Interview: Talking comedy with Kristen Schaal
Most people know Kristen Schaal best for her oddball, borderline creepy characters — superfan Mel on Flight of the Conchords, for one. Hazel Wassername on 30 Rock, for another. But, in real life, Schaal is actually nowhere near as wacky as her onscreen roles would suggest. An accomplished standup comedian (she’s pretty weird onstage, too), Schaal speaks thoughtfully when back in her own persona, and is prone towards more serious conversation. We caught up with Schaal in between stops on the Funny or Die Presents The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, headlined by the Conchords and Dave Chapelle, to talk comedy, Twitter, losing her virginity and more.
Have you ever performed at a big comedy festival before? I’ve never been to one.
Yeah, I don’t think they exist. I think this is the first one of its kind.
What do you imagine it’s going to be like?
I’m having trouble imagining, You know, I’ve definitely been to big music festivals, so I think there’s going to be a little bit of that, with hopefully more concentration from the audience.
Is there anybody that you’re particularly excited to share the bill with, or to see live?
Everybody. That was the biggest pull for me to do the show, was that every single person on that bill, I’m a fan of. I felt really honored to be kind of grouped in with those comedians.
On Flight of the Conchords, your character Mel, pretty much stalked Bret and Jemaine. If you could stalk either of them in real life, who would you choose?
Probably neither of them.
Ha, OK. Well, what if you were going to stalk anyone? If you were going to commit your life to stalking a celebrity or any living person, who would you pick?
I guess I would stalk serial killers and stop them before they killed.
That’s like a public service, I suppose. Do you have a band in real life that you love as much as Mel loves Bret and Jermaine?
Well, do you have a favorite band?
I really like Tori Amos.
Oh, that’s a throwback. Okay, let’s talk about your career. Did you always want to be a comedic actress or were you just thrown into it for having a funny voice and being good at it?
Yeah, I think so. I mean I always knew that I wanted to perform, I just didn’t know what that meant. And later on I found comedy.
Tell me about the first time you did stand up. What was that experience like? I would imagine it’s nerve wracking.
It was pretty fun. I did open mics on the Lower East Side and they were all pretty much loving environments because they were all performers as well, but they were also doing weird stuff. I remember it not being too scary.
Have you ever had a time where you were doing stand up or open mic and you just totally bombed?
Yeah I did a show early on where I was playing a character. I didn’t realize what a gamble it was, until now. But it was basically someone who always spoke in gibberish. It actually killed the night before and, like, won a competition and I was like, ‘well, this is a solid gold character.’ And I tried her again at a stand up club and people were not having it.
Did you have to limp through it or did you cut it short?
I had to limp through it. The things I do are actually more scary because I go out doing this monologue or in that case doing this character, and if its not working I kind of have to muscle through it. You can’t just switch to a new joke and drop it. At least I never have. I always continue to commit to it and then never do it again if it fails.
So you had that Comedy Central special back in April that everyone seemed to be confused about, because some people thought you had a real break down on the show and more people thought it was an elaborate ruse. Which was it?
Yeah, it definitely was a joke.
Is that your style of humor, keeping everyone confused?
Sure. I had to do press for it and I didn’t want to give it away. But afterwards, I think it was pretty clear that it was planned out. I don’t know why people doubted that it wasn’t planned. I guess I did a good job… or they’re crazy.
You get a lot of comparisons to Andy Kaufman which must be flattering. Who are some of your comedy idols, or people that you looked up to when you were starting out?
Well definitely him [Kaufman]. He was one of my favorites, for sure. But I guess also maybe Steve Martin. And then after that name any woman who was doing it.
I once interviewed Marc Maron and I asked him what was more awkward, losing his stage virginity or losing his actual virginity. What would you say to that question?
Oh, well I guess I don’t know why they’re grouped together.
Well, I think because both are things you dive into for the first time and you don’t really know what you’re doing.
I guess losing my virginity, then.
What’s the funniest thing that you’ve seen or heard or read recently?
I have seen tons of amazing stand=up. I co-host this show every Monday night and there have been some amazing jokes — but I don’t want to repeat them because it’s always a bummer when you read your jokes in an article and you’re just like ‘oh come on’. But there was this commercial that made me laugh. It’s about looking for a car and basically a dad and his kid were playing catch and he was throwing it really weird and then it cut to the dad and that’s how the dad threw. It was just so well done. It was funny.
Do you know that game ”F—, Marry, Kill?”
Can we do it with three of your 30 Rock costars?
Oh, no thanks.
Ah, c’mon. What if we did “F—, Marry… Friend For Life?”
I don’t know. I don’t really like putting people in those categories. I like everybody so… maybe I’d marry everybody.
Fair enough. So, I’m not active on Twitter at all, but I do like following comedians and other funny people. Do you have any that you follow or that you think people should know about?
I think my husband [Rich Blomquist] is really funny. Kurt Braunohler is funny. I follow a lot of funny people. @MarylandMudflap is pretty funny. I’m on Twitter right now, let’s see, who’s on here? Oh, Rob Huebel is really funny.
As a comedian do you feel a pressure to have a presence on Twitter and always be funny with every tweet?
Yeah I do. I’m not the best at Twitter. Occasionally I put a joke on there but more times I don’t know what to use it for. You want people to have a laugh here or there, or you want to tell them about shows. I usually tweet a lot about shows. But you get a lot of followers if you’re writing funny things. Its just a hard medium to tackle and it’s also something where I’m more likely to write something after I’ve had a few drinks. Then I’ll tweet, which is the worst time to do it, but otherwise I feel intimidated by it.
For more info on the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival visit funnyordie.com/oddball.