Boston comedian Bethany Van Delft is set to celebrate cringeworthy social screw-ups with Starstruck: Close Encounters of the Awkward Kind. The new comedy show with co-host Nick Chambers features seat-squirming stories of people meeting their idols. We chatted with Van Delft before the Jan. 17 show at the Rockwell.
What first got you into comedy? I don’t think I considered that I could do comedy until I saw Saturday Night Live for the first time. But I had really soul-crushing stage fright. So it was an extremely long journey to get to the place where I could actually stand up, on stage, in front of people, without fainting or vomiting. [Laughs.]
How did you conquer your stage fright? This is ridiculous, but I modeled for a long time. When the opportunity came up, I saw it as a great opportunity to work on my stage fright. … I would already be this canvas for these fantastic artists and all I had to do was not faint. Like, stand up, walk down a runway and make it back so everybody could see all the work everybody put into it.
How would you describe the show? The show is comedians and storytellers telling stories about a time that they met a celebrity, or an idol of theirs, or someone they had a massive crush on, or a mentor—basically someone they hold in extremely high esteem. And then they absolutely blow it. Which is 100-percent the story of my life. … The other cool thing about the show is that the audience chooses their favorite story and that story is acted out by our sketch group called the Redo Crew. It’s the same story that the storyteller told but it’s in favor of the teller. … The stories have been fantastic and hilarious and awkward, but the redo has been such an extra added bonus.
Who are your comedy idols? It always changes all the time. I do enjoy watching Tiffany Haddish. Her style of comedy has been around a long time but has not gone mainstream because comedy has just been white guys for so long. So I love seeing her come into her own and get the recognition that she should get. And I like watching friends who I’ve come up with who are far more advanced than I am now because they stuck with their careers and I had babies. [Laughs.] I love watching my friends careers take off. That’s very inspirational. I like watching Sarah Silverman because I remember when she first came out I really liked her because she was so crass and she didn’t care about being the comedian that people thought a woman should be. Then she kind of got stuck in that character and even talked about how she painted herself into a corner and that she was sad that she didn’t know how to get out of it. And she has gotten out of it. This evolution of her is really cool to watch where she’s speaking her mind about political things.
How did the show come about? Nick Chambers is one of my favorite comedians in the city. He’s so incredibly talented that I was a little nervous and anxious to talk around him. We’d done a bunch of shows together, and he heard me tell stories about Prince, who I absolutely love still. When he passed, I started telling stories about him all the time. And they were all ridiculous. Completely ridiculous how many times I tried to meet him, and what happened and then I actually did meet him and that’s just the most painfully awkward story. And Nick asked me about it one day. He was like, “Was that true?” and I said, “Oh my god, it’s totally true.” He said, “That’s so painful and sad.” And I go, “You don’t even know the half of it.” Then every time I saw him I’d tell him a story of how I tried to meet Prince some other time, or the time Sheila E. picked me up off the floor because I was sobbing because I wasn’t old enough to get into the bar when Prince was playing. And then Nick would tell me stories too. He told me a hilarious story about trying to meet Pharrell Williams and trying to meet Sting. We would just go back and forth with these stories and die laughing. We could totally feel each other’s pain of walking away from these situations feeling like “Ugh, why did I say that?” … After brainstorming about it a few times, we thought about doing a podcast. Everybody has these stories so it should be everyone telling these stories. And we knew we had access to a lot of comedians and storytellers. We hope in the future though that we will get people from the audience to tell their stories. Because I think every single person has a story like this and that’s what I think makes this such a good show.
What’s your on-stage chemistry with Nick like? It’s really awkward when we open the show. It’s pretty awkward because I think we just don’t know how to open the show. [Laughs.] But it works because that’s the theme of the show. But pretty quickly we get into stories. And we don’t try to make each other laugh, but we end up making each other laugh so hard that we can’t breathe. Nick is just such a good storyteller that I’ll end up crying laughing and then the opposite happens.
Is it better to meet your idols and risk a weird interaction or not bother? I don’t know. Prince is the only idol that I really pushed for to meet. Other than that, I tried to stay away because I know I’m gonna botch it up somehow. People have different takes on it. There’s one storyteller that I know who has a lot of awkward stories but she goes out of her way to meet people. I think that’s great. I just know that I’d be terrified that I’d say something completely insane. And I will.