Beth Stelling: Girl Daddy proves Stelling one of the sharpest joke writers working today, providing zinger after zinger at the expense of sexual politics.
If Beth Stelling has a secret weapon as a comic, it’s her ability to talk about familiar points in fresh, cutting ways. All – or at least most – of comedy is this to some extent, but it’s distilled here in Beth Stelling: Girl Daddy, a solo hour special filmed for HBO Max right before Minneapolis shut down. Stelling, an Ohio native, covers familiar ground in her material, from gender differences and rape culture to the #MeToo movement and abortion, all expected topics for a female comic in a male-dominated industry and culture. But her incisive way of framing these issues, and her gift for pithy analogies presumably honed working as a writer behind the scenes, keep this special razor-sharp.
Produced by Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco and directed by Paymen Benz, Girl Daddy starts as it means to go on, with Stelling explaining how much medication she’s on, the differences between men and women buying condoms, and the ridiculousness of men saying women “trapped” them with a baby. Of course, gender forms an underlying theme, and a lot of that theme manifests as examples of men being idiots, which is hard to argue with. But the special is more than just that; it’s a litany of zingers that help to reframe gender norms and sexual politics by highlighting the ridiculousness of it all.
It helps that Stelling isn’t playing up her sexuality – her own sex life comes up, but not in the way it does in, say, a Nikki Glaser set. Her style is drier – pun not intended, obviously – and cleverer, and when the punchline lands it’s hard to come away not seeing the truth in it. When she says “there’s probably only, like, one rapist in here,” she laughs it off as a gag when it’s statistically pretty likely. When she advises men who are worried about sexual relationships in the post-#MeToo era to treat their partners like cats, the ridiculousness highlights what a dumb concern it is.
Stelling’s able to laughingly point out these absurdities because, despite how laidback and almost improvised her style seems, the gags are intricately written. She knows what she’s building towards, as in a bit where she ridicules she reflexive cries of due process from accused male comedians by jokingly raising the inherent biases of the justice system: “It’s their FUBU. For us, by us.”
Beth Stelling: Girl Daddy takes frequent aim at the comic’s own personal life too. She discusses how she likes sleeping with younger men – “I’m raising a wonderful young man” – and her fluctuating weight; about her sisters and her divorced parents, especially a right-wing aspiring actor dad which builds to a funny if ridiculous anecdote as a payoff. The pre-lockdown setting is intimate, but then again so is the material. And Stelling’s joke-writing is top-notch.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.