Now Playing Nightly on Instagram: Sketch Comedy’s Newest Star

Now Playing Nightly on Instagram: Sketch Comedy’s Newest Star

On her podcast, Stalter plays a version of herself that’s harsher than any of her characters, a fame-hungry nobody who keeps calling up comics, asking them to appear on her show, and when they turn her down, erupting in hostility. (Chelsea Peretti and Chris Gethard sent themselves up beautifully by insisting on their niceness.)

Stalter does some more straightforward parodies like a satire of rom-com clichés, but what distinguishes her from her peers is an unpredictable surreal streak. Her videos start and end abruptly, and don’t build so much as evolve into a series of tangents with pivots that veer off into delightful lunacy. In a sketch about a woman who, in a misguided seduction, invited only one man to her birthday party, she gesticulates to her labored flirtation, then seems to be so delighted by her own waving arms that she makes them the main focus, transforming a conventional premise into deliriously abstract physical comedy.

With an exception or two, Stalter has steered clear of focusing on the pandemic, though on Twitter and Instagram, where you can see comments right by her face, fans often say she helps them deal with isolation or even the virus itself. On Wednesday night on IG Live, with her hair in a bun surrounded by a beaded necklace, she played a loony psychic (“I followed an owl here and the rest is history”) who invited people to appear on a split-screen and have their futures told.

One woman talked about losing her job and another slightly shaken teenager expressed worry about how the current chaos would change her college prospects. Stalter assured both that things would work out, that we’re in this together, and appeared increasingly aware of the cathartic purpose of her comedy. In one psychic reading, she seemed to get emotional comforting a girl, breaking character and saying: “I know this is a funny character but it’s more than that,” she said, adding. “People need magic right now.”

In that moment, Meg Stalter sounded a bit like a Meg Stalter character. She also was speaking a truth. But she returned to artifice quickly, shifting into the inherent optimism of the voice of a mystical figure who believes enough in the future to read it on tarot cards.

These funny men and women are especially good at “front-facing camera comedy” on social media.

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