Beth Stelling Takes Dad Jokes to a New Level in Her Netflix Special
We’re sure there are comedians with happy, normal upbringings. Jerry Seinfeld, for example, claims to be one of those rare birds. But more often, that skewed comic point-of-view comes from a childhood of uncomfortable weirdness. In Beth Stelling’s new Netflix special, If You Didn’t Want Me Then, she invites us to peer into the parental petri dish in which comedy minds are born.
Stelling is back on stage in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, a place for which she clearly has fond memories. It’s where she was raised — well, mostly. After her parents’ divorce, she spent much of her time there in the care of her music teacher mom, the source of a funny story about kids learning the old “One, two, buckle my shoe” song. Let’s just say one of the young students had a different rhyme for the “Nine, ten” verse that was not safe for work — or the second grade.
But when young Stelling wasn’t in Dayton, she was with her wanna-be actor dad in Orlando, which, as she points out, is not where you move if you wanna be an actor. His thespian dreams came true — sorta — when he landed the role of Truck Driver in an episode of Swamp Thing. But when Hollywood wouldn’t come to him, he created a show biz life of his own in the form of wacky characters holding up signs to direct customers into local businesses. A pirate, a pig, a pizza man — Stelling’s dad could do it all. Kind of embarrassing, but at least you get to play in the garage full of (sometimes crotchless) costumes. (This all sounds hilarious, but turns out her description isn’t half as mind-blowing as the real thing. Bert Stelling’s Stars on Call is 100 percent real and worth your time if you want to witness a real Orlando entertainment entrepreneur at work.)
You’d think a career dressing up as a leprechaun in front of an Irish restaurant would be the guy’s most eccentric trait, but Stelling makes a good case for her dad’s insistence on mixing up a nightly meal of dog food and Hershey’s kisses for Orlando’s raccoon population. It’s no wonder that he got up to 91 regular nightly visitors at one point. The vermin even made it onto one of Bert Stelling’s holiday cards, an honor Beth never got.
“I don’t know if I’ve painted a good picture of my father so far…,” she teases about the eccentric stock from which she descends. He’s a good source of funny stories, but she jokes (?) that she doesn’t have his number saved in her phone. Let’s just say she’s fine about the whole holiday card thing.
Stories about Stelling’s parents give way to the comic’s own thoughts about having children. (Spoiler alert: Doesn’t sound like she’s interested any time soon.) Her dry, confident delivery describes the horrors of birth control options available to women, and shoutouts from the audience confirm that those jokes resonate.
Stelling brings it all together with a final story about performing at a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, an organization she endorses and her father hates. It’s a very funny bit about our ties to the incredibly odd people who make us who we are. If they’re odd enough, apparently, they make comedians like Beth Stelling.