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Interview: Kristen Schaal

Keeping her superfandom in check
By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  June 24, 2009

VIDEO: Kristen Schaal and Eugene Mirman interview each other.

She's best known for playing creepy superfan Mel on Flight of the Conchords, but superfans of Kristen Schaal know there's much more to the self-described zany actress than playing second-fiddle stalker to a couple of Kiwis. Schaal's Web series — Penelope, Princess of Pets, about a self-made heroine/assassin who can talk to animals — has earned an on-line cult following, and a jet-lagged Schaal and her comedy partner, Kurt Braunohler, have just returned from London, where they shot a pilot-length version of the show. She comes to the Wilbur Theatre this Saturday with comedy pal Eugene Mirman.

Have you ever had a "Mel" moment? Either with fans of yours, or with celebrities of whom you're a fan?
I've had both. Actually, just yesterday I was at the airport waiting for an early flight home [from London], working on my computer, and I hear a kid saying to his friend, "I'm gonna do it!" And I'm like, "Great, I'm exhausted." So he came up, and said, "Are you in the movies?" And it was like, oh man, do I have to list off my résumé? In hindsight, I should have said, "Yeah. I'm Debra Messing."

I did, sadly, have a Mel moment of my own in London. I really love the band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I got to meet Karen O backstage, and she was so sweet. I really liked her, but I was too shy to talk to her. I kept making this noise while we were talking, like, "I really liked the show. Waaaargh!" And, "Good job! Waaaargh!" I couldn't stop making it! I was really nervous!

Are there any differences between the on-line episodes ofPenelope, Princess of Pets and the television pilot you've shot?
The premise is exactly the same, the only thing is now it takes place in London, and instead of Penelope trying to assassinate a senator, it's a member of Parliament.

When we were making the Web shorts, it was all about finding a good scene, a good comedy scene to fill three minutes with a beginning, middle, and end. And, overall, we had this mythology to hang the jokes on, which I think just made them funnier. When we had to write the pilot for [the UK's] Channel Four, we had to flesh out that world and drop even more clues about what was going to happen. And now we have an almost complete idea of what the overall mythology actually is and what will happen in the end.

Can you talk a bit about the origins of your comedy partnership with Kurt?
It started around four years ago, when we were both performing at the People's Improv Theatre in New York. We'd both pitched an idea to host a comedy night, so they sort of partnered us together, and then we had this instant connection that I haven't really had with anybody before. It's very playful and easy, and it's rare to find someone who can meet you on a creative level like that.

Aren't you also collaborating with your boyfriend [Daily Show writer Rich Blomquist] on a romance book?
I am. It comes out in the fall of 2010, and it's a conglomeration of short stories and other things, trying to cover a wide spectrum of sex. We're writing about the different animals who have sex, animals who make love, animals who just rape. We wanted to have some erotic short stories, and illustrations like the Harlequin Romance novels. The book is very imaginative. It's not exactly an autobiography. We've done a little bit so far, and we work pretty well together. And we wrote all of the Daily Show bits that I did together, so I don't think our relationship is going to get in the way, but we'll see. We promised we'd stay together at least until the end of this book. It is kind of killing our romance a little bit, because you stay up late to write the book, and then you're too tired to get it on.

Also, I keep getting buried under other projects. When I got to London five weeks ago, I told everyone, "Yeah, I'm also going to be writing a book at night, so I'm going to be pretty busy." And I kept saying that the first two weeks we were there, and once we got into production, I never mentioned the book again. Someone asked me the last night of our trip, "Remember how you're writing that book?" And I was like, "Shut up!"

You're currently touring with Eugene Mirman. How did that come about? Did you just hit it off while filmingFlight of the Conchords and decide to take it on the road?
Eugene and I go way back. He lives down the street from me in New York, and he'll do shows [at a club] down the block, so I'll do them with him. We've done tons of shows together. He's definitely one of my favorite stand-up comedians, and he's such a mover and shaker in the alternative-comedy world. For example, he's having his second annual Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival in the fall, and people are really excited about it. I have an idea for a show to do at the festival where I go into his apartment and put on a play in each room, so the audience would have to walk around his place to catch the plot of the play. I don't think he's gonna go for it.

Related: Interview: Eugene Mirman, Dance, Monkey: Eugene Mirman, Funny business, More more >
  Topics: Comedy , Flight of the Conchords, Flight of the Conchords, Debra Messing,  More more >
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 See all articles by: SARA FAITH ALTERMAN

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