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.

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Related: Interview: Kristen Schaal, Interview: Eugene Mirman, Interview: Mitch Fatel, More more >
  Topics: Comedy , Flight of the Conchords, Flight of the Conchords, Debra Messing,  More more >
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