10 Comics to Watch

Kristen Schaal has been working the standup circuit with her absurdist brand of humor for years, but it’s thanks to her role on HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” (as the band’s No. 1 fan/stalker Mel) and off-and-on stints as “The Daily Show’s” “senior women’s correspondent” this past year that the New York-based funny lady seems poised for broader success.

Schaal, who sometimes riffs on failed auditions in her act, thinks her idiosyncratically youthful voice may have set her apart. “People have described it as ‘childish,’ ‘high-pitched,’ ‘squeaky,’ etc.,” she says. “In my head, my voice is deep and sultry.”

While in Chicago to attend Northwestern U., Schaal fell in with the Second City crowd, but her comic persona was already being honed while growing up in Colorado. In high school, she competed in forensics tournaments, adapting the vampy, campy plays of Charles Busch into eight-minute, one-woman performances.

Even today, she describes her conceptual live act as “little plays onstage, like little bits of monologue pieces that involve props, and can go off into the surreal more often than not.”

Her head-in-the-clouds shtick has earned Schaal a number of awards along the way, including the “best alternative comic” title at the 2006 HBO Comedy Arts Festival — though she thinks the word “alternative” is a misnomer (“It’s standup comedy when you take a stage by yourself and perform, no matter what you do,” she clarifies).

Schaal recently finished a five-week engagement in London with her comedy partner Kurt Braunohler and had a gig at the four-day Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival (“Performing in the tent was a little bit difficult because Nine Inch Nails would be piping through the wireless mics,” she says).

She can be seen next year in director Paul Weitz’s “Cirque du Freak,” and is writing a sex book with “Daily Show” scribe Rich Blomquist, conspicuously titled “The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex.”

P.O.V.

Schaal felt a moment’s panic before snagging the New York Comedy Festival’s Andy Kaufman Award (named after her main live-comedy inspiration). “Oh, I hope I don’t win,” she thought, “because I have a great idea of what I could do next year.”

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