Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Kristen Schaal and Rich Blomquist

Illustration for article titled Kristen Schaal and Rich Blomquist

Daily Show fans, or anyone who’s been to the multiplex in the last few months, won’t have any trouble recognizing Kristen Schaal as the granny-panty-and-tube-sock-clad avatar of Botticelli’s Venus on the cover of The Sexy Book Of Sexy Sex. The shirtless figure in the corner, clutching a blow-up doll and caressing Schaal with celestial winds, is less familiar, but credits-watchers and Emmy voters know him as Rich Blomquist, Daily Show writer and Schaal’s sinful cohabitant. Given the couple’s impeccable comic credentials and the evident affection they showed during a joint interview at a Midtown bar not far from the Daily Show studios, it’s no surprise that The Sexy Book Of Sexy Sex is a charming comedy love-child, mixing The Daily Show’s textbook parodies with extended prose pieces that riff on romance novels and pornographic science fiction. Given the doe-eyed innocence of Schaal’s comic persona—even her Flight Of The Conchords stalker, Mel, seems more like an obsessed child than a sex-crazed groupie—it’s a surprise to find that many of the book’s more libidinous passages originate from her laptop, but then she’s been showing off different sides all summer long, from the crassly ambitious personal assistant in Dinner For Schmucks to the toy triceratops Trixie in Toy Story 3 to a weary bartender in the upcoming Going The Distance. Blomquist has less of an individual track record, and his voice is harder to pin down, but Schaal credits him with enhancing The Daily Show’s surrealist bent, as well as mining the rich lode of alpaca humor. Schaal and Blomquist talked to The A.V. Club about how a talking snake and a piece of bacon brought them together, the difference between the stand-up stage and the writers’ room, and why writing a sex book was bad for their sex life.


The A.V. Club: How did you end up using Michael Kupperman to do the art for The Sexy Book Of Sexy Sex?

Illustration for article titled Kristen Schaal and Rich Blomquist

Kristen Schaal: This is a great story.

Rich Blomquist: This is the best story.

KS: You opened with the best question you could have asked.

RB: That’s all we’ve got, actually. That was going to be our closer, this story. I pitched a pilot to Adult Swim with Michael Kupperman and a guy I used to write with at The Daily Show, Scott Jacobson.

AVC: Is this Snake ’N’ Bacon?

RB: Yeah, Snake ’N’ Bacon. So then we hired Kristen to play the Green Fairy.

KS: It was a blue fairy. But it got changed because we couldn’t find a blue dress.


RB: Plus I think we were shooting on a blue screen.

KS: Oh…

RB: So yeah, we wanted to make sure you didn’t disappear.

KS: [Laughs.]

RB: Kristen was great. We made her eat a sandwich.

KS: The show was really good.

AVC: I’ve seen the pilot. Is that all there is?

KS: Oh that’s all there is.

RB: Yeah, just the pilot. That was it. And then at the end of the day, after all Kristen’s stuff was in the can….


KS: When I signed the contracts.

RB: After the T’s were crossed and the I’s were dotted, then I asked her out on a date.


KS: Yeah, on a proper date. Dinner. He said, “Would you like to go have some dinner?” And he gave me a business card with his number on it.

AVC: Did he tell you he was a producer?

KS: Well, I knew the whole time. [Laughs]. It was very unprofessional, absolutely. But you did wait until I was done working.


AVC: And then you walked away and threw up in a trashcan.

KS: That’s right. I had the stomach flu. [Laughs.]

RB: Which we didn’t realize when we were making you eat a sandwich.

KS: Yeah, because I was like, “Just get through the day.” And so when he was like, “Can I talk to you for one second?” I was like trying to leave. “I’ll throw up when I get home.” I’m like, “Oh my God, he’s going to ask me to do more stuff.” But you didn’t! I said okay. I just gave you like a pat on the shoulder.


RB: I remember. You touched me.

KS: I did. Anyways, gross, barf. Barf, barf, gross. So then we’re doing the book, and the art designer, Michael Morris, said “I’m going to get in touch with Michael Kupperman to do the illustrations.” We’re like, “Whoa. That’s how we met.” So it kind of came full circle.


