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UCBT's Ellie Kemper Interviewed in GQ's The Verge

Feb 26, 2015

Ellie Kemper Writes For McSweeney's, Was A High School Student of Jon Hamm's, and Single-Handedly Saved Us From A Too-Serious Season of The Office 

Let's go out on a comically stubby limb and make a not-at-all controversial claim: the full-time addition of secretary Erin Hannon to the cast of The Office was the best thing to happen to the show all season. This was the year of what, exactly? Weddings? Babies? Infidelity and corporate restructuring and big-time, grow-up stuff? What fun is that? The refreshingly wide-eyed weirdo that Ellie Kemper plays balanced out the heavy shit, serving as the giggly palette cleanser each and every episode. Erin may be an exaggerated version of the actress-but barely. That sense that Erin just thinks it's so cool to be working in the office every day transcends to Kemper's working on The Office every day. Just listen to that pleasant sense of wonder, and that voice. St. Louis-bred, Princeton-brained, and just Midwestern enough to squirm when Jonathan Ames writes dirty. Our kinda girl. Watch Kemper in tonight's season finale of The Office at 9 p.m., but warm-up with this little Q&A:

GQ: So you're back in L.A.

Ellie Kemper: I'm back! I went home for Mother's Day, to St. Louis. I go home way too often for a 30-year-old woman.

GQ: And the season finale of The Office is tomorrow. What have you been doing in your free time since you wrapped for the summer?

Kemper: Not too much. Going to Loehmann's a lot. Do you know what Loehmann's is?

GQ: Of course. Discount department store, right?

Kemper: Yeah! So going to Loehmann's a lot and trying to write. We wrapped over a month ago now, but it's hard to write when you don't have structure to your day. Do you ever experience that when you're trying to write? So I've been doing that-this humorous book that my sister and I are working on. She was just hired at The Office as a writer. We're coming to New York to pitch it to publishers. That's all I'll say though, 'cause I'm worried about spilling the idea.

GQ: C'mon. A little more. Who's style might it be like?

Kemper: Well, these are two enormously talented people that I'm about to name, so I am in no way comparing myself to them, but I love David Sedaris and Jonathan Ames. Well, he's a little dirty sometimes, but when he's not being dirty, when he's not writing about the most explicit things...

GQ: Have you done other sorts of writing?

Kemper: I wrote comedy sketches in college. And I wrote a thesis, but it wasn't exactly funny. In recent years, I've written a lot for McSweeney's and The Onion, too. I'm really lucky that they keep letting me contribute since I've been missing deadlines. But with McSweeney's-are you familiar with...

GQ: Sure, and I've read your stuff there.

Kemper: Oh! Thank you for reading it! I just found out, I'm really excited, that they accepted a piece of mine for the print edition. I've never gotten a piece in the magazine, only online. So yeah! No screenplays, or anything, not yet. And I've been getting prepared for this movie that starts shooting in June.

GQ: Is this the Kristen Wiig film?

Kemper: Exactly, yes. So we've had a couple rehearsals and table reads. But mostly, I'm not kidding, Loehmann's is the bulk of what I've been doing.

GQ: You're sort of fully joining forces with the Women Of Comedy world with this movie.

Kemper: I am so... incredulous that I am allowed to be involved in this. Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, I can't believe, 'cause they treat me like their equal. I just feel like they're so far ahead of me and superior to me, just better than I am, that I really am honored just to be able to be in this movie with them. Rose Byrne, too? I have an enormous girl crush on her.

GQ: Have you noticed your role on The Office opening a ton of doors for you already?

Kemper: Well, I think it's certainly easier in terms of knowing, 'Okay, I have a steady job working as an actress.' So there's some comfort there with regards to looking for work. But I still get very, very nervous when the time comes to audition. You're not playing your character from The Office. You have to show up and act.

GQ: When you started on The Office, how long did you expect the gig to last?

Kemper: I didn't imagine that Erin would become a full character. I thought it was gonna be a four-episode arc. Pam had gone to work at the Michael Scott Paper Company, and they needed a receptionist for a short time. So I thought, Of course! With this kind of work, I was just thinking: I have something for four weeks. And then they extended it to six. And then they didn't really give any indication that Erin was going away. You never want to get too hopeful about anything, but I thought they might be bring her back for a few episodes in the Fall-and then last June, they told me they were gonna make Erin a regular.

