Beth Stelling, a Los Angeles-based comedienne, went public with her story of domestic abuse late last year.
Stelling has been featured on TV shows Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, @Midnight and Modern Comedian, all the while staying silent about her struggles with her (now ex) boyfriend.
Same girl in all of these photos (me). I’ve had an amazing year and you’ve seen the highlights here, so these photos are an uncommon thing to share but not an uncommon issue. You may be weirded out but do read on. I have a point. There are many reasons not to make an abusive relationship public, mostly fear. Scared of what people will think, scared it makes me look weak or unprofessional. When I broke up with my ex this summer, it wasn’t because I didn’t love him, it was because of this. And I absolutely relapsed and contacted him with things I shouldn’t have, but there are no “best practices” with this. When friends or comics ask why we broke up it’s not easy or comfortable to reply; it doesn’t seem like the appropriate thing to say at a stand-up show, a party or a wedding. It’s embarrassing. I feel stupid. After being verbally, physically abused and raped, I dated him for two more months. It’s not simple. After I broke up with him he said, “You’re very open and honest in your stand-up, and I just ask that you consider me when you talk about your ex because everyone knows who you’re talking about.” And I abided. I wrote vague jokes because we both live in L.A. and I didn’t want to hurt him, start a war, press charges, be interrogated or harassed by him or his friends and family. I wanted to move on and forget because I didn’t understand. I don’t want revenge or to hurt him now, but it’s unhealthy to keep this inside because my stand-up is pulled directly from my life. It’s how I make my living. My personal is my professional. That is how I’ve always been; I make dark, funny. So now I’m allowing this to be part of my story. It’s not my only story, so please don’t let it be. If you live in L.A., you’ve already started to hear my jokes about this and I ask you to have the courage to listen and accept it because I’m trying. Already since talking about this onstage, many women have come to me after shows asking me to keep doing it. Men have shown their solidarity. An ex-girlfriend of this ex-boyfriend came to me and shared that she experienced the same fate. Then there was another and another (men and women) who shared other injustices at his hand that..
Silence and comedy mix about as well as oil and water. So when Beth broke her silence, the comedy community was ready to talk. While many people have been supportive of Beth, not all have been. Comments on her post claimed she was making false accusations and others were critical of her decision to stay with her boyfriend and not press charges.
— Cameron Esposito (@cameronesposito) December 29, 2015
“What needs to change are the men more concerned with the chance of one man being falsely accused than they are with several women being hurt,” says New York City comedienne, Marcia Belsky. “I think then more women would feel comfortable coming out against abusers knowing they would be supported instead of doubted and shunned,” she added.
For many women in the comedy community, Stelling’s story struck a chord. While some questioned her decision to stay with her abuser, comedienne Chrissie Mayr found parallels between Stelling’s relationship and her own with another New York City comedian.
“It’s like the frog who is slowly being boiled in a pot of water, you don’t feel how bad it is. You’re so in love that the highs make you overlook the lows. We had so many fights that when he finally did lay a hand me, I made so many excuses for him. I even continued to date him for 9 more months, so reading Beth’s post made me feel less stupid that I too, had continued to date someone who abused me.” -Chrissie Mayr
With an estimated one in three women experiencing domestic abuse in the United States, it comes as little wonder women in comedy are also victims of abuse. However, it’s a topic rarely addressed by female comedians. Comedienne Carolyn Castiglia offered this explanation for silence: “We like to think that successful people aren’t susceptible to abuse and we foolishly believe that being vulnerable means we’re not strong, and therefore we’ll never be successful.”
On December 30, 2015, Cale Hartmann, Stelling’s alleged attacker, took to Facebook to defend himself in a public post, saying: “I was incredibly hurt to see my ex-girlfriend had made public accusations across all of her social media platforms that tell a story so far beyond the truth. The severity of her accusations are false and extremely harmful.” Unfortunately for Hartmann, there aren’t many comedians on his side.
As a guy who suffered too much of Cale Hartmann’s evil bullshit for one lifetime, it is a distinct relief to see him bounced out of comedy.
— James Adomian (@JAdomian) December 29, 2015
While Hartmann is entitled to defend himself, this may very well lead to a sea change in the comedy community. Rebecca Trent, owner of comedy club Creek and the Cave, says: “I’m sick of the stories I’m hearing from women in my community. I’m sick of hearing that girls can’t get booked if they don’t flirt or go out with the hosts. I’m sick of watching gross sexual predators try to hit on women in my space. I don’t want scumbags here.
“My calendar is going to change. I’m getting them out of my life. We deserve better and I can’t be a (self-appointed) warrior for this community unless I know I’m fighting for the good guys.”