the vulture transcript

Kurt Braunohler Talks to Kristen Schaal About Her Disastrous Stand-Up Special

Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler
Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Patrick McMullan

Whether it’s as Mel on Flight of the Conchords, Hazel on 30 Rock, Louise on Bob’s Burgers, or herself on The Daily Show, Kristen Schaal has an undeniably unique voice, both literally and comedically. It’s silly, absurd, and childlike yet sinisterly so. It’s in full effect in her one-hour stand-up special that premieres tonight at midnight on Comedy Central, but unlike most comics who will happily promote their shows, she has been sending out tweets begging people not to watch it, bemoaning that it did not go well. She continued that anti-sales pitch when we had her longtime friend and comedy partner, Kurt Braunohler, interview her here for Vulture, and she took the opportunity to declare her stand-up career over, death by special. Is she joking? Or is it the woeful cries of a regretful stand-up? She would not elaborate on what went wrong (tune in tonight to judge the humiliation for yourself), but you can be the judge of whether she needs a hug or laughter as she and Kurt talk about her allegedly disastrous special; Bob’s Burgers; her ABC pilot, Pulling; and how competitive the miming game is right now.*

Kurt Braunohler: Are you relaxed? Are you comfortable?
Kristen Schaal: Um, are you good? You know what, let me just take a breath. Let me take a breath.

KB: Let’s both take a breath. Ready? On three. One. Two. Three.
[They both take a breath.] 

KB: Hi, Kristen Schaal.
KS: Hi. There were people yelling at each other on this conference call, and it just went on up until I had to call you.

KB: What were they yelling about?
KS: I don’t know. Egos. [Both laugh.] 

KB: It was actually like mad yelling?
KS: It was like professional but not really. You know what I mean? Like, blehhh! 

KB: Oh, yeah. So, Kristen, you have a one-hour special coming out on Comedy Central. Are you excited?
KS: Um. I am not excited about it. 

KB: You’re not excited about it?
KS: Are you excited about it? You’re in it.

KB: I’m excited about it, yeah. I think you should be excited.
KS: Why would I be excited about it? I mean why are you excited about it? [Laughs.] You and I both know that it did not go well. 

KB: It didn’t go as you expected it to go. I think that you have to redefine what you’re talking about. It didn’t go badly; it just didn’t go the way you wanted it to go, right?
KS: It definitely didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. Because it went badly. I just can’t even believe they’re going to air it. 

KB: You’re being ridiculous. You’re being ridiculous! This is your hour-long comedy special. You’ve been working on it a long time. And I … I was really proud of you; I thought it went great.
KS: Ha-ha, okay, right. I disagree. I think it was a nightmare. The only thing that’s good about it is that you’re on there. You’ll get some exposure, but I don’t think this is the kind of exposure you want. Definitely not the exposure I want.

KB: Well, let’s talk about the fact that I am on there. I know you’re primarily known as Kurt Braunohler’s comedy partner. Has it been difficult for you to kind of get out from underneath my shadow?
KS: Oh, absolutely. It’s like every morning I wake up and I think, How can I live my own life? How do I make a name for myself? And that’s what I think this special I tried to do, but without you, it just didn’t turn out so great. But, I mean, I’m just still so excited for you, Kurt. God, I just wish I could have what you have.

KB: You know what, Kristen? I think you do. I think you’re selling yourself short.
KS: I don’t have a shadow! 

KB: Hey, you’ll get a shadow. After this one-hour special comes out I think you’re going to have a pretty thick shadow.
KS: Yeah, I’m going to be shrouded in shadow darkness.

KB: [Laughs.] Now, we’ve known each other for a long time and you’ve been doing comedy for over a decade now. And I’ve watched you blossom and grow, and I love your comedy. But it is very distinct and it’s very specific, which is good. But were you worried that your style wouldn’t necessarily translate to the television?
KS: Oh, absolutely. [Laughs.] Because my style doesn’t fit in a dumb-dumb box. My style can’t be held within a pixel medium. Like, it needs to be performed in a living breathing space. People need to have all their senses ready to take on my comedy, and unfortunately TV alienates at least their sense of touch, taste, smell. 