GQ: How much do the writers clue you in to what's happening with Erin?

Kemper: There isn't much discussion before the table read. Maybe the other actors talk to the writers more, but I mostly talk with them about Erin on-set. Erin recently had her biggest episode yet, 'Secretary's Day,' and there were all these layers of Erin that were sort of unexpectedly shown. If I had one sentence to describe her, it would be: 'Erin is a weirdo.' But in that episode we got to see why she's a weirdo. I was really happy to see Erin not just being happy in that episode. She wigged out.

GQ: You got to throw a huge piece of cake in Ed Helms' face. How many takes?

Kemper: Oh my gosh! I have to tell you! Steve Carell directed the episode, and he said, 'Time is of the essence. It's hard to reset the cake, so everyone please just try to do this without laughing.' I was nervous because I had to go a little bit nuts in front of all of these people who I admire and whose approval I seek, so I was shaking through the whole scene. Ed Helms never laughed, and I think we only did the scene four times. Props did a great job. The cake was dense, and really stuck to his face. It was also very... cathartic. Throwing something-not just at Ed-but at anyone. It was a total rush when it was all over: the cake hit him in the eye, and nobody laughed, and I stormed out, and it was a victory!

GQ: You moved from New York to L.A. about a year ago, right?

Kemper: I moved out here permanently last July. I'd been out the previous winter working on this one-woman show of mine. That's when the audition for The Office came up. I'm living in Hollywood, right by the Walk of Fame. It's crazy. Like the Times Square of L.A.-without the bomb threats. I think it's sort of unfair that someone made up this rule that New York and L.A. should be compared, because they're not comparable at all. New York is like the weirdest city in the United States, in a great way, and Los Angeles is probably more similar to most of America. I'm having trouble adjusting to the weather. Which I know sounds completely spoiled and terrible. It's just that I think weather affects my mood a lot more than I thought, and I like to be in bad moods sometimes. But since it's always sunny, I feel like I'm sacrilegious if I'm in a bad mood .

GQ: I hear that when you moved out there, you invited Jon Hamm-who you'd known back in St. Louis-to see your perform.

Kemper: Well, when he started appearing on the cover of-on the cover of your magazine, right?-and was on the side of buses and everything... I don't know if you have famous people you knew in high school, but it's totally thrilling. So when I was doing that one-woman show, I was like, there's no way he'll remember me, he just taught me when I was in ninth grade. I got his email from the alumni website, and didn't figure he'd respond. But a couple days later, he said he'd come. He doesn't need to be that nice, and everyone in St. Louis, you can imagine, just loves him-but there's obviously good reason. What an unbelievably kind man. I'm just a little embarrassed 'cause I only ever end up talking about how handsome he is.
NY General

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members of The Smokes explain the differences between NY & LA to BlackBook

Feb 26, 2015

The Differences Between New York and Los Angeles, According to Members of the UCB

According to Woody Allen, Los Angeles's only cultural advantage is that you can take a right on red. But here's the thing: fuck Woody Allen. If you want a fair assessment of LA, you need to talk to New Yorkers that actually live here. And where better to find East Coast transplants than at Los Angeles's Upright Citizens Brigade theater, home to countless writers and performers who have relocated from UCBNY to work in film and television? We recently talked with two such members of UCBLA's hilarious improv group The Smokes, actor Eugene Cordero, and writer Chris Kula, to find out how LA and New York really compare.

The People

EC: There's that classic "New York's got the grittiness, LA's got the fake people." But it's all the same thing. In LA, you're trying to put that fake, best foot forward so you can show people who you really are. And in New York, you put that fake, hard facade forward so nobody messes with you. Both places, New York and LA, are such hard places to live that it's just two different ways to deal with the same problem: insecurity.

CK: Not being so close in proximity to people is a huge thing. Maybe people aren't necessarily nicer in LA, but just the fact that they're not on top of you makes you think, "Oh, everybody's so great here." Yeah, when they're in their car and you're in yours.

The Energy

EC: In New York, you can stay up until 4AM every night, but when you wake up, you see business men, actors, ad people. You just see this hustle and bustle and that makes you go, "Fuck, I gotta do something! Shit!" I don't think I'd be doing as well out here if I hadn't been in New York first. That laid back mentality would have eaten me up, like "Oh, I can just hang out?"