RB: We were already sort of thinking about him, and when he suggested it, that was a lock. We actually had a lot of illustrations in the book, so we brought on Lisa Hanawalt, who we didn’t know. And she did a great job. She did the illustrations at the beginnings of the chapters, and she did the Where’s Waldo? character.

AVC: “Where’s Wildo,” right?

KS: Yeah. It looks like she had a great time with it.

AVC: Do the illustrations and the visual components come out of the writing process? Was there a separate file for those sort of ideas? How do those find their way into the book?


KS: We write them in. We tell them what illustrations should go in, and what it should look like. The publishers were pretty nervous about the amount we wanted. We had to lose some.

RB: Sometimes we would think of just pictures that had funny captions that were standalone, and just find a place to put them. And other times, it complements the text.


KS: I don’t think you can have a sex book without pictures. I mean, you can, but why would you? I mean for the men, who get turned on by the visuals.

AVC: Women prefer rose petals.

RB: The scent, yeah.

KS: Yeah, the smells. We were going to try to have a smell part for the Anne Boleyn piece, because that’s all about how disgusting it was to make love in the Middle Ages, in my imagination. We were going to have a scratch-and-sniff sticker so you could really smell their twats and etceteras.


RB: To capture the medieval time.

AVC: But it didn’t go through?

KS: The budget didn’t really allow for it.

AVC: Just as well, since you would have ended up having to test dozens of samples that weren’t quite the right kind of disgusting smell.


KS: Living in New York, you basically do that to get from place to place.

AVC: The nice thing about the one-off captions you’re talking about is that it’s a great way to squeeze in jokes that might be funny, but don’t fit anywhere else. Whether you’re doing a narrative like a sitcom, a movie, a piece on The Daily Show, or a standup bit, you always have to lose good material to preserve the arc of the joke.


RB: Yeah, it happens all the time.

KS: All the time. It would be nice, I think, for all comedy writers to save all their trimmings and make a book called The Leftovers or something.


AVC: Did you look at a lot of sex books to get the format down?

RB: We looked at some stuff, but not as much as we thought we were going to. We got a bunch of romance novels, and we were thinking about reading those, but once you get the tone of it, you sort of know what you’re doing, and you actually carry that into making something new.


KS: We had so many funny sex jokes on our brains that we’ve been carrying our whole lives anyway, that it just sort of dumped out. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t like we had to wrack our brains for inspiration. I did read a lot of urban erotic lit, which I adore. It is violent and raw.

RB: A lot of sex at gunpoint.

KS: But they don’t give a fuck. No holds barred. I like stuff like that; no holds barred. [Laughs.]


AVC: That explains the story about National Masturbation Day And Sarah Palin.

RB: I wonder if Sarah Palin will actually read that, and what will she think?

KS: Do you think she’ll come? I mean, I’m sorry I said that.

AVC: She’s not going to read this either, so it doesn’t really matter.

RB: She reads all the magazines, though.

KS: Yeah, all of ’em, every one. “You know, any of them.”

AVC: Stereotypically, people might not assume this, but you’ve said the impetus for much of the more graphic or sexually explicit material in the book came from Kristen. Is that right?


RB: Yeah, you specifically wanted to make the book sexy and steamy.

KS: That is true, yeah. I think I said that to the Vanity Fair guy. I always want to take things really far. Our first wish is that it’s funny, obviously, because we’re comedians, but if there is a way for a few things to be in there that make you say “Oh shit. That’s never been said before like that…” If I could pull just one Anaïs Nin sentence out of one passage, then I’ll be pretty proud of myself. I really appreciate that. I think for maybe other women, reading that stuff is what turns you on, as opposed to seeing it.


AVC: Were there books like that for you growing up? Anaïs Nin or The Story Of O or whatever?

