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Lake Bell on Directing Childrens Hospital, Writing About Cars, and Comedy Cliques

She’s Blaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaaaaack. Well, not right away. Because when the season-four premiere of the soapy fantasia Childrens Hospital debuts on Adult Swim tonight at midnight, Lake Bell’s Dr. Cat Black is nowhere to be found. But never fear. Her absence from tonight’s episode, “The Boy With the Pancake Tattoo,” isn’t a repeat of season two’s nearly season-long nightmare, where Bell’s scheduling conflicts with How to Make It in America kept her out of Dr. Arthur Childrens’ Brazilian-based linoleum halls: rather, Lake Bell can actually be found behind the camera this time, directing Corddry, Marino, Mullally, et al. She directed the second episode, too. Vulture spoke to Bell about her new thing (directing), her old thing (her dashed voice-over dreams), and her favorite things (fast cars and her tattoo-artist fiancé).

You are too busy directing tonight's episode to give us a Dr. Cat Black cameo.
I know. It’s annoying. It was my first time directing TV. So I think in an effort to be as present as possible, I concentrated on directing. We shoot in such a short amount of time, and both episodes I had were athletic. In the second one, we have a full-on fight sequence with Henry Winkler.

Wait, you just said, there’s "a full-on fight sequence” and then, sotto voce, “with Henry Winkler.
We choreographed a very serious, fuckin’ full-on fight sequence with Henry Winkler and this stunt gal who looks like she’s 13 years old. It’s pretty amazing.

So he still has his shark-jumping legs?
Oh, this guy has been working out since he jumped that shark.

So when you’re directing these guys, do you tell them when to awkwardly lean in for a kiss, or is that pretty clear in the script?
What’s great about this cast is they know when to awkwardly lean in for a kiss. 

What were some of your directions?
Sometimes “less poop” sometimes “more poop.” Sometimes “less farting.” Just kidding. It’s easy. I’m working with the funniest people I know. So just setting up shots and making sure that people feel good, and moving quickly and efficiently. And once you’re in the scene, there’s an allowance, after you get a few good takes, for a mini-improvisation. You let it happen and if it’s too silly then you’re like, “Okay, we don’t have time for that shit, so let’s get going.”

A lot of these guys have been working with each other for a long time now. When did they invite you to their lunch table?
Corddry and I did What Happens in Vegas … together, probably seven years ago now. But you are right in perceiving comedy folk as having these pockets of cliques.

How did you get your in?
I came from fuckin’ drama school conservatory training in London. I was doing dramas and shit like that. I did some comedy, but that’s not what I was trained to do. I enjoyed it almost like a hobby. And I did mostly dramas when I first came out to Hollywood. But I did Miss Match with Alicia Silverstone, which is a Darren Star show, which is the first comedy that I got cast in. And I just enjoyed going to work every day and exercising the muscle of silliness. It just felt right to me. But yes, I do think [the comedy world] is very cliquey, and initially I found it quite intimidating. But when Corddry asked me to be part of Childrens Hospital I thought it would be a safe, nonjudgmental forum to work out that comedy muscle. 

You grew up in New York, but now you live in L.A. and review cars for Hollywood Reporter.
But now I’m moving back to New York.

Your fiancé [tattoo artist Scott Campbell] is super Brooklyn.
Yeah, that’s why I’m moving back to the city. He’s actually from Louisiana, but he’s now an honorary New York native. He lives in Brooklyn. And that’s where I’m moving back.

I read on the Internet that he is “credited with the ascension of the tattoo from a symbol of rebellion to one of status.” I love that.
Wow. But yeah, I think he contributed to that movement.

He shares a “bros before hoes” tattoo with Marc Jacobs.
Scott is hilarious and incredibly smart. He’s the coolest person I know.

Do you help him come up with funny tattoo ideas?
I mean, you know, don’t we all? His attitude towards tattoos is a lot less precious. Even though it is forever, he has so many of them that a funny tattoo is something he’s more interested in at the point, than being overly cool.

He has tattoos of names of his ex-girlfriends crossed out.
Yeah, totally. And he has a ginormous tattoo of "Lake." So mine’s huge.

So can we talk about your sports car reviews?
My father is in the driving business. He owns race car tracks. He has three daughters and a son and it was imperative that all his children could drive any car that he could throw in front of us.

So did you grow up driving in New York?
My parents were divorced. So my mom was in Florida and my dad was in New York. So I got my license when I was 16 in Florida. And dad taught had a little farmhouse in New Jersey and that’s where I learned how to drive.

So what did you learn how to drive stick on?
A Shelby Cobra King of the Road 500.

You’ve gone on record with your obsession with this voice-over world. Dr. Cat Black did the original voice-over for Childrens Hospital. So what is “the voice-over world”?
You know how every single commercial or anything you’ve ever heard, or trailers for movies ... these omniscient voices that exist in our ears as we go through life telling us what to think or how to feel about things or what to watch or buy? And I always wanted to be a voice-over actor when I was starting out because I thought I was going to be one of the greats. But I realized that it’s a clique.

But why did you want to go into voice-over work, really? It sounds like a slumming-it fantasy.
I knew I wasn’t going to hop off the plane in California and then all of a sudden be starring in a movie for Warner Bros. And I had this incredible demo reel of voice-over work that I’d done at drama school, because radio plays are still alive and well over in England. It was one of the courses that I had sort of mastered over there. And I thought I was going to come to L.A. and instead of having to become a waitress, I was going to be a voice-over artist because I had heard rumors that you could make a ton of money that way. That was my sweet naive dream. But then I realized that that’s even harder than becoming a movie star.

Lake Bell directing "Childrens Hospital."
Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images