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“I had some hurdles. But those are just as important as the wins.”

Kristen Schaal finds her voice in the world of comedy. By Lisa Stein

Image: Mike Windle/Getty Images

 Whether she’s voicing animated characters or acting onscreen, Kristen Schaal ’00 makes an indelible impression.

Her sweet, singsong and slightly manic voice belies the many comically subversive roles she has played — Louise Belcher, the plotting, bunny-eared middle child in Bob’s Burgers; Mel, the stalker-fan on Flight of the Conchords; the exuberant Mabel Pines in Gravity Falls; Carol Pilbasian on The Last Man on Earth; and the Senior Women’s Issues Correspondent on The Daily Show, just to name a few. No matter how sly her portrayals, though, you always feel like Schaal is letting you in on the joke.

The voice that clearly sets her apart as a performer didn’t always attract admirers. Early on, a speech teacher told Schaal she couldn’t help her because her voice was “atrocious,” Schaal recalls. A potential manager told her that she wasn’t funny and there was nothing she could do to learn how to be.

“I had some hurdles,” Schaal says. “But those are just as important as the wins, because they make you re-evaluate how bad you want it. And I still wanted to fight for it after being told I couldn’t have it.”

After graduation, Schaal headed for New York and began her career as a stand-up comedian. She and a friend, Kurt Braunohler, started the weekly variety show Hot Tub. They moved the show to Los Angeles seven years later and just celebrated its 15th anniversary.

“I realized I couldn’t control how the industry worked with casting directors and whatever projects they were making,” she says. “But I could have control over making my own comedy. And that helped me grow my voice and meet more people and opened the doors for acting jobs in the end.”

In fact, the two stars of Flight of the Conchords, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, hired Schaal outright after watching her perform, casting her as the unforgettably creepy Mel. Since then, Schaal has gone on to write for and act in movies, TV and radio shows, including South Park, Ugly Betty and How I Met Your Mother, and she co-wrote The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex with her husband, former Daily Show writer Rich Blomquist.

When asked for advice for up-and-coming comedians, Schaal is direct: “It takes ambition. You have to be ready to go for it. And it takes trusting what you think is good or funny. Also, the community that you come up with ends up being the peers who are making shows that they might cast you in. Support them! You’re just as good as they are!”

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