KS: One of the things I would do to learn about sex was, I would go to the public library and get a stack of romance novels, and I would just hide in the corner and flip to where the sex parts would probably be. I remember I had a pile, and I was really getting quietly turned on in a new way for a young woman, and the popular girls found me in the corner poring over these books, and they were like, “Hey, Kristen.” And I was like, “Awww!” [Laughs.] “Hey, what’s up, dude?” It was awful.


AVC: Getting walked in on is an important sexual rite of passage. You have to be traumatized just a little bit.

KS: I am worried a little kid is gonna find our book. But what can I do? I can’t protect them all.


RB: If you Google “Kristen Schaal sex book,” one of the first things that comes up is the article about “Kristen Schaal hopes her Toy Story fans won’t read her sex book.” Hopefully not too many young girls will be traumatized.

KS: Well you know, traumatized, or enlightened? The first time I learned about sex, I found a video in my brother’s room, and it was like Hot Nights On The Beach or something, and I was like, “Interesting.” And then I watched it, and I was like, “What!?” It was burned into my brain. I’m thinking about it right now. And it was two on one. That was my introduction. “That lady is busy.”


AVC: In a way, it’s unfortunate, because kids end up being exposed to sex through these disreputable and often fairly unenlightened depictions. They’re probably better off reading Judy Blume novels.

KS: No no, because when I was in the 6th grade, there was a Judy Blume novel called Forever, and we couldn’t believe it. The character names her boyfriend’s penis Ralph. We were enthralled. That book got passed around. Maybe that was a healthy presentation of sex.


AVC: How did it work, writing the book as a couple?

RB: For each chapter, we would sit together and brainstorm the outline for the chapter. We tried to think of things that were like two-page spreads, and tried to compartmentalize. We would decide what the outline was, and parcel them out to each other. We would sort of work on it individually and check in with each other and share our thoughts and modify it.


KS: It does feel homogenous. Is that a good word?

RB: That’s a very good word, but it depends how you use it.

KS: One of the biggest compliments we got from the editor was that they couldn’t tell whose voice was whose. It was a really good melding of the minds, I think. It wasn’t easy, either. Your ego is on the line, but we really love each other, so it’s okay. Rich is used to working with a big group of people and I’m not, so that was a big lesson for me. It’s like, “What? No? What do you mean I have to think of another idea?”


RB: Yeah, you come from a very loose improv background.

KS: Throw your stand-up willy-nilly. We’ll see what lands.

AVC: And Rich, you’re coming out of a writers’ room.

RB: Yeah, and one with so many talented people, so for an idea to make the cut, it has to be good.


KS: That was our biggest hurdle, was me learning to suck it up. It was a good lesson, and I think the fact that we’re still together after we wrote the book is a good thing. The book turned out to be work. Did you learn anything about me? I learned that Richard is patient and kind. Your turn.

RB: I learned that you’re brilliant and funny.

KS: Oh, I always knew that about Rich. We both dig each other’s style and tastes, and I think that bringing both a male and female perspective is important for a book about sex.


AVC: Would you say that you were doing the girl stuff and he was doing the guy stuff?

KS:  No, I don’t think that there’s girl stuff vs. boy stuff in our book. Rich had more to say about impotence that I do.


RB: That’s true. You’re always ready to go.

AVC: Kristen, if you’re watching The Daily Show, can you identify Rich’s jokes?

KS: Yeah. It’s weird. It’s scary, because when we first started dating and we were watching The Daily Show, I was laughing throughout the whole thing, just because I didn’t want to miss one. But then I stopped, and I almost 100 percent genuinely laugh at one of your jokes, don’t I? He’s got this little spark I really get.


AVC: Can you define Rich’s sense of humor, or is it just a know-it-when-you-see-it type of thing?

KS: He has a type of whimsy that you can catch in the Daily Show’s political bite.


RB: I write a lot of jokes about alpacas, too. That’s usually a sure sign.

AVC: It’s a funny word.

RB: Yeah it’s got a comedy “K” sound in it, and it’s funnier than a llama. I’ve done a few pieces with John Oliver where the alpaca is sort of a recurring comedy crutch.


AVC: So in The Sexy Book Of Sexy Sex, you actually put lipstick on a clam.

