By Kaitlin Peffer, Staff Writer
Howls of laughter exploded from Wilks Theater in the Armstrong Student Center Saturday evening. The Performing Arts Series welcomed stand-up comedian and writer Beth Stelling for the opening homecoming entertainment act.
After performances on shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “Conan” as well as appearances on Comedy Central’s “@midnight,” “Chelsea Lately” and “The Pete Holmes Show,” Stelling returned to her alma mater.
A 2007 magna cum laude graduate, Stelling obtained a BA in theatre from the College of Creative Arts where she studied under department chair, Julia Guichard. Guichard, a speaking voice coach who’s been with Miami since 1998, has known Stelling for 13 years and continues to keep in touch by attending her performances.
“I’m not surprised that she has gained so much success in the comedy world,” said Guichard.
One class activity that stood out in Guichard’s mind was an assignment called “Fool’s Day.”
“Each year, I tell the students to try something that they’ve always wanted to try and just do it, even if they’re not good at it,” Guichard said. “Beth did a stand-up act for the first time in front of the class and everyone loved it.”
Stelling hails from Oakwood, Ohio, where she grew up with her mom and two older sisters. Choosing Miami’s theatre program was an important moment in Stelling’s career. In a last minute decision, Stelling auditioned for the College of Creative Arts. Not only was she accepted, but she also received a scholarship for that audition. It was then that Stelling knew this was the right path for her.
“I had dreams of auditioning at conservatories and schools better known for their acting programs,” Stelling said. “But I’m so glad I chose Miami, because while my classmates and I worked hard and took it seriously, there was still an element of play.”
For Stelling, stand-up wasn’t always the goal. It wasn’t until she came to Miami that she considered a career in comedy.
“I always loved getting laughs as early as I can remember,” Stelling said. “I like to say it all started with a group of friends giving me way too much confidence. Lots of my roommates and girlfriends at Miami would tell me to do stand-up instead of just making them laugh in our living room.”
Other college role models who changed Stelling’s perspective on theatre include professor Paul Bryant-Jackson, who casted her as Beatrice in the play “A View from the Bridge” in 2006.
“By casting me in a dramatic role, [Bryant-Jackson] challenged me in a very fulfilling way,” she said.
Another influential individual was Ann Elizabeth Armstrong, a directing and dramatic literature professor who also co-directs the “Finding Freedom Summer Project” on Western campus, which Stelling was involved with during her time at Miami.
“Dr. Armstrong taught me about theatre for social justice — making changes in our community and society through performance and theatre games,” said Stelling.
Stelling returns to Oxford periodically to visit with old professors and current theatre majors and to teach stand-up workshops. Guichard explained that, until recently, Miami did not offer a comedy-based acting course.
“We now offer an upper level comedy elective for students, as well as on-campus organizations such as Sketched Out Improv,” Guichard said.
Stelling demonstrated her comedic talents on Saturday while discussing her childhood experiences in gymnastics and stories of living in Stanton Hall her freshman year. Stelling is a self-proclaimed “fro-yo Cinderella,” frequently running to get ice cream just before the stores close.
“My favorite joke was Beth’s travel bit on the TSA at the airport,” said senior Julie Donna after the performance, referring to Stelling’s anecdote about bringing four-ounce containers of liquid rather than the legal maximum of three for the sole purpose of bothering TSA employees.
Stelling also joked about her student life at Miami. She wore workout clothes while living in Stanton, but not for working out, bought a Ferris Bueller poster at the Shriver Poster Sale only to have it ruined by a bird who flew in her dorm room window and ate altogether too much Bagel and Deli after working there for two years (her favorite is the Kool Jules).
After graduation, Stelling moved to Chicago where she performed at hundreds of late-night stand-up sessions and open-mic clubs, all while working at Chicago Bagel Authority on the side.
She then moved to Los Angeles to pursue her writing and acting career. Stelling tours all over the U.S. and has even performed in foreign countries — Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few.
Miami Activities and Programming (MAP) chose Stelling as the first act in President Crawford’s “Think Differently” series, which focuses on inclusivity. She was recently selected as one of Miami’s “18 of the Past 9” for exceptionally talented young alumni and was named TimeOut Los Angeles’ “Comic to Watch in 2016.”
Currently, viewers can catch Stelling in the TV series, “Red Oaks” on Amazon, “Comedy of SXSW” on Showtime and “This Isn’t Funny” on Netflix.
Next, Stelling will head back to Los Angeles to write for the Comedy Central show “Another Period,” a parody of historical dramas.