The Hot Seat: Daily Show contributor Kristen Schaal
Comedian, actress and author Kristen Schaal warms up for Comedy Central’s Indecision in the Park live show.
Wed Jun 13 2012
Photograph: Bradley Meinz
In this week's Hot Seat interview, we chat with Kristen Schaal about her upcoming SummerStage show.
RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews
TONY: At Indecision in the Park, a free comedy event featuring Daily Show correspondents and producers, you’ll be performing alongside John Hodgman, Wyatt Cenac, Al Madrigal and John Oliver. If they were all running in an election, who would you vote for?
Kristen Schaal: Obviously John Oliver can’t run because he’s not a citizen, so he’s out. I guess I would have to put my money on Al Madrigal, because he’s kind of new and I don’t know him that well. I don’t know what all his skeletons are like; I do [know] about Wyatt’s and John’s.
TONY: What kind of skeletons? Are they bad enough that you wouldn’t vote for them?
Kristen Schaal: I can’t disclose that, because I could get killed. Like Marilyn Monroe.
TONY: As the Daily Show’s women’s issues correspondent, is there a recent topic bubbling up that’s particularly important to you?
Kristen Schaal: I don’t have a single one; it comes and goes with whatever is making the news. Contraception and abortion are what people are talking about the most. But I would love for people to know that the label feminist is something that everyone should wear proudly, because it just means that you support women. It always rubs me the wrong way when I read in the papers that someone in the public eye doesn’t qualify themselves as feminist.
TONY: You cowrote The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex with your boyfriend, Rich Blomquist. Now that you’re an author, do you ever feel like the smartest, most interesting person at a dinner party?
Kristen Schaal: I don’t get invited to many dinner parties, but maybe if I did, I could really lord it over people. The book was such a labor that as soon as we finished writing it, we threw it away and sort of forgot we ever did it. And I just now started revisiting the book, and I’m proud of it, so that’s a good feeling.
TONY: What topics would you explore if you did another book?
Kristen Schaal: I’d probably try to do something with a linear story line instead of, like, a textbook collage of jokes. I would maybe try a suspense thriller.
TONY: What’s the most annoying thing about having a comic for a boyfriend?
Kristen Schaal: He’s a comedy writer, so there’s really nothing annoying about it, because he doesn’t constantly seek approval for jokes. I’ve kind of got the best of both worlds: I’ve got a funny guy who’s also very humble. I’m the vulnerable performer [in the relationship]. It’s a sad world for me.
TONY: Why does comedy draw so many insecure performers?
Kristen Schaal: I don’t know. I mean, I know lots of people in the comedy world who actually would defy that theory, that people who come to comedy are from the land of broken toys. It’s just a mixed bag. Most of the people I know in comedy are not weird or messed up. They have an offbeat point of view about things but they’re not crazy.… Well, not crazy enough to validate that theory about people who do stand-up.
TONY: What about improv people?
Kristen Schaal: No, they’re great! They’re playful and they’re good listeners, and they’re smart.
TONY: What’s more painful to sit through: really bad improv or really bad stand-up?
Kristen Schaal: For me, it would probably be really bad improv, just because it just doesn’t go anywhere. Bad improv happens with people who are inexperienced with each other and don’t know the craft that well. But bad stand-up is something that could happen to someone at any level in their career. There are a lot of elements involved; it could be something they’re trying that didn’t work, or the audience just isn’t feeling it for some reason. It’s actually really fascinating to watch someone bomb—I feel like it gives you greater insight into how hard stand-up is. Comedians work very hard to make it look flawless and easy, and sometimes the only chance you get to see the work is when something goes wrong.
TONY: How do you rescue a set that’s bombing?
Kristen Schaal: You can switch gears, or go back into some old tried-and-true material and just hope for the best. I’ve seen lots of comedians just drop their sets altogether and just start doing crowd work, which is impressive. It’s something that I’ve never done, but if [the audience is] not feeling what you have to offer, then just talking to them tends to work.
TONY: What percentage less funny would you be if you couldn’t use the words fuck, penis or vagina?
Kristen Schaal: I hope only one percent less funny. Something I’m trying to work towards is not having the punch line have a shock-jock-type feel, so I try to leave those words out. Although I do reference a vagina and penis in my set—but I probably won’t do that for the Central Park show, because it’s all ages. I’ll keep it clean.
TONY: Is it hard to do a kid-friendly set?
Kristen Schaal: It’s definitely something that I struggle with, because a lot of my material is very blue or sexual. I would never bring a kid to a comedy show myself, but I have noticed that I can’t stop other people from bringing their kids.