Posts Tagged ‘Ellie Kemper’
This week, the delightful Ellie Kemper takes a quick break from making TV & movies to talk with us about positivity in comedy, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and of course, improv! In the midst of hosting the TODAY show last week, and performing at Magnet with Christina Gausas (as KempSas), Ellie was kind enough to sit down with our lovable host Louis Kornfeld for a brief interview.
Louis wastes no time getting into it, asking Ellie, “How do you make positivity so funny?” Ellie admits that there is a a fine line between grating and funny when it comes to positivity. And though many positive characters have a naiveté to them, she maintains that you can bring more to those characters than simply ditziness. Louis believes that earlier improvisers shy away from being positive because it feels like theres not much fuel to burn, yet he observes that Ellie is able to keep positive characters going endlessly. Perhaps it’s a psychological reflection of the performer?
Continuing in this vein, Ellie talks about her one-person UCB show centered around a cheery airline attendant who is falling apart on the inside, which of course brings us to Kimmy Schmidt. On Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, all of the characters, and particularly Kimmy, maintain a very upbeat disposition despite the darkness that seems to exist just offscreen or looming right behind them. Why are they able to stay funny? Probably because they all make good on the show’s motto: Youre stronger than you think.
In an improv scene, what makes one dark character entertaining to watch and another just sad? Both Ellie and Louis agree that confidence goes a long way and gives the audience faith in the actors trying to pull it off. Ellie talks specifically about how Christina Gausass confidence puts her at ease when they play together. The focus that Christina gives her scene partners takes their stress away and let’s them know they’re being taken seriously. Ellie and Louis both feel that anytime you have to sell what youre doing to the audience, it puts a stress on the scene. A great strength of an improviser is to simply “be here right now.”
Louis then wants to talk about relaxation. How does Ellie deal with the difference in scale between the pressures of earlier performances and auditions, and the types of high-profile projects she does now? Interestingly, Ellie has actually gotten more anxious as time has gone on and, despite her prowess on stage, is still mystified by how other performers improvise so well. Louis digs deeper, asking Ellie if being famous has changed what its like to improvise in front of people. She says that audiences will laugh at things that arent really very funny and that you run the risk of becoming a lazy improviser. She’s returned to improvising more regularly this past winter after being away from it for some time, and though she felt rusty at first, she’s been loving it.
Louis favorite shows are the ones where he knows it was great improv but the audience was lukewarm about it – the pride of content over response. But that pride doesn’t prevent even great performers from going for the response sometimes. Ellie and Louis discuss the terrible feelings associated with making an easy joke in a scene. Guilt keeps you honest.
For his concluding question, Louis asks Ellie to describe what it’s like to come from the grungy, DIY world of NYC improv and sketch, and now, to be working amongst the most successful, absolute best people in comedy. Her answer is simple and reassuring. They’re all cut from the same cloth, right? Hear her answer to that question and all the others on this week’s episode. We know it’s a short one, but we swear on the skull of Del Close that it’s packed full of great stuff.
Our guest on this week’s episode of the Magnet Theater Podcast, Christina Gausas, is well known for her work with a variety of amazing improv duos. As a follow up to her interview, she’s returned to give a shout out to all of her duo collaborators over the years and we’ve given her the keys to the Magnet Blog to do just that. Take it away, Christina!
Ellie Kemper GENIUS
Ellie is the brightest, most radiant light in life, on and off-stage, and shes a genius. She has infinite talent and wild, limitless lovability. Ellie is the smartest person I know and shes a creative genius. Her insights, her sensibilities, her clarity, the characters she creates are so captivating. The gifts that Ellie gives to you in scenes are so specific and brilliant. Shes the most engaging, playful scene partner, and, of course, shes beautiful and warm and generous, its exactly who she is and always has been. (We met in 2000.) I could go on for hours & pages about the talent and joy of Ellie, and the one word to encompass Ellie as an improviser and performer is genius.
Michael Bertrando SEXY BEAST
Bertrando is an intense talent with gravity and fun, hes fucking brilliant, too. Being able to do Come Together with Michael has really been a gift. Michael can get onstage and truly create a one-act play. He creates characters who are complex, complicated MEN, and at the same time, hes hilarious because he digs into the honesty and the emotion and he is fearless. Capital F Fearless. Hes wickedly smart, open-minded, he is pure fire onstage.
Susan Messing The QUEEN
Kevin Dorff is the King, Susan Messing is the Queen, and I would live in that Kingdom forever. Susan is what we all aspire to be. But I dont know that anyone can come close. I think, just bow down. Susan is the Goddess. Its Susans world and were just living in it.