KB: You are one of the few comedians who would involve taste and smell in their performance, and I’ve always loved that about you.
KS: Yeah, it’s expensive. 

KB: Yes, of course.
KS: Like, “What do you mean you mean you need a thousand tangerines? What do you mean lavender?” You need to take out the cushion fillings in every seat and fill it with lavender. It’s worth it. 

KB: So, what’s your normal routine getting ready to do a show like this? What’s going through your mind? How do you get ready? How do you get into your game zone?
KS: The problem was I was just so nervous because it was my hour. I guess you just try to break through the waves of nerves. They come on and it’s just like, woahhh. It’s a tide. Also, I’ll try to eat, like, a sushi dinner. 

KB: Brain food.
KS: Yeah, my brain food. And I just sort of lock myself in a dark room until it’s time to do the show. 

KB: And now right before you started the show you told me — not giving away too much — that this is the last time you’re going to do stand-up. Is that true?
KS: Yeah. Definitely. 

KB: That’s the last time you’re going to do stand-up?
KS: I think so. At least on that level. I mean, I’ve tried to pick myself up since the special, and I have done a few shows. I’ll do our show because you’re there, and I’ll do a couple gigs here and there. 

KB: So what does the future hold for you then? If you’re not going to do stand-up, where ya going?
KS: I don’t know. I guess maybe mime.

KB: You’re gonna go into mime? I mean, if we want to talk about a competitive playing field, Kristen, the mime field is packed right now.
KS: [Laughs.] Is it? Well, so was the comedy field. But I got in. 

KB: Yeah, and you got to the top. I mean, having an hour-long special. You’re at the tippy top of the game right now and you’re just gonna quit.
KS: [Laughs.] Well. Yeah. 

KB: So, let’s talk about the special itself. I wanted to talk to you about the Taintalogues. How did they start?
KS: The Taintalogues started when I watched the Vagina Monologues and I realized they were very powerful and giving a voice to the vagina for the first time. I was like, I want to carry that on by giving a voice to other body parts that we’re ashamed of, and the first one that popped into my mind was the taint. I’ve written 47 Taintalogues. 

KB: (A) That’s brave. (B) Are there any comedy barriers you won’t break?
KS: Um, no. I think I’ve broken them all into pieces. 

KB: I agree with you.
KS: I just want to say, I do want to keep doing stand-up in some capacity, however little that is, even if it’s just for a bunch of pigeons on the street. Like, I don’t want to give up stand-up even though mime is definitely something out there, too. I just don’t know much I can do after this special comes out. I just really think … 

KB: This is a transition point for you.
KS: Yeah, but I don’t think it’s a transition up — it’s just straight down. 

KB: [Laughs.] I think you attempted to do things that no one’s ever attempted to do before, and you know you can’t expect everything to go perfectly, Kristen.
KS: Oh, you certainly can’t. Ain’t that the truth, Kurt. But I’m glad you were there that night. 

KB: Well I was really happy to be involved. Can I talk about your TV career?
KS: [Laughs.] Yeah. You could. 

KB: So, Bob’s Burgers. I just have to say, when I watch Bob’s Burgers, Kristen, it fills me with so much joy to watch Louise because she is so much you that it really just pops off the screen. How much of your own personality do you bring to the Louise character?
KS: Well, I like to think there is a lot of me in her. She’s feisty and fiery, and I get all of that out and I just channel my inner child, my inner demonic child. And she’s so smart, so I get to be smart, too. I am not smart or a child, so it’s still 100 percent full performance. [Laughs.] Wait, I’m not stupid. Don’t put that in there, Vulture. I’m smart. I’m smart! I’m smart! 

KB: You’re the smartest!
KS: [Laughs.] 

KB: Congratulations, Kristen, on your pilot, Pulling.
KS: Thank you, Kurt.

KB: What can you tell us about it?
KS: Well, it’s my first network pilot. I’m just learning. But I can tell you that it’s with Jenny Slate and June Diane Raphael and Matt Oberg, and they were all my friends in New York. So that part’s pretty amazing. Like, the only person missing is you.

