[Contains spooky doll impersonations and SPOILERS!!!]
There aren’t many stand-up specials that require a spoiler warning, but I feel obligated to apply one to this post about Kristen Schaal’s Live at the Fillmore, to avoid revealing any of the “plot twists” for viewers who’d rather approach it with innocent eyes and ears.
For those who’d rather know what they’re buying, before they schlep their penny jar down to the DVD store, here’s the straight dope: The main feature begins with roughly 30 minutes of energetic, playful, slyly satirical, and surprisingly sexy absurdism and “surreal whimsy”, that fans of Schaal’s fine work in Flight of the Conchords and Bob’s Burgers will eat up with a spoon. There were too many stand-out moments and lol-lines for me to list them all here… except to say that I would gladly watch a full-length performance of her “Taint Monologues”, if such a thing could be willed into existence. So, to recap, the first 30 minutes = unequivocally awesome.
Then the mood shifts, as Schaal tells a lame joke inherited from her late grandmother (involving a “lazy eye” prop), which is met with tepid silence from the audience… thrown by this reaction, and a flood of grief for her dead gramma, Schaal loses her train of thought, along with her ability to pronounce the word “airplane”, and flubs an equally lame joke about in-flight entertainment. Mortified, she runs off the stage to hide in her dressing room, while her comedy partner Kurt Braunohler pads for time. When she’s eventually coaxed back, she tries to shore up her act with some (mostly pun-based) autobiographical anecdotes, read from a series of index cards that she tosses aside with growing disdain and disinterest. Then the stage is invaded by a pre-teen heckler, who delivers a precociously confident and polished routine of her own, repeatedly turning to the shell-shocked Schaal and proudly declaring “BAM! Joke sold!” After the kid drops the mic and strides off, Schaal is left to try to win the audience back by accompanying herself on something called an Omnichord, but all this does is anger the local crickets, who chirrup mercilessly at her. She gets a few defensive gags in at their expense, then flees the stage a second time, and cedes her spotlight to an anthropomorphic Whoopee Cushion… before eventually returning for an extended encore, during which Braunohler repeatedly sings “Kristen Schaal is a horse, Kristen Schaal is a horse!”, as she dances beside him, in a vaguely equine fashion.
Clearly, the various flubs, meltdowns, and walk-outs were staged*… and I can’t help admiring Schaal’s chutzpah for taking the hoax so far. I mean, there must be aspiring comics out there who would kill for the chance to record a one-hour Comedy Central special, and see it released on DVD… and you can bet they’d be working their mics to the wire, rehearsing their act to pin-point perfection, so they could deliver the slickest package possible, and ensure that the audience’s attention was focussed on them throughout. And there’s no question that Schaal could have performed 60 minutes’ worth of track-tested material, and killed with it, if she’d wanted to… but that’s simply not how she rolls. She’s not your average, common-or-garden, people-pleasing comedian… she’s also an actress and (dare I say it?) an artist! So, instead of simply delivering a chuckle-worthy comedy special, she delivered a conceptual joke about comedy specials… that also happens to be pretty damn chuckle-worthy when it needs to be (even in the slightly sparser second half). I’d say it took real courage to commit to a caper like this, but I doubt Schaal even thought twice about it… taking the safe route and coasting simply isn’t an option for a former Andy Kaufman Award winner, and I truly admire her for that.
Of course, if that was all there was on the DVD, I might be a little less admiring/forgiving… but thankfully the bonus features include her previous “half-hour” CC special, plus her brilliant set from John Oliver’s NY Stand-Up Show (that bit with the mattress still kills me!), and three top-notch appearances from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart… which adds up to almost an hour of extra original material, and ample compensation for all that “dead air” in the main feature. Hurrah!
* In fact, the “heckler” who hijacked her set was played by an actress named Chloe Noelle, who’s already appeared in 15 episodes of True Blood (as ‘Emma Garza’, the werewolf daughter that Sam and Alcide were scrapping over), and even lists the role on her resume! Bless.