Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler

Kristen Schaal and Kurt BraunohlerStaying focused
Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler talk to ThreeWeeks Features Editor Andy Malt about bringing their Edinburgh Comedy Award nominated show, ‘Double Down Hearts’, back to the Fringe

Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler came to the Fringe for the first time as a double act last year, having made their solo debuts the year before, and left with an IF.comedy main prize nomination for under their belts. The show in question, ‘Double Down Hearts’, loosely centres on a fictional play about a gambling addict with a hair-lip as a hook for their intriguing line in surreal sketches, and returns to Edinburgh for a second run this year.

The pair met through the People’s Improv Theatre in New York in 2004, thanks to a shared desire to launch a new show. “I wanted to start a variety show and heard that she did too”, explains Kurt. Kristen continues, “We’d never really hung out or had a conversation before, but that brought us together and it was a good match”.

Given the synchronicity of their performance styles, I ask how they both came into comedy in the first place. Schaal seems to have arrived at it almost without noticing. “I started in high school”, she tells me. “Maybe a bit before that. When you’re younger people find out you’re funny without you realising and you just run with it”.

Kurt, on the other hand, comes back with a clearer memory of his route to the stage. “I was homeless for the first four years after I moved to New York”, he begins. “So I would tell jokes on subways and I eventually saved up enough to get an apartment. I thought it had worked well for me so far, so I just carried on doing it”.

Receiving the Edinburgh Comedy Award nomination last year was “a thrill”, says Kristen. But, adds Kurt, they were glad when the prize went to David O’Doherty. “We wanted someone from the UK to win because the difference it makes to your career if you’re in the UK is much bigger than if you’re primarily in the States”, he says. “It changes the game for David O’Doherty. It was much more useful for him and he’s a friend of ours, so it was great to see him win. I didn’t expect the nomination, but it was great to get one”.

The duo are bringing the same show back to the Festival for a second time, so you’d expect everything to be highly polished. And it should be, says Schaal, but they need to be careful not to let their tendency for improvisation get the better of them. “We’re really looking forward to doing the show again, because it was so much fun last year. We just need to stay focused and not accidentally do a whole new show”.

Kurt adds, “Once we get on started, who knows what will happen. Ideally it should be word for word the same, but we might do something new”.

This year, too, Kristen explains, they will be more prepared for what will meet them when they hit Scotland. “We perform the same everywhere”, she says. “But Edinburgh is more challenging physically, doing so many shows back to back. Edinburgh has been a bit of a test, as well. It helped us learn what American things aren’t received. And the Festival’s great because there are so many enthusiastic theatre lovers there”.

For those new to the Schaal and Braunohler experience, what should we expect from the show? Kurt has a succinct response. “This show is like if a brother and a sister wanted to have sex with each other but didn’t know it and put on a show for their town fair”, he announces with a touch of mischief in his voice.

As for their comedy influences, Kurt is equally sure. “There’s a show called ‘Mr Show’, which I don’t think has really been shown in the UK”, he starts. “It starred David Cross and Bob Odenkirk. It was on in the early 90s and is probably one of my biggest influences. People in the UK really should be watching it, especially as David Cross is known for other things now. It’s amazing. It’s straight up sketch comedy but it all flows from one piece to the next. That’s something I’ve always strived to do”.

Kristen and Kurt came to the UK earlier in the year to film a TV show of their own, a one-off episode based on their internet comedy show, ‘Penelope Princess Of Pets’, for Channel 4’s ‘Comedy Lab’, featuring guest appearances from Daniel Kitson, Julian Barratt of ‘Mighty Boosh’, and ‘Peep Show’ star Isy Suttie.

“We reworked it so the story takes place in the UK, says Kristen. “All the characters are now British and it’s set in London. But we wanted to keep the same sensibilities, keeping it fantastical, with the same jokes”.

And it was all thanks to the Fringe that it got made at all, adds Kurt. “That all happened in Edinburgh. Our producer saw ‘Penelope Princess Of Pets’ and loved it and got it to Channel 4. We shot it in May and now it’s airing in October”.

They are also developing a TV show in America, but much preferred the experience of making a programme in Britain.

“We’re perpetually working on selling a TV show in the States”, sighs Kristen, who is, of course, best known in her role as stalker-fan Mel in ‘Flight Of The Conchords’. “We have a deal, but it’s whether or not what we come up with is lame enough to fit the parameter. TV companies are lame in America. They’re very uncreative. They’re just interested in what they know will make money instead of taking risks. They want another version of ‘Two And A Half Men’, which is the top rating comedy show over here, but isn’t what we think is funny”.

She continues, “Channel 4 was a joy to work with, it was a lot more free. We hope that it’ll be a series, that would be our dream”.

Hopefully that won’t remain a dream for long. But right now, the reality of Kristen and Kurt on stage is something you should be experiencing.

Kristen Schaal & Kurt Braunohler – Double Down Hearts, Assembly/Avalon, Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 21 – 30 Aug, 10.05pm (11.05pm), prices vary, fpp69.

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