The comedian talks to Amelia Abraham about becoming a magician, the SAG-AFTRA strike, and her new Edinburgh Fringe show
“Desperate”, “deluded”, “mayhem” are just some of the words associated with Megan Stalter’s stand-up comedy. Her character videos, which span annoying coworkers through to fake ads to problematic agents, shared via her Instagram, entertained many of us throughout the pandemic and beyond. Now she is bringing an amalgamation of her bratty personas to Edinburgh Fringe with a show centring on a misguided starlet who is at once “an incredible comedian, curious author and plus-size model”.
When she’s not doing standup, Megan is acting in shows like Hacks, the Emmy award-winning HBO comedy about a young struggling comedian tasked with writing for a legendary older standup in Vegas. She’s also working on a comedy called Church Girls with A24, about a closeted Christian lesbian, loosely based on her experiences growing up in Ohio. However, when we speak, she is on a hiatus from acting and writing, and talking about acting and writing gigs, in solidarity with the SAG Hollywood writer’s strike. We attempted a conversation anyway.
You’re talking to us from LA – do you consider yourself an LA girly?
Megan Stalter: I think I’m very much a girl from Ohio who moved to the big city. I love LA but no one thinks I’m from here. I feel like a country bumpkin. I apologise a lot. I’m Midwest-friendly. I’m a God girl who is bisexual, living in the city. It’s weird to get used to LA, a lot of people are focused on looks or grew up with money. In Ohio, I could tell people had money if they had a trampoline in their backyard.
Did you grow up in a serious or silly household, and did you always want to do comedy?
Megan Stalter: We were a very silly household. My siblings, cousin, mom and her sister would get together on Friday nights and make sketch videos, always trying to have the best time we could, always laughing. We’d do these fake talk shows, and I think my first character – because my family is kind of from the South – was a Southern woman on a talk show. I’m not that good at accents but that’s one of the accents I can do. To have a full show I wrote and performed has always been my dream.
Who inspires your comedy?
Megan Stalter: My dad. He’s shown me a lot of weird stuff. We grew up watching Pee Wee Herman and there’s nothing funnier than him being a brat. There are parts of the movies where he’s mean all of a sudden and I get a lot from that because my character is so insane. But she can be mean because she’s the butt of the joke. The joke’s on me. If the comedian is mean but in power, it’s harder to get away with that.
I also remember watching a lot of John Waters with my dad. When I later watched the documentary about Divine I remember realising that I was more inspired by her than I thought. People don’t always know how to respond to her, she’s scary but also sexy. It’s more than watching a joke, it’s an experience, and I love that John and Divine never cared about what anyone thought of them and their art, they seem to be doing it for themselves and for each other.
“It’s weird to get used to LA, a lot of people are focused on looks or grew up with money. In Ohio, I could tell people had money if they had a trampoline in their backyard” – Megan Stalter
As well as Hacks, many of your fans know you through your online videos – what’s your favourite video ever posted online and why?
Megan Stalter: Honestly, the Hi Gay video for the buttershop because people ask if it gets old to hear ‘hi gay’ and it really doesn’t. But also [it resonated] because we want businesses to be supportive of us but then it’s weird when it’s just in Pride month and when they’re just trying to make money off it.
I remember during the pandemic, it was like, how do we perform right now? I had just moved to New York, was just starting to get recognition, then suddenly was stuck in a very expensive apartment unable to leave. Obviously there were scarier things to be worried about during that time but I really missed performing. I will never get over performing or take it for granted again.
What was the weirdest thing about becoming internet famous?
Megan Stalter: It’s weird that people can guess information about you and just put it online, like who is making up everyone’s net worths?
Do people shout Hi Gay at you on the street?
Megan Stalter: People do say it on the street sometimes and it’s nice, it’s such a welcoming phrase. If I could pick a phrase random people say to me on the street I want people to know it would be that.
Tell us about your Edinburgh show – An Evening of Mayhem with Megan Stalter.
Megan Stalter: I’ve wanted to do the festival for years, and I’ve worked on the show for a long time and there’s a lot of audience participation stuff. My persona is this performer who thinks she’s amazing at everything and she’s just not. It’s very much me like ‘I can sing, dance, do all this other stuff’ and then am bad at it all. It’s a mix of new and old stuff but with audience participation it always feels new.
What is your artistic process when writing a show, and how do you prepare to go on?
Megan Stalter: I perform at Largo a lot, a theatre in LA. I host shows there. I’ll think of a bit and try it out there a few times. So it’s not like I’m sitting down to write my show, it’s more ‘I have a show tonight, I’m going to write a new intro’ and then if I have fun with it I’ll work out how it fits into a bigger show.
I like to prepare to perform by making sure I’m in the most silly girl mood, which could mean me being manic to everyone backstage. I like to be hyper and a little nervous which makes me feel like a happy child. I’ll make my set list but always let myself know that I don’t have to stick to it. I also try and eat a perfect amount of food because I never want to be hungry during a show but also don’t want to eat right before because I don’t want to be sleepy.
Have you ever been heckled?
Megan Stalter: I’ve never had ‘get off the stage lady!’ but I’ve had people talking back and answering my questions since there’s a lot of improv. I think after the pandemic and Instagram lives people were used to talking back so they did it more at shows.
Who else are you most looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh and why?
Megan Stalter: There are so many incredible performers at the fest it’s incredibly exciting! I personally can’t wait to see some of my close friends’ shows because they are some of the funniest people in the world. One of my close friends, Patti Harrison will be there. We just did a tour with Sarah Sherman called The Live New Girls tour where we all opened together then did our own sets and it was the most fun I’ve ever had. Also Cara Connors is one of my favorite comedians right now and her show is a must-see. And Greta Titelman and Ruby McCollister have incredible must-see shows. I LIVE for my girls.
If you weren’t a comedian what would you be doing?
Megan Stalter: I would be a therapist maybe? I love people and always want to help people. That or a magician.
What’s your goal with comedy and acting?
Megan Stalter: I’d love to do all types of acting, and to be in a scary movie, but mostly it’s to keep working with friends and to write for myself.
Why is the writer’s strike important to you?
Megan Stalter: It’s important to ask for what you deserve. It’s about people standing up and protecting themselves. They’re not getting paid what they should, nowhere near. And the AI stuff is scary. They are saying they could make a background actor film for one day and then use it forever. It’s scary in general to let robots take over people’s jobs. How could it compare? It’s like AI art, it’s never gonna be as good. I hope we can reach an agreement soon and writers and actors can get what they’re asking for.
An Evening of Mayhem with Megan Stalter is presented by Soho Theatre at Edinburgh throughout August