EC: The sketch out here is great: Birthday Boys, A Kiss From Daddy. In New York, improv takes the precedent and in LA, sketch does.

CK: LA audiences are less apt to really give it up for anything that's risque or controversial. You tell a rape joke, you get way more of a "Ooh, I can't believe they would do that," whereas a New Yorker will laugh at anything. We have some theories as to why that is. One theory is that people in LA are too image-conscious or worried about what the agent three seats over is doing at the show, so rather than just laugh, people look around to see what everyone else is doing.


CK: LA fans were outnumbered by Pistons fans. In New York, you definitely see pockets of other fans, but if you're rooting for the other team, you're going to get your ass kicked. Clippers fans don't give a shit. If you root for the other team, they're like, "No, you're right." Food

EC: I like LA for what they're good at and New York for what they're good at. The Corner Bistro in New York is great for burgers, but Father's Office is so good too. They're different.

CK: For breakfast and lunch, LA really has it because people take lunch every day. What do I miss? The New York slice. Pizza in general. And then there are a few specific places in New York that I miss. I lived above a Chinese restaurant on 8th called Home that was awesome.


CK: In LA, people say, "When I make enough money, I'm going to build the kind of house that I want and I don't care how it looks." I love that about LA. On any given street, you have the classic '60s apartments and then Mission-style things and then a ski chalet. If you go for a walk in Park Slope, you know you're going to see brownstones everywhere. It's nice to go for a walk in Griffith Park and say, "Why is this bungalow next to this mansion?"

Which city is better?

EC: You can't compare New York to LA. They're two different fruits: literally, apples and oranges. Every once in a while you want to fucking eat an orange and every once in a while you want to eat a fucking apple.

Seriously, which is better?

EC: I prefer LA. In New York you can always be a kid. Bars are open until 4AM, people are around. You walk down the street once and see a bunch of people and walk down the next day and see all different people, so you can constantly change who you are. But in LA, you can't hide amongst the crowd. You can only be more of what you end up being. I'll always love New York for making me who I am. But what do I miss about the city? I don't miss anything, just my friends. I think after a while, it just started to bum me out. I can't wait to visit New York, but I'm glad I don't live there.

CK: It makes me sound like a traitor, but yeah, I would pick LA over New York. I'll make the case for anyone considering moving out. It's not as intimidating as you might think, you get used to the driving and the weather really is that nice.
LA General

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UCBT's Aziz Ansari Profiled in the New York Times

Feb 26, 2015

Feeding the Comedy Beast Without Serving Leftovers

HALFWAY through a 90-minute set late on a recent Friday night at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater here, Aziz Ansari did something radical for a stand-up comedian: he sat down.

If Mr. Ansari, a 27-year-old performer with a bearded baby face, was irresistibly drawn to the plastic chair where he completed his routine between sips of tea, it was understandable. This was his third show of the evening, during a weeklong marathon in which he was refining material for a new tour and his hosting gig at the MTV Movie Awards (which will be shown live on Sunday night). All while, by day, he had been shooting episodes of Parks and Recreation, the NBC sitcom on which he is a co-star.

Mr. Ansari made no apologies to the crowd at the theater, where the $5 tickets were cheaper and the jokes more meandering than they would be at those future gigs. As he had said that afternoon over lunch at a vegan restaurant in the Silver Lake neighborhood, "I even tell the audience, 'You're getting an inferior version of the joke so, I can work on it myself." "I know you're thinking, 'Man, this is going a little long,' "Mr. Ansari added with a confident, self-mocking click of his tongue. "I know it is. That's the goal. So I can tighten it up and make it better later." Mr. Ansari does not mind portraying himself as arrogant: it is a defining quality of characters like Tom Haverford, his slick, self-defeating Parks and Recreation bureaucrat, or Randy, the self-promoting, maddeningly successful comedian he played in the Judd Apatow film Funny People, who has since become part of his act.

Just don't think that he is ever idle. When Mr. Ansari asked an audience member at a previous evening's performance at the Largo nightclub here to imagine how he spends his days, he was surprised by the response.

