On HBO Max’s Hacks, Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) is out to reclaim her throne as one of the most influential names in comedy, but it’s another performance that firmly announces a star has been born.
As the ditzy, hilarious and absolutely deranged Kayla, Meg Stalter has fully arrived.
Stalter infuses Kayla, the assistant to Vance’s manager Jimmy (Broad City‘s Paul W. Downs), with enough humor and charm to light up the Vegas strip. While Hacks marks Stalter’s first major television role, her revelational performance comes as no surprise to her droves of fans on social media.
From creators Downs, Lucia Aniello and Jen Statsky, Hacks has already been renewed for a second season, which means we’ve hardly seen the last of Kayla…and certainly not the last of Meg Stalter.
Daniel Trainor and Sam Stone chatted with Stalter about taking her comedy to the next level, her sketch show dreams, finding humanity in her characters and staying safe on social media.
The final two episodes of “Hacks” premiere June 10th on HBO Max. Meg Stalter is Emmy eligible for Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.
Daniel Trainor: Hi Meg! Thanks for taking some with us. A dream!
Meg Stalter: Oh my god, thank you guys.
Trainor: Kayla has already become such an iconic character in the television lexicon. Who is Kayla? Is she an amalgamation of different people that you’ve come across?
Stalter: Wow! Well, I feel like I’m really lucky because Paul, Lucia and Jen wrote this hilarious character, but they also really let me be myself in it. It’s not really me, but it’s like a character that I’ve done, right? I feel like Kayla is a couple of different characters that I’ve done mixed with this hilarious character that they wrote. It’s probably the easiest character that I’ve ever done. The people that I like to play the most are incredibly, incredibly confident, but very nervous at the same time. There’s this element of her being able to do whatever she wants, but she’s also awkward and nervous.
Sam Stone: Was the role written for you specifically?
Stalter: They had me in mind for a long time. There was going to be a Kayla whether it was me playing her or not, but I think they wrote it with me in mind and kept adding more stuff for me. Other people auditioned, but it was a “Megan Stalter-like” character in the script.
Stone: It seemed like they looked at your Twitter and were like “let’s put this into our show.”
Stalter: It was just so beautiful. They had this character that was so funny already, and then I was a fan of Paul’s forever. We met on the show and really it hit off. They were so good at directing and adding stuff that I would have already said. We’re all so similar.
Trainor: I love this idea of you going into an audition for a “Megan Stalter-like” character and you’re just in the room with a bunch of other girls.
Stalter: (laughs) That’s really funny to think about.
Trainor: So now that you’re taking over the world as a television star, have you given thought to what your trajectory is? Has Hacks informed your decision-making process?
Stalter: Oh yeah. From the moment I started comedy, I’ve wanted to do everything all at once, all the time. The dream, of course, is to be in movies and to write your own show. My ultimate dream is to have a very strange sketch show. I think it’s so funny to imagine the character stuff I do if somebody actually had money for costumes. You know, having a character dressed really fancy at a horse ranch or something. A TV budget with Megan Stalter characters would be really funny to me. I also love the idea of doing serious stuff. The dream was always to act, even since I was little. I can’t believe I’m actually doing it.
Stone: I would say “Megan Stalter with a TV Budget” is actually a really cool name for a TV show.
Stalter: (laughs) I love that! That’s so funny.
Stone: What I love about your characters on Twitter is that you’re not mean. It feels like you actually care about these people. What is your process for creating these characters where it doesn’t feel like you’re punching down?
Stalter: That is so nice. That’s what I’ve always wanted. I love Cole Escola’s characters. All of their characters are so funny, but there’s something about them that makes you want to cry. With my stuff, I hope that they seem like real people, as crazy as they are. I think that’s what makes it not mean. Even if I’m playing somebody with totally different beliefs than me, I want people to watch and not see a monster, but they’re pretending that everything is okay as their life is falling apart.
Stone: Or like they are a monster, but they don’t mean to be.
Stalter: Yes! I’m from Ohio and there’s a lot of people who believe in different things than me here. But when you grow up in it, people really do believe that what they’re doing is right. Like the pastor of a megachurch. Obviously there’s evil versions of that, but I think they really do believe that they are doing good. I went to church last weekend with my mom and the pastor came out and said “guys, I went to Cheesecake Factory the other day and they told me to take my mask off and I thought ‘Thank God, that I don’t have to rebel!’” It felt like one of my characters. She’s truly rejoicing over this. I’m vaccinated or else I wouldn’t have gone inside.
Trainor: I think you really keyed into why so many of your characters are deliberate and believable, because being around those sorts of people is really what growing up in the Midwest is like. Do you think there’s a specific Midwestern sensibility to your humor?
Stalter: Yeah, definitely. There’s that Midwest charm. It’s just a different kind of person, really (laughs). Whether you’re good or bad, if you’re from the Midwest, it’s just a different vibe. Kayla is not, but most of my characters are from the Midwest. There’s just a level of sweetness while trying to do good. Also, just not having as much money or having fancy places to go to. There’s just something about it.
Stone: I know a lot of your characters came into the world on Twitter. Do you like Twitter?
Stalter: Oh my god, that is such a good question. I think that Twitter can be very scary and there’s very bad things on there. But I have to give credit to being online, in general. I have made so many friends online and felt such connection throughout the pandemic online. You have to take care of yourself and not read comments that bother you. You have to know that you cannot take it in if someone doesn’t like your thing, and just know that the right people find it. If Twitter makes you happy and you know who you are and you’re really grounded, then it’s fun and silly! It’s definitely not all good. I think Instagram feels a little safer.
Trainor: The comedy world has changed over the course of the pandemic, and I’m not sure we fully understand how much yet. Have you thought about how your comedic stylings will change as we start to get in front of live audiences again and how the scene might adapt?
Stalter: It’s very strange. When I first started comedy, I didn’t really fit in with the improv theaters. I didn’t really fit in with the stand-up theaters. I had to do my own thing. That’s how I found my voice. Now I can be in whatever theater and have fun because I know what I’m doing. But I feel like I never really fit in before and had to make my own way. When everything changed and we all had to be online, I felt like I had to create my own way, too. I just feel really lucky, though, because a lot of people are finding it hard. Comedy has changed. It used to be that you had to be at a festival to get a manager or an agent. Or be at this big, live showcase. Now, managers and agents and the industry are watching stuff online.
Stone: We know there’s been some buzz about a Kayla spin-off. We’re wondering if you’re looking for two gay writers with no credits to work on that show by any chance?
Stalter: (laughs) Wait, even my mom asked “do you think Kayla will have a spin-off?” I’ve only seen comments online about it, but I would love to see Kayla in some big, crazy scenarios! And, of course, the three of us need to collaborate!
Trainor: Well, I promise I’m not just trying to blow smoke here, but every little line of dialogue you deliver is so expertly done. Everything hits. When I see Kayla coming, I just sit up because I’m excited.
Stalter: Oh my god. That is so nice.
Trainor: This has fully been a dream. Sam and I will send over our non-existent writing packets.
Stalter: Amazing! Thank you so much.
Photo courtesy of HBO Max