Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away named Lincoln Park… I was taking a lunch break and went to get a tasty bagel. I ordered my bagel from a girl, about my age, with curly reddish/brown hair. She walked up to the counter and looked down, putting on gloves, “What can I get for you?” she asked, not making eye-contact. As though I was interrupting her. I ordered, (I don’t remember what) and she made it. Half-way through assembling my bagel sandwich, she looked up and said, “I just moved here from Florida and this is the first bagel I’ve made. You should be honored.” I walked back to work with my bagel and thought, “Wow, what a bitch.” She didn’t ruin my day or anything, in fact I probably forgot about it a few minutes later.
A few months later, I was supporting one of my best friends at her first comedy club show. She had just started comedy and within a year, stopped doing stand-up. We always said our jokes to each other, conversationally, before a show to practice. I think at that point, I was writing half her material. (To this day, I’m afraid to start using the material I wrote for her because I’m afraid someone will think I’m stealing from her.) At the show, I saw this amazing comedienne with curly reddish brown hair. She was one of the funniest people I’d ever seen live. I approached her after the show, with my friend, and asked her to do my show, The Sarcastic Squadron at a dive bar in Roger’s Park. This was well before I had a reputation for booking comedy or producing shows so I felt like sort of a creeper approaching her. Nonetheless, she gracefully thanked me and gave me her email so we could plan the show.
The show had a huge turn-out, we packed that little dive bar. It was one of the first shows, if not the second or third, I had ever produced. I put this comedienne that I scouted as the headliner and told all my friends about her. I hosted the show and my friend and my gal pal who I wrote jokes for did a set too as well as a lunatic-and-a-half musical improviser named Eric Lutz. People loved it.
I had a strange suspicion about this new comedienne. During her set, she had a series of jokes about the bagel place she worked–she wasn’t just passionate about her job, she was an advocate, openly telling the audience to come to see her and buy bagels. I couldn’t imagine that she was the same girl although I didn’t remember her well enough–it’s much different seeing someone on stage than seeing them behind a bagel counter. And she was much nicer; so sweet to work with and so polite about my “Wanna be in my show? Please? I’ll be your best friend” enthusiasm.
“Hey, Beth?” I asked while she was being mobbed by friends of her who came to see the show and my friends who wanted to just bask in her hilarity. “Did you just move here from Florida?” I braved. “Yeah, how’d you know that?” she asked. And I told her the story, leaving out the part where I thought she was in a terrible mood. “Yeah, that was me, I only ever said that once,” she said, laughing.
I did another show with her, and another, all at the same dive bar. Beth, myself and our crazy music improviser Eric Lutz. We added people to the show, both Beth and I suggesting people–some of these names that played this dive bar with us became the biggest names in Chicago comedy including Matt Drufke, Cameron Esposito, The Puterbaugh Sisterz, Joe Fernandez and Bill Cruz and even one amazing New York ukulele playing comedian Ben Lerman. During one of these shows, Beth and I stood backstage and looked at our audience and saw a girl with short red hair. “Who is she?” I asked them. “I don’t know, she’s not here with me, is she here with you? No?” We were perplexed. After the show, we went up to her and asked who she was and she said she heard about our show and came to check it out. We were floored. I can’t speak for the others but this was probably the same feeling I felt when I got the first feature article or radio interview. ‘You… HEARD about my show,’ I thought. I’ve made it!
Then, I thought it would be a great idea to take our show and move it to Boystown. I’d rent out a theater and we’d have a weekly multimedia comedy show with stand-up, sketch, improv and movies. The cast members, Beth Stelling, Eric Lutz, Matt Drufke and myself would take turns hosting. We shortened the name of the show to The Sarcastic Squad and to this day, those are some of my most cherished comedy memories. I hand-drew each of the programs and spent way too much money on rent and booze–in other words, the show was my heart and soul.
The show did well enough that we moved to Berlin nightclub down the street for Sarcastic Squad’s The Pre After-Party Show and starred in my multimedia full-length play Mattress Matters.
Not quite a year later, I began doing a weekly comedy show at Sidetrack called Laugh Track and, (no surprise here,) Beth was a fan-favorite. We brought her back as often as possible, she’d headline, she’d host, she’d judge our comedy contest and she even hosted our Holiday show as Mrs. Clause.
Her name is Beth Stelling. In addition to being a cast member Chicago Underground Comedy, she has been on the cover of the Redeye, won Best Stand Up from the Chicago Reader and been featured in the New Faces of Comedy in Montreal as part of the Just For Laughs tour.
Well, many years after she started doing comedy, Beth is taking the move she has worked so hard for: LA. I’m so happy and proud (and mad!) that she is leaving us but thankfully I get to do one last show with her. Even though we are off-season, Sidetrack is letting us do a one-time Laugh Track at Sidetrack show to say farewell to Beth. Join Laugh Track house MC Bradley Thomas (Night of 100 Drag Queens, Only At Brunch) as he hosts the event with Beth Stelling themed caption games and featuring myself and Jason Ryan (Edge Comedy Club) with a headlining set by Beth.
This is Beth’s last show in Chicago, she moves a day later so be sure to come early and find a seat because all of Chicago is going to be there to say goodbye. Laugh Track at Sidetrack presents… Farewell to Beth Stelling! Thursday August 11th, 7pm (an hour earlier than usual) at Sidetrack 3349 N Halsted. Admission is free, attendees must be 21 or over.