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Hacks Star Megan Stalter on Serving Up Queer Midwestern Camp

‘Hacks’ Star Meg Stalter on Serving Up Queer Midwestern Camp

“Hi, Gay” is how Megan Stalter’s alter ego greets viewers in her faux Pride Month commercial. In the video, captioned “corporations this month,” Stalter’s character sits uncomfortably in front of a wagon wheel, her hair in braids, sporting an off-the-shoulder brown dress as if she’d just walked off the prairie. She trips over her words as she attempts to entice LGBTQ+ customers —a demographic clearly not in her orbit — to her butter shop with Pride Month deals.

Stalter has created dozens of characters like this in videos shared to TikTok and Instagram since lockdowns began in 2020. The butter-shop bit demonstrates her brand of humor, which leans into her identity as a sardonic bisexual Midwesterner.

Already a scene-stealer as Kayla, the chaotic assistant to Paul Downs’s agent on the multiple-Emmy nominated HBO Max series Hacks, the actress went viral on social media when she released the Pride Month video, garnering more than 1.5 million views on Instagram alone. A stand-up performer as well, she amped up her comedy videos as a creative outlet when performance spaces shuttered in 2020.

Meg Stalter

Credit: Chanukah Lewinsky

Stalter’s work is more than a pandemic escape. She makes the kind of art she says would have helped her feel more seen when she was a young queer person. It’s visibility she still craves.

“I light up when I see a gay character or a queer character. Last night, I stayed up to watch the new L Word [Generation Q],” Stalter says. “The second season came out and we’re so starved for it. Even though [representation] is evolving, and there is a lot more now than when I was growing up, there are some nights when I’m googling gay movies, just dying to see something where I feel represented.”

“If I get to audition for a part that has a queer character, I’m like, Oh, my God. It’s just so crazy how we’re still so starved for it and how excited I get when I do an audition for someone who’s gay,” she adds. “I think if I saw more of it in the media, I probably would have realized that I was queer sooner.”

The character of Kayla on Hacks is the first TV role for the Ohio native. The comedy about brash Hollywood writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder), whose agent sends her to Vegas to work with an aging comedian, Jean Smart’s Deborah Vance (Stalter calls Smart “regal”), is more than a critical darling. The show seamlessly features the kind of LGBTQ+ representation Stalter loves. Einbinder, like her Hacks character, is bisexual. She stars alongside nonbinary actor Carl Clemons-Hopkins, who plays Deborah’s gay right-hand man.

Meg Stalter and Paul W. Downs

Meg Stalter and her Hacks costar Paul W. Downs, Credit: HBO MAX

“One of my favorite things about Hacks is that there are all these queer characters and it’s just who they are. It’s not so focused on them coming out,” Stalter says. “It’s important for us to have those stories of coming out, and sad stories or triumphant stories. But it’s so important to have that representation of just, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s one thing about me, but it’s not everything about me.’”

Scroll through Stalter’s Instagram page and it’s peppered with videos of recognizable yet nameless characters like “the woman in the movie who’s trying to act like she’s moved on” and “the boss that thinks she’s fun but she’s not.” Stalter’s a master improviser; she was allowed space to ad-lib for Kayla at times on Hacks. And in her videos, she performs long bits off the cuff, like her “massage therapy” act. Her characters teem with spontaneity, but there’s a pointed quotidian quality culled from her upbringing. A queer, campy thread runs through her work, infused from an early love of Christopher Guest films and by coming into her bisexual identity having been an avid churchgoer when she was young.

“I grew up in church, and since I knew I was attracted to boys, I never really thought about it,” Stalter says. “Looking back, I had crushes on like, my cousin’s friends. [There were] those moments of being like, Oh, I’m nervous at a sleepover. Oh, I love to be around all these girls.”

“I was closed off and didn’t realize it because I felt like we were being told that was a sin,” she adds. “When I got older and felt spiritually connected to God, and the only thing that God or the universe wanted was for me to be myself, I was like, Oh, there’s no judgment from the universe about this. This is other people’s judgments on me.”

Judgment be damned, Stalter has another revelation: “Looking back, I was definitely into Cameron Diaz in The Mask.”

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