After making a name for herself in the stand-up comedy world, Kristen Schaal broke out with her role as crazy-fan Mel on Flight of the Conchords. Since then, she has been anointed the “Senior Women’s Issues Commentator” on The Daily Show, played supporting roles in five comedies this year, including Dinner for Schmucks, and done voices for two animated flicks. Her latest project is a humorously instructional book with her boyfriend, Daily Show writer Rich Blomquist, The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex. We spoke with Schaal about crushing on Paul Rudd, writing for The Daily Show, and receiving cigarette-smoking feedback from Matthew Weiner.
In Dinner for Schmucks, you play Paul Rudd’s assistant. I have to ask: Did you ever have a crush on Paul Rudd from Clueless?
I definitely had a Paul Rudd crush. He’s great. Working with him, I just sat back and was like, Wow, this man has been in all my favorite movies. Wet Hot American Summer, Romeo + Juliet. The list goes on. You don’t realize he’s been in all your favorite movies because he’s such a good ensemble player. He just blends into the tapestry of each film no matter how different they are.
You were actually in the very first episode of Mad Men! You were a switchboard operator?
Yeah. It was just the one episode. They filmed the pilot a year before it got picked up, because I think Matt Weiner was still working on the final season of Sopranos. So by the time it got picked up to go to series, I was starting work on Flight of the Conchords. I got invited to do more, but it was gonna interfere with one day of shooting Flight of the Conchords.
I know, I was like, Ahh! It was a happy place to be, but yeah. You know the person sitting to my left, I think, I just realized is the girl from the Progressive commercials.
If you didn’t have the conflict, would you have gone back?
Oh, in a heartbeat. Actually, I don’t smoke, and in the scene I’m smoking like crazy. I’m puffing every second, and they were like, “Cut, cut.” And Matthew Weiner came out and was like, “You don’t smoke, do you?” I was like no, and he’s like, “I can tell. We’ll just let yours sit in the ashtray.”
I was reading comments about you on YouTube, and some people seem surprised that the way you talk in your comedy routines is the way you normally talk. Have you always talked with that voice, or have you sort of cultivated it for comedy?
Oh yeah, this is my voice. It’s definitely landed me some really sweet voice-over work that I’ve been hoping to do forever. But yeah, I thought it would hold me back for sure, because I remember in college there was this very prominent voice-acting coach and it was hard to get into her class. I went up to her office with this friend who happened to be a hot boy, and we walked in and she was like, “What are your names?” And I was like Kristen Schaal, and she just dropped everything and was like, “You have an atrocious lisp!” I was devastated and she just wouldn’t let me into her class. So I was like, “This might be it for me.” I’m relieved it’s working out.
Congrats on the Daily Show segments. You just did the Mama Grizzly segment last month, but before that it had been about a year since your last one. How does that work? Do you pitch them ideas or do they come to you first?
I pitch them ideas with my boyfriend Rich Blomquist, who’s a writer there. Yeah, it had been a year and I was glad to be back on last week. I don’t know why it had been a year, but I hope it’s not another year before the next piece. I talk about women’s issues. It’s a really difficult topic because women’s issues is not in the news very often. It’s sort of a male-dominated world, to put it delicately. [It’s hard] waiting for a women’s issue to become a topic that not only can I figure out what point of view I can have on it, and Jon needs to figure out a point of view together with me, [but we also have to] sort of make it funny. It’s a hard job, but it’s work I’m really proud of and I hope I get to continue doing it.
There was that whole Jezebel kerfuffle about there not being enough women on The Daily Show, and the women of The Daily Show wrote that joint letter in response. Whose idea was that?
I’m not sure; I was working on another project at the time. It seems, from what I can gather talking to the executive producers, that everybody sort of wanted to respond and that was the best way to do it. I think they felt a bit wounded by the Jezebel article because, you know, it painted an inaccurate picture of Jon Stewart, for sure. Also, in my opinion, I think it’s disappointing because it brought up a really good, smart point that we do need to be talking about, which is why are there not more women in comedy? Great point. Thank you, Jezebel. That is something we all need to talk about. But it was conceived from a sexist place by saying Olivia Munn was gonna suck on the show before she had a chance to be on the show. It was already judging her before she even had a chance to test herself on the show. So it was backwards. It was an emotional couple of weeks for me, for sure, because it’s my show. My boyfriend works there. Also, why didn’t I get brought up in that article when I’ve been in the show only talking about women’s issues? It didn’t benefit the article, so they just left me out.
What do you feel is the most constructive way to address the disparity between the number of men and women in comedy?
To keep talking about it, definitely. I think more support for the women that are in comedy would be good. Giving props to people that are doing it right now, getting behind what they’re doing. Keep bringing it up in different places and definitely do that fight, but don’t tear each other down while you’re doing it because then you’ve got nothing left.
You and your boyfriend just came out with a funny sex book, The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex. It’s chock-full of information. Did you have to do much library research?
Yeah, it took many months and lots of nights and hours studying. I learned more about sex than I ever wanted to. I probably will never write another thing about sex again.
You have a healthy pelt of chest hair in your author photo. Is that Photoshop or real? What was the process of getting that hair?
Yeah, that’s real hair. That involved me just not shaving for a week and drinking lots of coffee. My dad told me when I was little, when I wanted coffee at church, that if I drank it I’d get hair on my chest. And it came true. I drank a lot of coffee in order to write that book.
Does it feel a little weird to be playing a voice in Toy Story 3 and Shrek Forever After, then publishing a book about sexy sex a few months later?
It did feel weird, and I was nervous about it because I was finishing the final chapters of the book with Rich and meeting the director of Toy Story 3’s adorable children. I was like, my God, because in New York you can easily just not meet a kid here if you work it right. So yeah, I was really nervous and I wrote an apology in the back of the book to the director of Toy Story 3 and his kids. But I feel pretty distant from that now.
How did you meet Rich? Did you meet in the comedy world?
Pretty much. He was working on a pilot for Adult Swim called Snake N Bacon. He cast me to play a fairy and at the end of the day, after I was done, he asked me out on a proper date for dinner. Which had never happened to me in New York. Usually I’ll get asked for coffee or drinks so the person can decide if the date is going okay. But he put it all on the line. We’d have to sit and put food in our faces and look at each other.
You’re reviving the Hot Tub show at Littlefield in Brooklyn. Now that your name has been out there on Flight of the Conchords and The Daily Show, are your crowds noticeably bigger than before?
Oh yeah, I was surprised. Monday was the first show, so that’s obviously gonna be a good turnout. I was shocked. I think like 200 people came. I don’t know if that will sustain itself for the next two months, but I was pleased as punch. I’m hoping there’s a real need for a comedy show on Monday nights in Brooklyn.