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Kristen Schaal: Flight of the Conchords' No. 1 fan




We’ve all been there. You're packing for a road trip, and you can’t make up your mind: Should I bring the birdcage or the giant foam mattress? "Maybe I’ll bring some kitchen supplies," said comic Kristen Schaal, whose unique brand of theatrical humor makes good use of such eccentric props.

Schaal plays scene-stealing stalker Mel on Flight of the Conchords, HBO’s deliriously twee sitcom about a New Zealand folk-parody duo (Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement) who come to New York City in search of big-city fame, only to wind up with a manager who can book gigs in libraries and elevators, and a single, obssessed fan (that’d be Mel).

The show’s blend of absurdist deadpan humor and over-the-top musical fantasy numbers has turned its unassuming stars into alt-comedy heroes and legit musical superstars — Flight of the Conchords won a Grammy in 2008 for Best Comedy Album. (Click here to listen to an mp3 of their track Ladies of the World.)

On Monday, a couple of weeks after the second-season finale, Flight of the Conchords will kick off a nationwide tour at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Schaal, a performer on The Daily Show and former contributor to South Park, will open the show.

While packing for a two-week stint on the road, Schaal called tbt* from her home in Brooklyn to chat about comedy, the Conchords and her own stalker fantasy.

So, “alternative comic.” Are you cool with that tag?

Sure, sure. That’s a good safety word. It puts people at ease. I love labels. (laughs)

You think we should all have labels?

Well, I don’t think I’m cooler than a label. If you can label me, all the better. I love the word “alternative!”

Is the show over? Everything I’ve read points to it just being two seasons, because the process of writing all the music is so creatively exhausting to Bret and Jemaine.

I don’t think I will know for sure until June. I wouldn’t want to say the show’s over until it’s officially over. I think that’s a mistake they made, where they said in an interview a while ago that they’d only do two seasons. They sort of had to apologize to HBO. (laughs) I think it would be really fun to do a third season. You could just blow the house down and be really ridiculous and fun.

You’re strictly a performer on Flight of the Conchords. Do you ever get to see the creative process between Bret, Jemaine and (producer) James Bobin?

Yeah, a little bit. I get to see the scripts in their earliest stages. But then they kind of shoo us away as they’re writing. (laughs) I’ve never gotten to see them write together, or even like figure out a song in the studio together. But I bet you the emotions are high.

You had your first song this season, Dreams:

How did that work? What’s the process like in terms of rehearsing, recording, learning the choreography, all that stuff?

It was actually pretty simple. They said, “Here’s a song we’re writing, here’s the tune, here are some verses.” They were really open if I had some input on the verses and the ideas, which was fun, because it’s just amazing to see it come to fruition. No rehearsals, I just went in and sang it a couple of times, and then shot it. There’s no time to really do much other than that.

Do fans of the show like you? Because I would imagine there have to be some real-life Mels out there, and Mel doesn’t seem to like it when other women get too close to her boys.

I think so. Nobody’s made any death threats yet. I think people are comfortable with me. I’m sure they’re a little jealous. I mean, I would be.

Are there groupies like Mel in the comedy world?

Yeah, there are a couple. None of them have tried to sleep with me. They’re all girls. But there are a couple where I’m like, “Really? You’re going to see his set again?” But they’re sweet. To me, a comedy groupie is more on the intellectual side than a music groupie.

This is a very press-junkety question, but who’s your celebrity obsession?

Oh, right. Oh, man ... I always get so stumped on this one.

You don’t have a stock answer? That’s like the number one question you must get!

It is number one! And every time, I’m always like, “Oh, you should really think of someone for next time.” I’ve said Tori Amos before, and I’ll say it again. I really want to meet Tori Amos. She’s my favorite musician, which I know makes me incredibly alternative. (laughs). But she’s so cool! Someone e-mailed me and said they saw her at South by Southwest, and I was like, “Did butterflies fall out of her mouth when she coughed? Was a fairy tied up in her hair? What was she doing!?”

What’s the creative process like on The Daily Show? Do you write your own segments?

I have a unique relationship, where if there’s a topic that comes up and it seems to fit — it has to be sort of female-related; that’s sort of my department — if you pitch the idea and Jon (Stewart) likes it, we go back and will write it up, and if he likes that draft, you’ll get booked for to do it. On the day, I get a special dress rehearsal, because my stuff’s a little more involved, and then he gives me notes, and we go back and rewrite it. Sometimes the whole thing can be entirely rewritten before we perform it. Your brain is constantly churning. Churning brains! It’s fun.

How did you hook up with the South Park guys?

It came out of nowhere. They’re constantly looking for brand-new talent, and when the “Penelope Princess of Pets” shorts that I did were on the Web, I think someone on the staff saw it and really liked it. I did an interview over the phone, and that was enough, so I got to go work for a month.

What were your expectations going into working with Trey and Matt?

I always admired them growing up, because they taught me how to have no expectations — there’s no limit on anything. They were heroes of mine. I was worried that my brain wouldn’t be able to go far out enough. And then I realized it wasn’t about the craziest, most obscure s--- joke you can think of; they’re really concerned with creating a solid story. I was definitely nervous, and they were like celebrities to me, but luckily, I’d met enough celebrities at that point where I could handle myself.

Were you doing those crazy, rapid-turnarounds that they’re known for now? Were you working 24 hours a day in advance of each episode?

My hours were very regular, because I was just on a consulting team. Basically, you work until Trey’s ready to produce. But I think that’s obviously why the show is extraordinary, is because it can be so topical, as opposed to other cartoon shows, which have to send the artwork over to Korea.

What’s a show that you wish you could write for?

Every time I watch 30 Rock, I just get chills. It’s so good, it’s so well-written — I feel like they’ve brought jokes back in a way that’s been missing from sitcoms for a long time. Just from watching it, I feel like I learn a lot about clever, good writing.

Have you ever met Tina Fey?

I’ve never met Tina Fey. I’ve stared at her from across the room a couple of times. (laughs) I think we locked eyes a couple of times, but then I get kind of star-struck, so I think I make a weird face. I can’t smile, because I’m too nervous. So I just look away.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Handout photo]

[Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 2:00pm]


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