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Beth Stelling is great, even if she doesn't believe it

Fake it 'til you make it

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There is really one main thing that I must ask Beth Stelling.

She has thrived as a stand-up, breaking out of the competitive Chicago comedy scene to tour nationwide and make numerous late-night television appearances. She's written for the HBO series Crashing and served as associate producer on the 2019 film Good Boys. Unfortunately, I'm a very simple person who just wants to ask Stelling about her brief appearance on one episode of a failed 2010 cop show.

I am not proud of this, nor am I ashamed. I just want to know what it is like to appear on a procedural crime drama, be interviewed by actors portraying homicide investigators, and provide crucial evidence that helps lead to the arrest of a murderer. I will ask Stelling additional questions about her very impressive career, but my primary concern will be her role as Greta on Detroit 187.

Stelling recently broke into the podcast market with what may be the last original idea left up for grabs in the crowded digital landscape. With We Called Your Mom, Stelling and her mother phone up the women who raised some of their favorite entertainers. At the heart of the series, lies the intrigue surrounding what these performers were like when they were barely people at all.

"My favorite parts of speaking with artists' moms are hearing the stories from childhood when their gifts were first made evident. Of course not everyone has a great relationship with their mother and as you can imagine, we haven't spoken to those moms. Not to mention all the moms we've missed out on because they are no longer with us," says Stelling. "But I think it's comforting to hear the similarities of these — often the youngest — children being a little bit different and how their moms help, support, and worry about them while they navigate their way of life and how to share what they see through their unique lens."

Stelling also worked on HBO's Crashing, a series that starred Pete Holmes as an aspiring comic struggling to navigate show business. As a writer on the series, Stelling recognizes that she was just one voice in the chorus and says she often yearned for a more grounded portrayal of the pursuit and drudgery of a career in stand-up. At the same time, she recognizes that TV networks "often require a higher entertainment quota than real life."

With that in mind, let's bring the conversation back to Stelling's brief role on Detroit 187, which is her earliest major acting credit. In the episode titled "Lost Child/Murder 101," Stelling appears around the 23-minute mark. I spent $1.99 on the episode, which I now own forever and hope Stelling receives some form of residuals.

In the episode, Stelling portrays a young college student named Greta. Greta has no last name. Greta is studious. We know this because she is clutching a large textbook to her chest and wearing a sweater over a collared shirt. Greta is questioned by detectives after her former roommate falls under the thrall of a med school classmate. Together, the two students murder a janitor.

Stelling's on-screen turn as Greta leads to the downfall of the two suspects, but I was curious what the role meant to her. A decade later, after writing for major networks and working on feature films, did this small part matter?

"I remember being so excited that I booked a real TV show. The odd part about this 'acting' thing is that you want something so bad, then if you get it, you can't believe you got it and don't really feel worthy," Stelling says. "Maybe I shouldn't be using the universal 'you' and just say me. I didn't feel worthy and was insecure about my acting ability. Also they flew me to Detroit from Chicago and put me up in a nice hotel — not something I was used to, and it wasn't a really big part in the show. I remember being thankful it was only a few lines! The fear!"

Rewatching the episode, it's striking to not only see Stelling portraying a young student involved in a larger scheme, but also to see the earliest stages of a person's career in the entertainment industry. Stelling recalls the sweetness of the cast and crew. She worked at a coffee shop at the time, but they treated her like a crucial part of the production.

Stelling was worried she'd forget her lines, miss her mark. Her makeup wasn't how she would have worn it normally. She's been thrust into a network television set. Stelling — like many others — was struck with imposters syndrome. She didn't think she deserved what she had earned. She didn't believe she was good enough to be where she was. And even after achieving success by being herself and sustaining a career in show business in the 10 years that followed, Stelling still feels those same fears. Even if she shouldn't.

"I left wondering if I'd actually done a 'good' job, why they chose me, if I'd be cut," Stelling says of her first TV role, "and I'd like to say that mentality has gone away, but I'm still working on that; feeling like I earned my place and belong among some of the best."

Beth Stelling

SOLD OUT Fri. Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Woolfe Street Playhouse

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