RB: Our art designer Michael did that. I started doing it as a standup bit where I had a pad filled with all these clams; they were just clams in a overhead view, jutted up against each other, and the joke was how indistinguishable the different clam sex positions were. Then he actually did a photo shoot with clamshells, props, and wardrobe changes. It was sort of different from how I managed it, but then it became funny in a whole new way to me. We were really lucky to end up with Chronicle Books, because they come up with really beautiful designs. They do beautiful work, so that was a big part.


AVC: You both have incredibly busy schedules. How did writing the book fit in?

KS: It was hard. Rich’s schedule was intense, because he’s got a full-time job at The Daily Show and they were writing the America book, so you were working overtime.


RB: Yeah, doing the Daily Show and two books at the same time, it was stressful. A lot of late nights.

KS: You were so tired, it was hard. I stopped doing standup for a while because I couldn’t keep doing jokes for that and the book. We worked through the holidays, New Year’s, and my birthday, and then turned the fucker in. When I started doing stand-up again in February, everybody thought I had moved, and I was like, “No, I’ve just been in my apartment writing.” Some days it was cool, some days it was nice, because when we finished a chapter that we liked, it was like, “This isn’t all terrible.”


RB: No, it wasn’t all horrible. And the Daily Show schedule is such that every month and a half or two months, I get a week off, and those weeks would become intensive book-writing weeks.

AVC: Was it weird working on a sex book together?

KS: Like, sexually?

RB: I think we probably had a lot less sex when we were writing this book.

KS: So that’s kind of weird. It’s hard writing late in the night.

RB: Hopefully the essence of a dying relationship doesn’t come across in our sex book.


KS: Nothing you wrote in this book surprised me. Did anything I wrote surprise you?

RB: I was pleasantly surprised by what a good storyteller you are.

KS: Oh, thanks. But I don’t think I thought Rich was twisted about such-and-such. We weren’t learning about each other’s sexual appetites while were writing this, because we both already knew thoroughly.


AVC: Rich, when Kristen is on The Daily Show, do you end up writing more for her?

RB: It’s the one bit where I feel like I have a claim to it. I always help Kristen write her Daily Show bits. When we did her first bit, it was something we wrote together. I pitched it to Jon, and he liked it.


KS: It was about how since Hillary Clinton wasn’t getting the nomination, we weren’t getting a female president until 2300 or something. That was a stand-up bit I did, and I told Rich about it, and he wrote up a thing.


RB: Sexism was a very present issue when Hilary was in the running, and then after Barack Obama won the election, I feel like racism is more on people’s minds, and sexism has fallen away a little bit.

KS: If Hilary Clinton had won the presidency, I think that I would be on The Daily Show all the time because there would be so much to do.


RB: We’d be living in a post-sexist society instead of a post-racial society.

KS: But doing those pieces on The Daily Show, talking about feminism in politics is so new—well, it’s not new, but making it funny is new. We go back and forth with Jon Stewart, and I think the discussion evolves every time we get new notes. That’s why I think it’s so important, because it’s not something we’re used to making up jokes about. As soon as you can make a joke about something, you have power over it. I’m proud of the work we get to do on the Daily Show. I hope we get to do more.


AVC: There are situations that are so maddening and absurd that The Daily Show seems like the only place that’s able to make sense of them, like the Democrats deliberately setting the bill providing health benefits to 9/11 first responders up for failure, so they could avoid an uncomfortable floor debate with Republicans on unrelated issues. At times like those, it seems the system is utterly broken.

RB: It seems like it should be a no-brainer, but instead it’s been this big stumbling block. There are things that are really frustrating, and I think it’s a struggle not to tear your hair out.


KS: You have to stay more optimistic than cynical. Otherwise, you can’t move forward, if you’re just mired down in the cynicism of how hard it is to work in government, and you’re just going to be sitting on your armchair yelling at your TV. You have to have optimism that you can change things. And you can.

RB: Maybe. You can at least make jokes about it.

AVC: And make people feel better about the fact that they can’t change things.

