Is Kristen Schaal a Wildly Successful Kaufman-esque Comedy Troll?


The Daily Show‘s “Senior Women’s Issues Correspondent” might be really good at pranking the world –- or not, depending on how seriously you take her particular brand of comedy. Comedian Kristen Schaal’s latest performance, which aired Monday night on Comedy Central, is dividing her fans, who can’t quite figure out whether she’s had a breakdown or is spinning an elaborate ruse.

Here’s what happened: Schaal’s one-hour special Live at the Fillmore was originally scheduled for release on January 18, but on the podcast Comedy Bang Bang shortly before that announced airdate, Schaal denied the special was coming out at all:

“I asked them to not release it because it didn’t go the way I planned. So it’s definitely not coming out January 18 and if it comes out at all I’ll be surprised…To those who came to San Francisco and saw the show, they will know why”

She then abruptly changed the subject.

Live at the Fillmore actually aired at midnight on April 1, a move that was either purposefully chosen to confuse audiences about whether Schaal was playing a huge practical joke or Comedy Central’s attempt to salvage a live special (or make sure a contract was fulfilled). As you can see from the clips, the whole thing is definitely weirder than your usual Tosh.O stand-up set (even for Schaal’s standards) – to the point that at least one reviewer from The Hollywood Reporter didn’t get it.

Of the show, Allison Keene writes that “for the first 30 minutes, Schaal flies high, hitting the mark on everything.” But then:

“…after a lazy eye joke fell completely flat, Schaal totally lost it. She said the joke had been her grandmother’s and seemed genuinely upset at the poor response. Unable to get past the moment, she corpsed repeatedly on the pronunciation of the word ‘airplane,’ saying it over and over again to a chuckling audience who, like me at that point, thought it was part of the joke. It wasn’t. Right?”

You can watch that clip here, including Schaal’s hasty exit as things seem to unravel.

Commenters on Keene’s article vehemently disagree that Schaal had any such breakdown; most compared her to legendary comedian Andy Kaufman who loved hoaxes. Just as many said that if it was a joke within a joke, it wasn’t funny.

In an interview for Vulture promoting the special, Schaal’s comedy partner Kurt Braunohler asks her about how it all went:

KB: 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.”

Braunohler actually joined Schaal at the end of the show to do a bit they’ve done before on Radiolab called “Kristen Schaal is a horse.” During that segment, you can hear the audience respond with laughter, and then as it goes on longer and longer, get silent, and then laugh again. It’s a level of absurdist comedy that’s not seen too often, particularly in stand-up.

In comments below the Vulture interview (which went up Monday before the special had aired), a few people “spoiled” the special with their take on it as audience members, prompting the site to delete a few of them. (Click image to enlarge comment)

Schaal’s the kind of comedian who always seems to be performing, and it’s a little hard to imagine that most of this special – even if it didn’t go exactly her way – wasn’t like that too. Even if it was a total disaster on her terms (whatever those are), she’s committing to her stance that there’s no way this thing should have been aired, through her Twitter feed and in Q&A’s about it.

Some of the commenters thought Keene herself was trolling (because meta-trolling is so in right now), with one writing “In case it’s not obvious the author here is also engaging in the joke that Kristen created….” But Keene’s tweets about Live at the Fillmore indicate otherwise. (Click image to enlarge tweets)

You heard it here: life ≠ performance art ≠ comedy.

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