We ask comedian Bethany Van Delft … How Do You Keep Them Laughing? Bethany Van Delft worked for years as a successful runway model and high-end-restaurant manager until she realized her true calling: comedy. Today, the Massachusetts native and Boston resident performs in clubs across the city, has been featured in the Boston Comedy Festival, […]
By Tricia Rose Burt
Dec 16 2014
We ask comedian Bethany Van Delft … How Do You Keep Them Laughing?
Bethany Van Delft worked for years as a successful runway model and high-end-restaurant manager until she realized her true calling: comedy. Today, the Massachusetts native and Boston resident performs in clubs across the city, has been featured in the Boston Comedy Festival, and is a founding member and producer of Colorstruck: Women of Color in Comedy. We sat down with Van Delft to talk about her battle with shyness, turning pro, and the joys of making people laugh.
Growing up, I was the nerdy one and very shy. I could be in a social situation as long as my mother’s leg was somewhere nearby. As a teenager, I even took my mother to parties. But inside the house, we were all insane. My mother has a huge personality. When she tells family stories, she acts out all the characters and plays both sides of the conversation. My father is dry and deadpan. He loves, loves, loves comedy. As kids, he made us watch Mae West, W. C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, and Charlie Chaplin.”
“Because my family was so funny and we were laughing all the time, I was drawn to comedy. Plus, joking around became a defense mechanism to deal with my shyness and social anxiety. If you’re laughing, you can’t be anxious or panicked or depressed. Laughing takes you away from a heavy, dark world, which I can turn to sometimes.”
“I watched Saturday Night Live religiously. I dreamed about it. I’d remember the entire show, and that’s all I would talk about for the next week. I never thought I could do comedy. I don’t know who I thought did get to do comedy, but it wasn’t me. Later, when I was an adult, my therapist asked, ‘If you could do anything in the world that you wanted, what would you do?’ I was in a place in my life where I should have been very happy—I had a great job as a restaurant manager, lived in a beautiful place, was in a good relationship. But I wasn’t happy. I said, ‘You mean like in my wildest dreams?’ She said, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘I’d be on Saturday Night Live.‘ Then she asked why I didn’t try, and I said, ‘Because I have a good job, a great apartment and boyfriend, and I’ll lose them all if I have to move for my new comedy career.’ She said, ‘In your mind, you’ve already become successful and lost everything, and you’ve never even gotten on stage. Why don’t you write a joke and go from there?'”
“I took a class in stand-up at the Boston Center for Adult Education. The class was good, but I was terrified because I was so shy. I wouldn’t talk in front of the class or read what I’d written. I went to four or five classes and then stopped going completely. But the class final was to perform a five-minute set at The Comedy Studio in Harvard Square. I worked really hard on this five-minute set and showed up at the club, and the instructor asked, ‘What are you doing here? Do you think it will be any better on this stage than standing up in class?’ I did my set, got some laughs, and the owner, Rick Jenkins, who is one of the most supportive guys in comedy, gave me dates to come back and perform at The Comedy Studio.”
“Every month I’d write a brand-new set and perform one night at The Comedy Studio. But that’s not how you do comedy. Comedians perform every single night at every place they can get stage time. Rick would tell me to try my material at other places, and he’d give me a list of open-mic nights, but I didn’t understand him. I’m thinking, ‘I’m happy here. I’m loyal!’ But each month, I got increasingly anxious about my date. One day, while I sat at home trying to write anything funny, I went through a pack of cigarettes. Then I went to the corner store and bought another pack. I finally freaked out from all the nicotine, started crying, and canceled my dates. I didn’t do comedy for four years. I didn’t think I belonged, because it didn’t make me happy. I thought it made everyone else who’s in it happy. Then I saw Jerry Seinfeld’s documentary Comedian. I was flabbergasted at how soul-crushing, depressing, painful, and lonely the work is for many comedians. I thought, ‘That’s exactly how I felt when I was doing comedy. I do belong there! I was just becoming a comedian!'”
“I started doing comedy the right way. I did open-mic nights. I drove two hours to perform a seven-minute set at a bar where the only audience was the bartender and her best friend. I performed a 20-minute set at a grocery store for 50 conservative 85-year-olds. I bombed, I got my soul crushed, but I did it the right way. That’s how you become professional.”
“It’s awful to bomb. Imagine a roomful of people who you believe with your whole heart do not like you. So, you wallow that night, and then the next day, you wake up and start from scratch. When it’s successful, well, that’s the most amazing feeling in the world. I’ve bartended, and I’ve baked, and sure, that makes people happy, but comedy is direct and intravenous: I said something and people laughed. It feels great to know I’m responsible for that. You start chasing that feeling. I think it’s a privilege to be a comedian. I feel lucky. When the work’s really difficult, I think about what it felt like when I was on the outside looking in and longing for it. I don’t want to be there again. That’s what keeps me coming back.”
For upcoming show dates, visit: bethanyvandelft.com