Meg Stalter was on a flight to Ohio when inspiration struck—with a little help from a medical emergency. The comedian was sitting next to a woman whose blood sugar started to drop. Suddenly, another woman was pushing everyone aside, yelling, “I’m a paramedic! I’m a paramedic.”
“She was pushing everyone away and fully dressed in traveler’s clothes,” the comedian and actress recalls. “I was like, ‘Oh, my god, this is a character. It’s somebody that’s so confident and so, ‘Look at me,’ even though the woman was already being helped by the pilot.”
It’s exactly the sort of person Stalter has built a comedy career by parodying. A signature Stalter character is someone who’s “incredibly, incredibly confident yet very nervous,” which is why, if you didn’t know any better, you might think Kayla, the nepotistic receptionist she plays on HBO Max’s Hacks, was her own creation. Kayla is hilarious and hilariously unaware of how unfit she is for her job that even though the character only has a few lines in the show’s first episode, Judd Apatow took notice.
I hope there is a five episode arc deeply exploring this character. https://t.co/XIVGT8Q7ja
— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) May 18, 2021
“I hope there is a five episode arc deeply exploring this character,” the comedy director and writer tweeted with a screengrab of Stalter’s character asking series protagonist Ava (Hannah Einbinder) if she needs her parking validated and then immediately telling her that’s going to take a minute “girlie.”
Apatow is just the latest industry power player to notice Stalter. During the pandemic, she’s been entertaining thousands with her character videos and Instagram Lives. Her characters range from an accountant you’ve hired to do your taxes at the last minute (“How many pretzels do you think you ate last summer? Just ballpark it”) to a woman giving a speech at a party who shouldn’t be (“My blazer’s big because I have a job and that’s that”). This week she went viral for mocking corporations’ awkward attempts to appeal to the queer community during Pride Month.
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“All my characters are people that are trying to pretend like nothing bad is going on and they’re trying to pretend like their lives are not falling apart,” Stalter says.
Before she grabbed everyone’s attention on Instagram, Stalter says she’d found her brand of comedy was a little too off-beat for the improv troupes and stand-up scenes in New York and Chicago. It was during the height of the pandemic, while she was isolating with her family in Ohio, that she really started to hone her craft. When her videos on social media started getting big views, companies started paying her for sponsored posts, including a Coke Energy ad in which she utters the line, “Your favorite drink has just gotted a lot more better than it was being before”; she’s also on Cameo.
While everyone was stuck at home, Stalter finally found her audience. And making people laugh became a sort of healing exercise.
“This was the hardest, most stressful time and so many people have been in so much pain and I just feel really blessed and lucky,” she says. “I really did these characters online to save myself for my sanity. I was like, I have to create something to keep afloat for my own mental health.”
In November, she moved to L.A. to film Hacks. Now she’s slowly starting to perform live again, meeting the people she’s entertained for the past year.
“I feel so connected to the people who follow me in a way that I don’t know if I would have before,” she says.
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