"He was like, 'You probably wake up about 10 o'clock, and then you smoke some weed,' " Mr. Ansari said. " 'Then you play video games for a couple hours.' "Recounting that exchange, Mr. Ansari said, "That sounds like a terrible existence." Before he had graduated from New York University, majoring in marketing, Mr. Ansari, who grew up in Columbia, S.C., was avidly performing comedy in New York clubs and became a fixture of the city's alternative scene. In 2007 the video shorts he made with fellow comedians Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer and the director Jason Woliner landed them their own MTV sketch show, Human Giant. That show, on which Mr. Ansari played everything from a hard-charging agent of child actors to a police officer who pursues criminals by hot-air balloon, caught the attention of the Parks and Recreation producers, who hired him before they had cast its star, Amy Poehler, or settled on a concept for the series.

"He defies categorization," said Michael Schur, who created Parks and Recreation with Greg Daniels. "He's really sarcastic but also kind of lovable." He added, "There's so much going on with him that we felt it would be funny just to have him and Amy Poehler in the same room." In his stand-up act Mr. Ansari can be just as far-flung, joking about his time-wasting Internet searches or his fixation with R&B and rap stars like R. Kelly or Kanye West. (Mr. West was sufficiently flattered that he invited Mr. Ansari to a party at his house, which in turn became the basis of another stand-up bit.)

Stephen Friedman, the general manager of MTV, said Mr. Ansari's pop-cultural tastes made him an ideal embodiment of the millennial-generation viewers whom the channel wants to reach.

"He's playing with music, our sweet spot, but doing it in a way that creates a visceral connection with everyone in our audience," Mr. Friedman said. "This guy gets us in a much more immediate way than other comedians. He's grown up with the audience." To Mr. Ansari, the musicians he satirizes are fascinating not for their over-the-top lifestyles but for their single-minded devotion to their craft. Citing a scene from "The Carter," a documentary about the rapper Lil Wayne, Mr. Ansari said: "He says something that I thought was really funny. It's like: 'Repetition is the father of learning. I repeat, repetition is the father of learning.'" "Not to compare myself to Lil Wayne," Mr. Ansari said, "but that's why I'm repeating my set three times tonight, to see if I can figure it out." Mr. Woliner, who has continued to direct Mr. Ansari on Parks and Recreation (and occasionally sleep on an air mattress in his house), said Mr. Ansari's work ethic comes from emulating comedians like Chris Rock, Louis C. K. and Patton Oswalt, who are constantly rewriting their routines from scratch.

In the weeks ahead Mr. Ansari, who has a small part in the new comedy film Get Him to the Greek, is commencing his stand-up tour and performing at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. Then he'll shoot a role in 30 Minutes or Less, a movie directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), playing the friend of a pizza deliveryman who is forced to rob a bank. Then it's back to work on the new season of Parks and Recreation. ("But touring is kind of a vacation," Mr. Ansari said.)

More than burnout, the peril for Mr. Ansari is that, as his celebrity increases, his ability to comment on his unusual pop-culture adventures - like partying with Mr. West - from the position of an outsider diminishes.

"Hopefully he won't lose that wonder at falling into these very strange situations," Mr. Woliner said.

What Mr. Ansari won't do is exploit his minority status for laughs, or make it the focus of his comedy. You won't hear him opining about his parents' background as Tamil Muslims from India, and he said he's tired of people's assumptions that he encountered rampant racism growing up in the South.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for Mr. Ansari is that to honor the values of the comedians he most admires, the ones who constantly refresh their acts, he will have to retire his best-known stand-up bits from only a few months ago. That includes his popular (and detailed) impression of an R. Kelly performance that was highly sexualized, even by the standards of that eccentric R&B musician.

But not to worry: Mr. Ansari said he's got a completely original R. Kelly bit in his new routine.

"I was kind of like, 'Aw, man, I shouldn't do another thing about R. Kelly,' but R. Kelly keeps doing amazing things," he said, blowing out the word "amazing" as if it were a party horn. "I'd be failing at my job if I didn't address them." In an earlier version of this article, Michael Schur, the co-creator of Parks and Recreation, partly described Mr. Ansari as a Muslim. Mr. Ansari describes himself as an atheist.

Watch Aziz Ansari in Human Giant's 'Mother Son Moving Company' on

NY General

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