Just for Laughs: Kristen Schaal’s saddle is askew
From an inexplicable horse routine to off-kilter voice work, the comedian explores the outer limits
MONTREAL - Kristen Schaal is a horse. Or rather, she was a horse. But the horse has been put out to pasture. No more horsing around.
The horse did its swan song on Schaal’s recent hour-long Comedy Central special, Kristen Schaal Live at the Fillmore. The highly entertaining, increasingly surreal show ended with Schaal dancing around like — well, not really like a horse at all; more like a very enthusiastic freak, while her comedy partner Kurt Braunohler clapped his hands, singing/hollering, “Kristen Schaal is a hooorse! Kristen Schaal is a hooorse! Look at her dance, and look at her go! Look at her dance like a horse!”
On and on it went, as the audience slowly got up from their seats and left the theatre. It was but one of many moments in the evening where you wondered how much of this was staged and how much was Schaal just being her weirdo self. (In general, the safe money is on the latter.)
Others included: Schaal fumbling a joke about an airplane (mispronounced as “R-plane”); getting upstaged by a sassy child standup from the crowd; and throwing a tantrum backstage.
“We had been doing it for a while,” a cool, calm and collected Schaal said of the horse routine, on the phone last week. “It was one of those things that starts to get old. If you can, it’s just good to document it and leave it. I didn’t know when I was going to be able to do it on a special again. There is a Melbourne version out there, but I don’t like the editing. Now it’s recorded. It’s done, and that’s that.”
The problem with the Melbourne recording may have been that it didn’t let the song-and-dance play out to quite the same painstaking degree. Schaal wanted us to feel the confusion, the boredom, the restlessness.
“I think it’s one of those slow burns,” she said of the show. “I’m proud of it. I did something super weird, and people will find it here and there, and like it; other people will think it’s a waste of time. I’m glad it’s part of my body of work.”
Why does Schaal gravitate to such left-field sources of laughter? What’s wrong with good old-fashioned standup?
“I guess I felt like I gave the audience that in the first half (of the show),” she said. “The payoff is mostly in constructing a different sort of laugh for somebody out there. Standup specials on Comedy Central have been done for years. Nobody ever tried to turn one on its head. I wanted to take something traditional and see what happens if somebody blew it up.”
Known for her high-energy interventions as a correspondent on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show; her role as stalker/groupie Mel on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords; and her squeaky voice work as kids Louise on Bob’s Burgers and Mabel Pines on Gravity Falls, Schaal brings an off-the-wall wackiness to everything she touches.
“What I would like to let everybody in the business know,” she said, “is that it’s clear that I will do anything. I try to be fearless when given something.”
Schaal was speaking from her home in Burbank, Calif., where she has lived for the past year with her husband, former Daily Show writer Rich Blomquist. The comedy couple live in L.A.’s unofficial comedy hood.
“It’s where all the late-night people are,” she said. “Jay Leno lives here. Bob Hope used to live here. … It’s hilarious. Everyone is old. They’re all, like, above 60 and retired. The only time I see them is in the morning when I go for a walk. In the afternoon, if you need to get anything at the pharmacy, you’ve just got to wait in line, which goes around the block. I like to think I’m a big fish in a small pond, or a young fish in an old pond.”
Life is tamer now than during the 12 years Schaal spent in New York City. But she had mastered the Big Apple, she explained, and was seeking out new challenges.
“I was getting too good at New York. I was getting really good at yelling at people on the street, averting my eyes on the subway. The (city’s foul) smells started smelling good to me.”
Citing influences including Andy Kaufman (“he was pushing the envelope of comedy”) and Steve Martin (“he was just goofy”), Schaal continues to carve out a place for herself on the outer limits of laughdom.
For material, she looks beyond her immediate surroundings, avoiding the prevalent traps of autobiographical standup comedy as she aspires to a new theatre of the absurd.
“I never really thought that my life was interesting enough to bring to the stage,” she said. “I always tried to push and reach out around (the obvious) with my imagination.
“I’m an OK joke writer, but I’m a better monologist. It’s a different skill set than a lot of my peers. That’s what led me down a different path. Now I’m bored with that, and I’m trying to be more traditional.”
Yeah, good luck with that.
Kristen Schaal hosts Talk of the Fest Wednesday, July 24 at 7 and 10 p.m. at Club Soda, 1225 St-Laurent Blvd., as part of Just for Laughs. Tickets cost $35.50. Call 514-286-1010 or visit hahaha.com.
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