KB: I know.
[Both laugh.] 

KB: That’s pretty awesome. I can come to set right? Hey, listen, even if it’s just a craft service job.
KS: But you’ve got to be in the craft service union.

KB: Goddamn unions!
KS: I know, man. The fat cat holding the little guy down. 

KB: I know. I’m the little guy, and the unions are a fat cat.
KS: That’s right.

KB: But this is exciting. Not only are you doing it with friends, but also Pulling was a show in the U.K. that was amazing. I actually loved the show, and so you’re doing a remake of a really good show.
KS: I know. That is really great. It’s written by Sharon Horgan and Dennis Kelly. And I got to meet Sharon Horgan in the U.K., and she’s so cool, it’s hard not to have a crush on her because she’s kind of a dynamo. It’s exciting to be on a show with two other women. Especially in stand-up, it’s me surrounded by dudes, but now it’s Matt Oberg surrounded by chicks, and it’s refreshing. 

KB: Oh, yeah. That’s just right up your alley as well.
KS: I love ladies! 

KB: You love ladies … Hello, are you still there?
KS: Sorry, someone tried to call. Ignore! There’s a lot of damage control going on over here, you have no idea. 

KB: There’s a lot of damage control going on for your last conference call trying to get Comedy Central not to air this show?
KS: Yes. 

KB: So, here’s the last question for you, Kristen. If you could prepare your viewers who are going to watch your hour-long comedy special, how would you suggest they prepare to watch your show?
KS: [Laughs.] Well, I would just suggest they get a good night’s sleep. Because it’s on at midnight, and who wants to stay up that late? They also picked April Fool’s Day, which is just insulting all around. And, you know, if you’re up and it’s midnight, there’s so much other TV you could watch. There might be, like, a rerun of Blue Bloods, or you could watch a murder show. Those are always on. Or even just, like, I don’t know, you could buy one of those things that chop vegetables really fast. 

KB: A knife!
KS: [Laughs.] That’s right. You could watch that show. [Laughs.] That’s what I would say. And if you have to watch it, well, I guess you’ll just see something that you might not usually see. 

KB: You know what? I’m going to go against you. I’m going to recommend that people do watch it, if only to see my smiling face shining back at them.
KS: You do look really good on TV, Kurt. I would say you look better on TV than you do in real life.

KB: You know what? People have said that to me. They say I have a TV face.
KS: You’ve got a TV face, buddy. 

KB: Yeah I know. But America doesn’t know that yet. We’re still trying to teach them.
KS: [Laughs.] Yeah, I mean, it’s just so hard when your best face is a TV face but you can’t get on the TV. 

KB: Exactly.
KS: You can’t walk around this world with a TV face and not have a TV strapped to your face. You know what I mean? 

KB: Are you kidding me? It’s my life. [Laughs.] I know exactly what you mean.
KS: Of course, of course. [Both laugh.] 

KB: Well, congratulations, Kristen. I’m proud of you.
KS: Ha! Well, thanks, Kurt. Thanks for being my best friend. 

KB: Hey, thank you for being my best friend.
KS: Am I your best friend? Because sometimes I think that you have other best friends that are more your best friends. 

KB: No, no, no. I have a bunch of best friends. Not a bunch. I have maybe four. But they’re all equal in my mind.
KS: That’s just not true, though. You know that’s not true. Nobody’s equal. I have one best friend, and it’s you, and it always bums me out to think that you don’t share that same preciousness of our friendship. 

KB: A lot of people would call that weird and controlling — did you know that?
KS: What! I didn’t say. I just said it bums me out. I didn’t tell you what to do. 

KB: Well, it seems to suggest that you want me to dump my other best friends.
KS: [Laughs.] I’ve always wanted that. 

KB: Exactly. And that’s the kind of passion [laughs] and non-compromise that I think we can expect from Kristen Schaal’s one-hour special.
KS: [Laughs.] I can’t believe we’re still talking about that.

KB: I wrapped it up! I brought it back, and I wrapped it up! I nailed it.
KS: Good job, Kurt.

* This introduction has been reworked since its original publication.

Kurt Braunohler Interviews Kristen Schaal