.”
She adds, “I would never go on stage sick now.” “However, before the pandemic, when people still did [that], I never got sick on stage.”
Nothing would ever cross my mind that would make me unhappy. You’re completely zen on stage. It sounds corny, but that’s how I know I’m supposed to do this.”
Stalter will do her standup act in London — not that it is standup in the traditional sense. “I play a character who is self-assured and believes she is gifted, but her show is falling apart.” It’s like a no-frills magic performance.”
On the eve of the pandemic, she was making waves in live comedy. “I’d just hired a manager, moved to New York, and my shows began to sell out.”
‘Oh my God, my career is exploding!’ I said. But it wasn’t the case.” That was still to come, when a worldwide pandemic imprisoned Stalter in her apartment, cutting her off from both her source of income and her favorite pastime.
“People always ask me,” she says, “what it’s like to go viral online during Covid?” And it’s odd since all I wanted to do was feel alive and normal.
I wasn’t going around saying, ‘Oh my God, I need attention,’ or attempting to have my videos go viral. I had no choice but to be ridiculous on the internet since there was nowhere else to do it.”
The tiny company owner, for example, is striving to seem awake (“Hi, gay!”). She cornered the market in brittle, delusional but oddly sympathetic nobodies, publicizing themselves with a swagger while knowing, deep down, they have little to sell.”) or the “out-of-work actress talking about a possible sequel to a movie that came out nine years ago!”
She cornered the market in brittle, delusional but oddly sympathetic nobodies, publicizing themselves with a swagger while knowing, deep down, they have little to
These are drawings for the age of the edited online self, and Stalter, like Ricky Gervais before him, has tapped the tragicomic core of social networking (both cite the films of Christopher Guest as an influence). “I like comics that seem to be getting better,” Stalter adds, “and whose characters feel like real people.”
Hers do, and she exploited them to develop a massive online community of supporters, to whom she owes a debt of gratitude even now. “It feels like I know people now when I meet them at live shows,” Stalter explains.
“Because we were all online for a year and a half together, stuck in our homes, the gigs feel so different than they did before!” I understand the need for limits, but I never want to feel cut off from the individuals who support me.
“It’s because you’re from there, right?”
Stalter is refreshingly grounded, maybe in part because she was born and reared in Ohio, where she gets inspiration from “weird church ladies and soccer moms” (her words). She “really, really wanted to perform” since she was a child, the daughter of a nurse and a tattoo artist.
“I remember being in choir as a kid and being given a solo, and thinking to myself, ‘I was born to sing.’ “I always thought I was really special” – she chuckles as she recalls – “and that people needed to see me on stage.”
It took a long time for the rest of the world to agree. Stalter went to Chicago at her mother’s encouragement since opportunities to realize the entertainment dream were few at home.
You can’t take Ohio out of the girl, but you can take Ohio out of the girl. With a midwestern accent, Stalter started to establish a comedic voice. Her characters have “a level of sweetness while trying to do good [but] don’t have a lot of money or fancy places to go,” she has stated.
Her midwestern alter personas are now “always apologetic and very polite,” she says. It also has to do with their viewpoint. “Ohio is a Republican state,” adds Stalter. “It’s also fascinating to grow up knowing and being related to people whose beliefs are so dissimilar to mine.”
She may incite the wrath of internet leftists who mistook her churchy Midwesters for the genuine thing. But Ohioans, who are the brunt of her jokes, have never complained, according to Stalter, since the films are done with love and the idea that “everyone is trying to be good.”
I know a lot of individuals who do awful things and believe in retrograde ideologies, but who also feel they are ethically correct. But I adored these folks as a child.
These were my closest companions. And it’s hard for me to portray them cruelly if I know they’re not trying to be cruel or evil.”
Now that Stalter is a TV celebrity, playing the dotty assistant Kayla to bigshot comic agent Jimmy in the blockbuster series Hacks, Ohio is even more proud of her. “My friend sent me a screenshot of the script and it said: ‘Kayla – think Megan Stalter,” says series co-creator Paul W Downs, who knew Stalter from her stand-up comedy.
“Before I auditioned for the show, my friend sent me a screenshot of the script and it said: ‘Kayla – think Megan Stalter,” says Stalter. So I was terrified of not getting the role. To be able to say things like, ‘Oh, this other actor plays Megan better than Megan’? “I’d die!” says the narrator.
She didn’t have to be concerned: the role was hers, and she went on to become the show’s breakthrough star. She now declares, “I’m living the dream.” “I want to keep acting and doing stand-up comedy for the rest of my life.”
You wouldn’t rule anything out. Stalter says of her triumph, “I keep thinking, ‘This is it!'” “And then something else occurs, and you think to yourself, ‘Oh no, this is it!’
And I believe it’s because I’ve always adored every little detail. Every step of the way, I’ve said to myself, “This is the dream.” “All I’ve ever wanted to do is this.”
Thanks to Brian Logan at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.