From her breakthrough performance as Mel the stalker on Flight of the Conchords, to her long-running gig as the voice of fourth-grader Louise Belcher on Bob’s Burgers to her latest role as Number Two on the Disney+ adaptation of The Mysterious Benedict Society, Kristen Schaal never fails to bring a unique energy to the screen. And it all begins with her unmistakable voice.
On this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, Schaal looks back on her winding road from alt-comedy darling to mainstream children’s TV star, including detours writing for South Park, serving as the “Senior Women’s Issues Correspondent” on The Daily Show and getting a well-deserved Emmy nomination for—what else?—her voice-over work on Bojack Horseman.
“I knew my voice was different,” Schaal says, recalling a time when someone made fun of the way she talked in middle school. She asked her mother what was wrong with her voice. “And my mom was like, you just have a different voice,” she says. “And it just didn’t change.”
When Schaal went to Northwestern to study acting, “every person that I came into contact with was like, ‘Oh, your voice, your voice, your voice, your voice,’ and not in a good way,” she continues. “And then I had to take a voice class, because I was in the acting program and when I went in to register, the voice teacher was like, ‘Oh, there’s nothing we can do for you. You are not going to make it, that voice is atrocious.’”
“She was wrong!” she adds with a laugh decades later. “But now I think it is special and I do treasure it, but I also get very surprised. I think what surprises me the most when I watch a live-action thing I’ve done, in my head, my voice sounds different. And then when it’s this voice coming out of my face, on screen, that’s always jarring. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that.”
Remarkably, Schaal says she doesn’t feel that way at all when she watches a character she has voiced in one of her many animation projects. “When it’s animation, I’m safe,” she says, “because that’s the character.”
She has just wrapped recording for the long-anticipated Bob’s Burgers movie musical, which was delayed multiple times due to the pandemic. Schaal found the experience particularly challenging because, as she puts it, “I do not like singing.”
Now, with roles like Trixie the Triceratops in the Toy Story universe and Number Two in The Mysterious Benedict Society, Schaal is pivoting towards the type of children’s entertainment that she knows will fuel the later part of her career.
“My voice appeals to kids,” she acknowledges. “Kids’ shows are going to be my future bread and butter. I’m going to need them to like me and I want them to put me in their shows. Some of them are going to grow up and be like, ‘I loved her as a kid, she can be the grandma!’ That’s my hope.”
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