Kristen Schaal on Getting Fired From ‘South Park’ After a Month
The “Flight of the Conchords” and “Bob’s Burgers” star also opens up about the double-edged sword of being Senior Women’s Issues Correspondent on “The Daily Show.”
The year 2007 was a wild one for Kristen Schaal. She landed her breakthrough role on Flight of the Conchords. She met her future husband. And for a few short weeks, she wrote for South Park.
As Schaal, who is currently starring in The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney+, tells me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, she was performing her one-woman stand-up show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival when Flight of the Conchords premiered on HBO. She didn’t have the internet and social media didn’t really exist yet, “which was probably for the best,” she says, so she had no idea that the show was quickly becoming a cult hit among both viewers and critics.
When she got a call out of the blue that Trey Parker and Matt Stone wanted her to write on season 11 of South Park, she promptly picked up her life and flew to L.A. It was during that trip that she got recognized by a fan for the first time. “I did not know how to handle fame,” she admits years later. “It was too much.”
Within about a month, she would get fired by the creators of South Park and then the next year hired to join her new boyfriend at The Daily Show, where Jon Stewart made her the Senior Women’s Issues Correspondent. It’s a position, she reveals in this interview, that she found rewarding but ultimately limiting.
Below is an edited excerpt from our conversation and you can listen to the whole thing—including stories about getting cast on Flight of the Conchords, the early days of Bob’s Burgers and more—right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.
So the same year that you got cast on Flight of the Conchords you were hired as a writer on South Park. What was that experience like, dropping into that world?
I totally forgot, yeah, I did that! God, that was a crazy year when everything was happening. Because I got Flight of the Conchords and it was premiering, but while it was premiering, I was doing my one-woman show in Edinburgh, which is a month long. And while I was there, the South Park team had seen the Penelope Princess of Pets web videos that Kurt Braunholer and I had done. And I got asked to be a writer on the show. I was like, yeah! And then I got to the South Park offices and that was—I mean, I am such a South Park fan. I think South Park is honestly one of the most underrated cultural shows. I think people have taken it for granted at this point. But it is such a force. And I grew up in Colorado, I went to school at the University of Colorado for a year. So I was in awe. And I didn’t last long. I was there for like a month and I was told—I got a warning that I was talking too much.
Really? You got in trouble?
I was pitching too much. I’d never been in a writers’ room before. So I was just like, let me earn my keep. I was like, “How about this? How about this? How about this?” And that’s not how it works.
You were a little over-eager?
Yeah, I wasn’t going where the room was going. Because at that time too, South Park was doing a ton of movie parodies and my movie knowledge is not good. I couldn’t go there, so I just kept pitching another thing. So looking back, yeah, they let me go. I could do a writers’ room now, just for everybody listening, but I was too nervous and too excited to be in there.
Is there anything that you pitched that actually got on the show?
There were a couple of things, but I can’t remember specifically and I would be afraid if I said it they’d be like, “No!” But there were a couple of things where I was like, “Oh, I think that was my idea, actually.”
Have you reconciled with Matt and Trey? Or is there any bad blood there?
No, it’s all good. When I got the call that I’d been let go, it was devastating. Tig Notaro had this garage that she turned into a little guest house that I was crashing in. And covering rent was a little tough. So I was like, “Tig, I just got fired! Do I have to cover the rent?” She was like… yeah. [Laughs] So I was devastated, but I remember I talked to James Bobin, the co-creator of Flight of the Conchords, the day I got fired. We had margaritas. And he was like, “Ah, fuck it.” He gave me good advice. He said, “You’re going to get fired, you’re going to get hired, it’s fine.” And then I flew home and—jeez, this year was incredible!—I flew home and then I met my husband [former Daily Show writer Rich Blomquist] on this Adult Swim show called Snake N Bacon that he was executive producing. He asked me on a date. So a lot was shifting.
Yeah, big year. And to answer your question a few years down the road, when Comedy Central was having the comedy awards, everyone was there. And at one point, I think I was presenting something and Matt and Trey were probably getting an award and we crossed each other in the wings and they were like, “Hey!” They recognized me. And I was like, “Hey dudes, congratulations!” It was very friendly. So I always root for them. Everything they do is so good.
So you and your husband have collaborated a bunch over the years, right? Including on The Daily Show?
Yes, we are a collaborative team.
At some point he started working at The Daily Show and then you started contributing there or how did that all happen?
This was probably around 2008. So we were dating and it was a time where the election was happening and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were competing for the Democratic nomination. And I was certain that if Hillary Clinton didn’t get the nomination, then we probably wouldn’t have a female president for another 100 years. [Whispers] So far I haven’t been wrong.
You were right.
So I was doing this stand-up bit where I’m making a time capsule for the future female president of the United States, which I think I said would be in 230 years or something like that. And so Rich saw it and he pitched it to Jon Stewart and Jon Stewart was like, let’s do this. So he and I wrote it together and I got to do it on the show. And after that Jon Stewart said, “You are in charge of women’s issues.”
Yeah, you were the Senior Women’s Issues Correspondent.
Yes, which I was excited about. I wanted to be a regular on the show, but that meant that I would rarely, rarely be on there because there’s not a lot of women’s issues that make the news.
So it was a little bit of a double-edged sword being the Women’s Issues Correspondent?
Yeah. At the time I was bummed. So I would just constantly be scanning the news for “women’s issues.” Nobody, especially back then, was talking about it. But sometimes they would. But I did the show, I don’t know, 10, 13 times? And a lot of those pieces I’m so proud of because they were very unique.
Is there one that stands out in your memory as the one that you’re most proud of?
Yeah, the Republicans were trying to mess with the Affordable Care Act and part of the way they were doing that was, there’s already a rule that you can’t have federal funding of abortion, right? But there was a clause in the Affordable Care Act where, if you were raped or if it was incest, then that would be covered under the Affordable Care Act. And they were pushing against that. So I did a piece about that. Even just saying it out loud is like, what the fuck? And I don’t think it’s because of the piece, but it aired that night and the next day they took the language [banning all abortion funding] out. So now if you were raped, you can be covered. But that being said, they put it back in again a couple of weeks later.
But briefly you may have been responsible for some good stuff.
It felt like, for one second, maybe comedy was a force of more than a laugh.
Yeah, I think Jon Stewart always would talk about how the most effective pieces on that show were when the correspondent really felt strongly about the issue.
That’s exactly what he said in the room when we were working on it together. He was like, “I’m angry!” I’m like, “I’m fucking mad!” And he was like, “This is good.”