Megan Stalter will never forget the first time she wanted to be on the stage. Her Ohio elementary school was putting on a talent show, and she felt a "deep desire" to perform. The only problem? "I was bawling my eyes out. I had no talent, nothing prepared," she recalls.
However, there was no option for the budding comedian. Like a young Lucy Ricardo, she just had to be in the show, "or I'll die," she felt at the time. So, her mother brought her over to a friend's house. They rehearsed a dance, and the act was good enough to make the cut. "There was just something about being onstage," she reflects. "I'm like, I have got to be up there."
Stalter's burning desire to take the stage has gotten her far. Today, between her first TV role in Hacks (and an upcoming one in Peacock's Queer as Folk), her stand-up comedy shows, and her online presence, Stalter has a global platform upon which to showcase her talents. (At the time of this article's writing, she had 214,000 Instagram followers, who adore her kooky bevy of impersonations, like the "hi gay!" butter-shop employee desperate to court the rainbow dollar.) And while she gets "excited-nervous" sometimes, she rarely gets stage fright. Well, with some exceptions.
"I can do anything onstage, but I get nervous to order a coffee," Stalter, now in her early 30s, says with a laugh. Why the nerves around ordering coffee? "I guess my fear is if I ask for some like new drink, they're like, 'We don't have that. And why would you ask for diet coffee?'"
This dichotomy between fearlessness and anxiety is a quality she shares with Kayla, the oft-incompetent, privileged, yet endearing assistant to Deborah Vance's manager, Jimmy (Paul W. Downs). "She is the most confident and nervous person at the same time," Stalter reflects on her character, whose familial relationship to power makes her nearly impervious to corporate discipline -- even in the face of probable sexual harassment against her boss.
"Everyone's had that assistant who maybe grew up with money and isn't quite in touch with reality of how others live, but there's also a sweetness to her," Stalter observes, adding, "I feel like I wouldn't do the things Kayla does, of course, but I think she's...such a familiar character to me."
While Kayla's sexuality -- beyond Jimmy -- isn't defined, Stalter has her own view about her character's identity. "I could totally see her being like, 'Yeah, I'm bi,' or would hook up with a girl or have a crazy night with Ava or something," Stalter says, referencing castmate Hannah Einbinder's bi character. "I just think she dates models. That's what I think she does. That's in my mind, though. No one's asked yet about her doing that, but it is funny that she came on to Jimmy in the first season in the hotel. She's definitely sexual."
As reality mirrors fiction, Downs is also a co-creator and co-showrunner of Hacks, alongside fellow Broad City alums Lucia Aniello and Jen Statsky. Stalter couldn't be more pleased to be part of their team. The bisexual actor recalls watching their Comedy Central show, which ran from 2014 to 2019, and being floored by its queer representation.
"I think [the Broad City lead] Ilana was one of the first characters on TV that I remember being like, Oh, she is cool, bi, open. I don't know. We don't see a lot of it on TV," she says. "And that was one of the first things I'll never forget, seeing that and being like, Oh, that's like me."
Stalter sees Hacks as sharing that same DNA of imparting positive queer energy into the universe while unearthing fresh LGBTQ+ storytelling. "I think we all need the stories of coming out and these stories where that is a focus, but it's really cool to see a show [where the queerness] is part of who we are, but it's not the focus of the show. I need those shows too. I think we're really hungry for all of it."
Stalter knows the importance of creating safe spaces firsthand. She recently visited Austin to perform a comedy show at Vulcan Gas Company. Many of her queer Texan fans came out to see her perform, filling the venue with rainbow love. She compares the experience to reuniting with family -- while also taking over a stage previously used by controversial UFC commentator Joe Rogan. "I think I'm very different than who usually performs there," she says. "...it felt really moving to me to be able to be a part of making that venue [an inclusive] space for the weekend and kind of be like, this is for us too."
The comedian's loud-and-proud routine can make a difference in places like Texas, where LGBTQ+ folks are politically under attack -- even if that just means bringing some joy to her fans during a turbulent cultural moment. "It felt really special to meet these people that live in Texas with all that's going on," she says. "It was making me tear up after the show meeting people.... I feel really lucky to live in a liberal area and feel always comfortable to be myself."
Stalter is in many ways a bridge between ideologies; she was raised in the Christian faith, and her comedy remains infused with spiritual touches that link LGBTQ+ people with the divine. "God's bisexual," she asserts. She even expresses a desire to preach her queer comedic gospel in a tour of churches one day. But in terms of messaging, it really goes back to Biblical basics. "I think that my big political statement is to be yourself and to love and accept everyone.... It reaches everyone to be like, 'God, all we are supposed to do is love each other and accept each other. That's really what it means to be on this Earth.'"
Oh, by the way, what's her favorite coffee order? "I'm nervous right now even thinking about it," she laughs.
LOUIS VUITTON All Clothing and Accessories
This article is part of Out's May/June 2022 cover story, appearing on newsstands May 17. Support queer media and subscribe -- or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News. And don't miss season 2 of Hacks, premiering May 12 on HBO Max.
Talent MEGAN STALTER @megsstalter
Creative Director BEN WARD @_benjaminward_
Photographer SAM WAXMAN @wamsaxmansamwaxmanstudio.com
Styling MINDY SAAD @mindysaadstylist
DP ARIAN SOHEILI@arianshreds
Photo Assitant DAVID ZIMMERMAN @davidgzimmerman
Location STEVEN BARROW BARLOW @sbarrowbarlow DANIEL MORGAN @theairportbar
Grooming CAITLIN KRENZcaitlinkrenzbeauty.com
JONATHAN TAPAN @jonathantapangreymatterla.com
Make-up ROSIEKIA ARTIS @artis_Thee_artist
MICHELLE CHUNG rougeartists.com
Hair BRIAN FISHER
Hair & Make-up ERIKA VERETT
Related | Cover Stars: Hacks Is the Next Generation of Queer TV Comedy