Kristen Schaal: Live at the Fillmore
Paramount // Unrated // $14.98 // April 2, 2013
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted April 12, 2013
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In 10 Words or Less
The Queen of Quirk's first comedy hour

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Kristen Schaal, stand-up comedy
Likes: Kurt Braunohler, Andy Kaufman
Dislikes: performance art
Hates: Missing Mel

The Show
Sure, they may call Zooey Deschanel "adorkable" but the true quirky distaff comedy superstar is Kristen Schaal. Whereas Deschanel is at best a bit offbeat, Schaal, with her unconventional looks, dark sense of humor and willingness to break the rules of comedy, is an oddball beyond compare. After breaking out as the creepily obsessive fan Mel on Flight of the Conchord, it seems like she's been everywhere you can find a good laugh, but one place most people haven't seen her is behind the microphone on stage. However, she's been working the comedy circuit for quite a while, hosting her New York show "Hot Tub" with Kurt Braunohler (who serves as host and co-conspirator here) for a long time. Now, with this hour-long Comedy Central special, filmed at the Fillmore in San Francisco out there, she has the chance to reach a wider audience with her act.

Don't expect 60 minutes of set-ups and punchlines though. As any of her fans would already know, she's not exactly the same-old, and her stand-up act isn't either, supplementing her jokes with everything from storytelling to monologues to strange Andy Kaufman-esque moments. Playing off what might be considered her sweet or innocent appearance, she does a hard 180 and hits you with a bunch of dark and/or somewhat dirty comedy, joking about sex, killing genies and gigantic phalluses. Even when she's working blue though, as when illustrating her oral sex technique or talking about her perineum, her goofy charm keeps it silly and hilarious (few comics not named Kristen Schaal could get away with a gag about "ghost poops.")

While Schaal's material is funny, it's her delivery that makes her such a great performer. An underrated actress, she is fantastic at wordlessly crafting a scene, be it her reaction to a date request gone bad or her brilliant interpretation of an audition to be a magician's assistant (which may be her most fully-formed bit of the entire show due to how outstanding her acting is.) Her parodies of one-woman shows, including a take-off of The Vagina Monologues that is so spot-on it could probably run alongside the real thing without seeming out of place, also succeed by drawing on her ability to easily establish a character. Even if a joke doesn't land perfectly (often on purpose) her delivery makes it work.

The oddity of her performances is her hallmark though, and this special is loaded with it, from a filthy performance by a big silver pot and wooden spoon, to an entire segment based on the failed pronunciation of a single word, to an awkward and lengthy interaction with an audience member, while the show's finale is a run of oddness that refuses to relent until the creepy end. It's a risky move to base so much of her show on bits that go against the norm and/or make the audience uncomfortable (something Schaal even references in a meta way) but she obviously trusts in her instincts, and her fame gives her some leeway in messing with the audience (though it doesn't help sell the unease as well.) It would be amazing to see an unknown comic try these things, however Schaal's sweet persona (and acting ability) aids her here as well.

The special arrives on a single DVD, which is packed in a standard keepcase. The disc features a static anamorphic widescreen menu with options to play the film, select scenes, check out the extras and adjust the set-up. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH.

The Quality
Schall looks great on-stage (honestly the best she's ever looked), with nice skintone, while her brightly-colored dress is appropriately reproduced and the warm theater setting and purple backdrop on he stage looks nice as well. Though Schaal is presented in sharp clarity with a high level of fine detail (along with the crane crowd shots), audience close-ups are a bit soft. The off-stage footage is also delivered well. There are no issues with compression artifacts or any other imperfections.

Another stand-up special with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, this DVD sounds good, with Schaal's distinctive voice coming across clean and well separated from the audience reactions, while the sound effects and music are also handled well. There are no problems with distortion.

The Extras
There are a few nice extras included here, starting with Schaal's 2009 episode of Comedy Central Presents (21:05), which is something of a mini version of her hour special. Braunohler is here as well, carrying Schaal to the stage, before she goes into earlier versions of some of the bits in her hour, like awkwardly talking with an audience member, performing a play (this time about Anne Boleyn), her audition for Law and Order: SVU and a reading from a caterpillar's journal. It's like watching the hour's origin story.

There's more from Schaal in the form of her appearance on John Oliver's NY Stand-Up Show (17:03), where she talks about being a mom, acts like a sexy librarian, discusses what it's like to be born and does another monologue, this time as a mattress. Though not as funny as the hour, her sense of the weird is firmly in place, shown in an awkward bit featuring her parents.

The extras wrap up with three appearances by Schaal on The Daily Show, as the Senior Women's Issues Correspondent (16:47 in all). These appearances include her piece on the use of the word cougars, the fight over rape-victim abortion funding and the comparison of the single woman's vote to the married woman's vote. Schaal is one of the best of the show's post-Steve Carrell/Stephen Colbert wave of correspondents, and these bits take full advantage of her ability to emphasis the ridiculousness of a situation.

The Bottom Line
Schaal's odd sense of humor, on full display here in this special, is unlikely to ever escape the fringes of comedy stardom, but frankly that's where most of the funniest performers live (along with on Bob's Burgers and Comedy Bang Bang.) This show explains why she is a niche act, but also why she's such an original and hilarious one, offering the best of her off-beat comedy. If you love her, you'll probably love this DVD, with all the bonus Schaal, but if you're unsure, give it a try with an open mind. If you didn't like Kaufman though, you should probably steer clear though.

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