'Hacks' Star Megan Stalter Talks Viral 'Hi, Gay' Video, Queer Representation in Comedy

The Hacks actress performed for a sold-out crowd at the New York Comedy Festival last Friday

Megan Stalter
Megan Stalter. Photo: Courtesy NYCF

Megan Stalter has arrived.

The comedian and actress has enjoyed a breakout year, from stealing scenes as a well-intentioned by entitled airhead of an assistant in HBO Max's Hacks and appearing in Kacey Musgraves' Star-Crossed: The Film, to dropping viral videos on Instagram (see: the instantly iconic "Hi, Gay" opening of her parody of corporations during Pride month).

Ahead of her sold-out appearance at the New York Comedy Festival last Friday, Stalter, 31, opened up to PEOPLE about what's next for her Hacks character Kayla, inspiration for her wacky, on-the-nose parodies and queer representation in comedy.

What do you love about the New York Comedy Festival?

It's always the most fun festival. There's nothing better than New York shows — the audiences, the venues, nothing compares to the New York comedy scene. I've had the most wild shows of my life when I've been in New York.

Meg Stalter, Paul W. Downs HBO MAX Hacks Season 1 - Episode 10
Megan Stalter and Paul W. Downs. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO Max

Hacks was one of the biggest shows on TV this year. When you got the role, did you have any idea how special it was going to be?

I really did, just because [creators] Paul [W. Downs] and Lucia [Aniello] and Jen [Statsky] are the funniest people in the world, and the script was so funny. You get good auditions all the time, but you don't always get something where you really see yourself in it and feel like you already have ideas about how to do it, like, "Oh, my God, this will come so natural because it's such a funny part." The whole time we were filming, I was like, "They're going to love this." The script was so funny, and they let us improvise, too. It just was the most fun, so it really did feel like it was going to be something really special.

Everyone on the show is so funny. How often did you break character?

There was a couple times in the hotel scene where both of us started laughing, and the camera people were laughing, because it was just so ridiculous — she comes out of nowhere, coming onto him — even though it's so her character. It's so Kayla to do something like that. We were talking about how we assumed she decided to do that 10 minutes before she did it. And we kept running that scene because it was so much fun. So we did break a couple times because we were adding in so much.

What can you tell us about season 2? Will we get more Kayla?

I wish I knew even a single dang thing about it. I don't have the script yet. I would reveal every inch of it if I did, but I think there'll be a little bit more Kayla, but I could be wrong. Pretty soon we'll start filming, but they are really keeping it under wraps. I keep pitching that I want to have really long, blonde hair — like, she just comes in one day with really long extensions, and she's stepping on her extensions. I don't think that'll be a part of it, but I am pitching that a lot.

You played such a fun part in Kacey Musgraves' Star-Crossed: The Film. How did that come about?

I think she was following me and I didn't realize she was, then the director reached out like, "Oh, we have this part" — because they were doing some cameos in this music video — and I was freaking out wanting to do it. I was out of town, but it just worked out where I was supposed to do a different part but then when I got into town, they needed someone to do that part and it was like, Daddy God blessed us, because I really had the most fun in that part. I guess she must have been following me. I had no idea. You never know who's following you, and then you go, "Wow, I'm such a big fan. I can't believe they're following me."

They told me to say it in any way I wanted. There weren't any lines, but I basically was supposed to be in the car, say hello to them, give them the bags. I was supposed to be the nerd, but they let me say it how I wanted, and there was a lot of improv. It was all improv, but they had the really funny idea.

Your "Hi, Gay" quote in your parody video in June took on a life of its own.

It was such a quick video that I made. It's always the quick ones. I wrote out a little speech and did it. I was in Ohio. My mom was coming to pick me up to go to lunch or something. It was so fast, and then videos I spend so long on sometimes don't get seen at all.

People must quote that to you all the time.

I had somebody the other day say, "Hi, Gay" to me on the street. I never assume someone's sexuality, but it sounded like they were a straight woman, so it felt more of an attack — because it was like they were driving by and yelling, "Hi, Gay" at me ... It's like the only time I've ever heard it where I felt, not unsafe, but a little bit like: "Oh, I don't know if that's for you." Maybe she is gay, I have no idea, but it was definitely like she knew me from the video.

Tell me about your process for those videos. Are they mostly scripted? Mostly improv?

Oh, my gosh. Well, some of them are scripted and then I improv with the script. So that "Hi, Gay" one was scripted because it was supposed to look scripted. But mostly, I'm never reading, that's the only one I've been reading off the script. Then sometimes I'll write it out. In the car, those ones are a little bit more improvised, or I'll least write out what I want to say and then say something different. I like to do that. I like to write out something, then I always end up saying a lot more different stuff.

Meg Stalter
Megan Stalter. Meg Stalter/Instagram

Where do your characters come from?

I feel like all the characters are at least a little bit either me or someone I know. The characters that have different beliefs than me and I'm making fun of are someone I knew or used to know. The characters are all real because that's what I think is funny, is people that seem really real — so they're all people that I've seen and grew up with in the Midwest or celebrities ... but to the extreme. They come from real people, but more absurd.

Let's talk about queer representation in comedy. Who do you look up to?

Seeing Ilana on Broad City be this bi woman who also dates different — I never saw a character like that growing up on TV. And that's recent. We're so starved of it. That that's why I love Hacks, too. Paul and Lucia and Jen write these characters that are queer, but living their lives. We need coming out stories and the devastating movies about it, because, a lot times, that's what we've gone through. But I also want to see queer characters that are just living their lives, because it's not the only part of us. So that's why I loved Broad City where she dated women and men, and it wasn't the main thing about her. I was like, "Oh, I date like her." She was in an open relationship, it just was really cool to watch — not that I'm in an open relationship, I'm very sensitive, but I think it's cool for others. She was definitely a big one where it was like, "It's not the only thing about her, but she's bi like me."

Looking forward, what goals do you have? Are you focused more on stand-up or acting?

I will never want to stop live performing because there's nothing that compares to that high and the connection you have with the audience. The dream was always to act: I want to do a scary movie, I want to do serious stuff. It's just two big, huge dreams that I want to keep doing. But I really feel like I'm meant to be live performing, in a way that's unearthly. It feels like heaven. That sounds so cheesy, but I was telling someone that when I'm on stage, I feel I'm fully in a different state. That sounds like I'm crazy, but that is how it feels. It's when I'm happiest.

I used to fantasize about being on E! True Hollywood Story, but before they died. You know how it's always like, at the end, something bad happens — but I would fall asleep as a kid, imagining what they'd say about me. It's psychotic.

And I think in order to make it in acting or anything like that, you do have to be a little delusional in a way. You have to be your own biggest fan. I don't think you're able to go on auditions and write pilots without fully being like, "Oh, I'm really good." You have to feel like you're good because so many people are going to be like, "You're not good." So you have to feel like you're amazing, so that people will think you're good if you think you're amazing.

Healthy delusion goes a long way. If you're not grounded in reality, then it's dangerous. But if you're a little delusional, like, "Oh yeah, I'm amazing" and imagining winning awards or imagining whatever it is you want, that's basically manifesting.

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