Off Script: What '2 Broke Girls' Star Beth Behrs Learned From Playing a Stand-Up Comic in NYC
The theater-trained TV actress survived her New York stage debut in 'A Funny Thing...' thanks to yoga videos on YouTube, transcendental meditation and big Italian dinners in the West Village.
Beth Behrs, best known as one of 2 Broke Girls on CBS, makes her New York stage debut in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City, playing a bohemian stand-up comic who bonds with a middle-aged divorced man in a hospital room shared by their dying mothers. In the off-Broadway play, penned by Halley Feiffer and directed by Trip Cullman, Behrs is “very effective,” writes The Hollywood Reporter, “garnering many laughs but also movingly conveying Karla's inner turmoil.”
“It’s been the most challenging thing but the most creatively rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Behrs tells THR ahead of her final performance on Sunday. “Theater is truly the only actor’s medium. With film and TV, there are editors and cameras, but once a show opens, it’s all in the actors’ hands. A TV show is nothing compared to doing a play every night, and going back will feel like such a break. I’ll have a life again!”
Behrs, 30, goes Off Script with THR to talk learning from her stand-up character, falling in love with Williamsburg and staying strict for six months: “It’s not an exciting life, but it’s so worth it to go onstage and feel strong.”
Why did you pick this role?
I’ve been wanting to do a play here for years, but it’s never worked out with my schedule. I read this because I could audition over Skype from L.A., but after I read it, I called my agent and said, “I’ll fly out and audition in person because I’m so in love with this piece.” I thought, anything that makes me laugh that hard and and cry for an hour afterward is something I can’t let go.
What do you admire most about your character, Karla?
Oh god, she’s so much stronger than me in every way; I’m such a people-pleaser. And I’ve learned a lot from playing a stand-up comedienne, and thinking about what she must have had to go through to try to make it in a male-dominated industry. I read Judd Apatow’s book of interviews and watched Kevin Pollak’s documentary Misery Loves Comedy. The balls and bravery it takes -- every night, I have to open the show with that monologue about rape and vibrators! It’s taught me about being fearless; you cannot be shy in stand-up.
Beth Behrs, Lisa Emery, Jacqueline Sydney, Erik Lochtefeld in 'A Funny Thing...' Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
What new habit have you adopted for the role?
I never miss yoga before a show. I’ve fallen in love with Yoga with Adriene on YouTube, and I do it in my apartment. I love the freedom to be able to breathe as loud as I want and not care about people around me. I’m gonna keep it up when the show is over.
What have you given up to play this role?
I really miss Kat [Dennings]! She’s my best friend, and I’ve been here since March. And I miss riding my horse and being completely immersed in nature in Topanga Canyon.
What’s something special in your dressing room?
A note I received on my first night of previews from my two best girlfriends in the whole world. And my vocal steamer.
What time do you wake up on a show day?
I wake up around nine and do morning chants in my bed. I learned transcendental meditation four years ago, and I do it twice a day, plus an extra ten minutes before the show because I struggle with stage fright just before I go on.
Have you changed your diet for this show?
I eat very clean, and usually eat a big dinner afterwards at an Italian place like I Sodi or Sant Ambroeus. So many old friends and family members have been coming to see the show, so it’s a great excuse to indulge in a ton of great West Village places.
Any pre-show rituals?
I have a playlist for Karla that I listen to while on the subway from Williamsburg. A lot of Talking Heads, Patti Smith, George Jones, Simon and Garfunkel, Gillian Welch, Jessie Mueller’s big Waitress song. It’s a pretty eclectic mix of songs that I thought she’d be drawn to for whatever reason.
What do you do on your day off?
Finishing my book that’s coming out next year, and spending time outside with my dog. Williamsburg has such a neighborhood vibe, and I feel like I’ve gotten to know people here. It’s my first time living in New York, and I’ve never felt more inspired than I have while living here.
What have you loved about returning to theater?
From the time I was five years old, theater was all I knew. I did community theater, I went to theater school. It’s like going to the gym as an actor: every single night, you have to recreate the illusion of the first time, so you really have to listen and connect and stay in the moment for an hour and a half -- with no breaks. Telling a story from start to finish is something I’ve missed over the past ten years.
What are your dream stage roles?
I’d love to tackle a classic Shakespeare play or take on Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House. Musical theater, it’s the classics like Rodgers and Hammerstein and Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate. I’m much more a Julie Andrews-type soprano than an Idina Menzel.
Beth Behrs in 'A Funny Thing...' Photo credit: Matthew Murphy