Becky Drysdale CREATOR
Becky is the most creative, creating, creator I know. She improvises, writes, sings, dances, animates, makes art, builds things, and she makes spaces for other improvisers. The Clubhouse in LA is amazing and she made that for other people. She did that with her school in New York, too. I was watching a documentary about Orson Welles and someone said, there was never an Orson before him and there will never be a second, which made me think of Matt Besser, who I admire very much, and wonder if there will ever be someone like Besser again because Improv is now so big. I dont know Matt well, but he always seems brave to me, anarchistic, confident (all the UCB 4 do) what Matt and the UCB created was non-status quo. Becky has a similar spirit. She gives it to the Indie teams.
Scott Adsit CHARMING
I think Scott is one of the most charming improvisers in the country. I loved all of our shows.
Kay Cannon DEEEELIGHT
I add the es for how exciting Kay is onstage. Kay has the most come run away and play with me look in her eyes when you are onstage with her. We were only able to do one show as Cannon & Gausas and it was at a DCM and it was a delight. Kay keeps the energy, and the positivity, and the play, and the smart silliness going. You just feel so happy when you see her big eyes and her big smile. And shes that way as a friend, too. She always lifts you up.
Armando Diaz EMPEROR
If youre reading this right now, please ask Armando to improvise more. No one else can as quickly and completely become a character the way Armando Diaz can. And I feel like he understands Comedy better than all of us. And, by all of us, I mean, the whole, entire world. We have this treasure, this wealth of insight and improv and comedy intelligence right here in New York City and I feel like we should be seeing and using him all the time. For the sake of the future! (Sorry, Armando, no sleep for you.)
Megan Gray The GIFT
Megan has that natural grace and comfort onstage that comes from a place of love. Much like Ellie, that light and radiance. Shes a very strong and also giving improviser. I love being onstage with Megan but I also love watching her because I always feel secure. Shes funny and talented and also commanding onstage. My eyes go right to her. I always want to know what her characters are going to say. Also, when you watch her in a group, shes the first one to throw herself on the grenade. She gives unbridled support without worrying about herself. Plus, as an AD, she gives so much to the community, she really diversifies and shares, and opens doors to performers and provides opportunities to shows.
Louis Kornfeld the ORIGINAL
I think Louis has one of the most original stage personas and it comes completely from being who he is. I think a lot of people want to play to be perceived as smart or intelligent or understanding something you dont but its always bullshit. Louis is the most NO BULLSHIT player there is. And because of that, we get to see this smart, intelligent improviser, whos comfortable JUST FUCKING BEING. (As far as we can see.) And hell create a scene that might have a central, long discussion and its interesting as hell because its authentic and it isnt full of self-aware bullshit, its just honest. I hear him refer to himself as a straight man. I have to say, Ive never thought that. Hes always anchoring to me. Playing with MegaLou was great.
Michael Delaney GOLOVKIN
Boxing fans will understand. Gennady Golovkin is a boxer with every weapon in a full arsenal and he has precision. He doesnt remind you of anyone else because theres never been anyone else like him. Thats Michael Delaney to me. He has every talent an improviser could hope for and he has precision. When youre watching Michael Delaney or youre onstage with Michael Delaney, youre experiencing the best of what the work can be, at all times. Hes a true Master of Improvisation. We are lucky to have him. Its another bow down situation.
Billy Merritt JOY
Billy and I did one show in Dave Furferos Ampersand at the Magnet. When I think of Billy, I just think Joy. He welcomes you onstage and its fun and easy and unquestioned for the whole show. We did Kevin Mullaneys Mullaney Chain at DCM 17. It was Kevin, Ellie, Sean Conroy, Billy, and me. I was in a scene with Billy where we were husband & wife talking to Seans character (who was off-stage) over the phone. I said, check the caller ID and Billy said, out loud, to the phone, Check Caller ID, while we were in the middle of the conversation. It was hilarious and a moment where we could get into a fun not that way, look at the phone, what? why? and those ideas and that kind of play can only come from the joyous, incredibly fun, smart mind of Billy Merritt.
Kevin Dorff KING
Kevn Dorff is the King and thats really all I have to say. Hes so incredibly talented, strong, intelligent, striking, commanding, and fun. He can say more with one look or one word than anyone else onstage. Which is why I should simply say KING.
All words not in italics written by the wonderful Christina Gausas.