Hacks Star Megan Stalter on Making Her Dreams Come True

“I believe in it all, but I don’t know anything about it,” Megan Stalter says, laughing. She’s talking about astrology, the perennial fascination that, no matter how ambiguous, has seeped into every corner of our especially online lives. The 31-year-old comedian is a Virgo, but she can’t relate to the perfectionist traits associated with the sign. “Maybe my work ethic is Virgo, but I’m just so messy,” she says. Lucky for Stalter, messiness has no bearing on success, something she has been experiencing plenty of since her breakout supporting role in Hacks, an HBO comedy about the relationship between a legendary Las Vegas comic (Jean Smart) and her young outcast writer (Hannah Einbinder).

When we meet over Zoom, Stalter is fresh off her first Emmys, where Hacks swept the comedy categories, including best writing, best directing, and a best actress nod for Smart. “It was so much fun, it felt surreal. I saw Kate Winslet on a couch. I felt like a little kid,” she says. While the night was star-studded, Stalter reserves fanning out for her childhood idol. “I don’t worship celebrities unless they’re Dolly Parton. If I saw Dolly Parton in a store, something might take over me,” she says. “I think she’s the coolest celebrity in the whole world.”

In Hacks, Stalter plays a hilariously overstepping low-level assistant whose father owns half the company. “Kayla is extremely nervous and confident at the same time. She’s very privileged, and I think she’s trying to impress her boss, but she also thinks that she’s the boss,” says Stalter. Kayla is a chaotic joy to watch, and is somewhat of a continuation of the many characters that the comedian has inhabited on social media—from the boss who thinks she’s more fun than she really is to the wife who surprises her husband on a business trip where he’s about to cheat on her. “They’re usually people that are losing their minds but trying to pretend like everything’s okay,” she says. “I think I make fun of stuff that I am, at least in part. You can only play parts that have at least a small part of you or someone you love.” There’s also a thread of delusion that carries through each of these wild pastiches, which Stalter says is the same delusion that got her to where she is today. “You just can’t be in the field without it. You have to believe in yourself more than anyone else does,” she says.

Photography by Alexa Viscius.

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Stalter used to dream about being an actress. “I used to imagine myself on E! True Hollywood Story, but not the part where the story ends badly,” she says. She avoided pursuing her dream for years, thinking it too impractical to be a reality. Stalter considered nursing and even becoming a church missionary, but nothing clicked until she moved to Chicago and joined the improv scene. When COVID-19 hit, she was devastated to not be performing onstage, so she turned to Instagram Live, which she transformed into a nightly variety show where she’d perform as her alter-egos, host theme nights, and engage directly with fans. “There were definitely parts of the pandemic where I was really depressed, but I think when I got to be creative or feel okay about being alone, I got to be even more authentic about what I thought was funny,” she says. As for what makes her laugh? “There’s nothing funnier than Pee-Wee Herman when he’s mean,” she says. That, and being roasted. “I think one of my love languages is being teased.”