KS: But then the Supreme Court says corporations can pay as much as they want to campaigns, and you’re like “Whoa, it’s over.” [Laughs.]


AVC: Kristen’s most recent appearance, where she defends Sarah Palin for characterizing herself as a “mama grizzly,” follows a formula that works well for the show, where the correspondents embody the lunatic point of view, and Jon Stewart is trying and failing to reason with them.

KS: Sometimes playing the opposition is really funny. You’re laughing at what they’re saying anyway—you might as well say it too.


RB: You embrace ridiculous points of view, then carry them to logical extremes that point out how ridiculous they are.

KS: It’s what Colbert does every night.

RB: It’s Jonathan Swift, the famous guy who did the thing about eating babies.

AVC: A Modest Proposal. It was a solution to the Irish famine.

KS: I’m lost.

RB: I’m talking about embracing the ridiculous point of view, saying all these things and carrying it to its logical extreme. When he did it, people didn’t get it, because he was the first. They were just like, “I can’t believe this guy he’s talking about eating babies.”


KS: Did they burn him?

RB: Yeah, they burned him alive.

KS:  They did?

RB: They drowned him, then they burned him.

KS: Then he was a witch.

RB: Then they dragged him behind a motorcycle.

KS: [Laughs.] No!

RB: They invented the motorcycle to drag him.

KS: Did the babies do it?

RB: Yeah, the babies did it. It was the best way to die ever.

AVC: Were any parts of the book particularly difficult to write?

KS: We took a long time to do the gay chapter. We were really nervous about it.

RB: We just didn’t want to offend anybody. It’s weird for us—neither of us are gay that we know of.


KS: Are you gay?

RB: Not that you know of.

AVC: It depends on what you mean by “gay.”

KS: Like, do you like to do it with men?

RB: Yeah, but not in a gay way.

AVC: In some cultures, you’re not gay if you’re on top. You can have as much sex with men as you want, but as long as you’re sticking it in, you’re in the clear.


KS: That’s how it was in Victorian times. They were called patsies, and if you did a patsy, you were fine.

RB: We never did anything about patsies.

KS: I had a time-traveling story where this guy had a wormhole in his S&M outfit, and I could take him through time to different eras where he was getting fucked, but in a gay-bash type way. I couldn’t finesse the man-on-man sex acts to be funny and more sexy. But I read a lot of gay porn, actually. I got a lot of magazines and stuff. I watched gay porn and I really tried, but I was just too self-conscious. I felt like it wasn’t fair. I had stuff about docking and snowballing, I had all the resources.


RB: Plus we already had a time-traveling copulation story, so maybe two of them would have been gilding the lily.

KS: We also had a story for the first chapter, the nature chapter, where we had two horses doing it; you think it’s going to be the writer having sex, but it’s actually the horses. We thought that might be a hard intro for our audience, where they realized they’ve been tricked, bamboozled into reading about horse sex right off the bat. And they would’ve been intimidated, because horses have sex better than we can.


AVC: Do horses have the thing where the end of their penis inflates so they can’t pull out?

KS: I know dogs have that, but I don’t think horses do, from my research. But the stallions do have trouble getting on top of the mares, and they can’t hold their balance, and they will grab the mare’s mane with their teeth. It’s pretty intense. That’s how you should be having sex every time, life or death. “Let’s make a baby, oh my God!” That’s how it would be in an ideal world.


AVC: Kristen, you grew up on a farm in Colorado. Did you have horses?

KS: I did. We had Wild Thing for a while, and then he died, and then we had Ginger, who was a pony who lived for a while. Then we kept someone else’s horse, named Starlight.


RB: Were those murders ever solved?

KS: [Laughs.] No.

AVC: Did you ever see the movie Zoo?

RB: That’s the bestiality movie.

KS: Oh I read about that. Is it good? I heard you don’t really get to see the horse-fucking.


AVC: It’s all after the fact. Of the people they interviewed, you only get to see one of them.

KS: They’re all blacked out?

AVC: They’re played by actors.

KS: Do the actors fuck the horses?

RB: “I really need my SAG card. I don’t have insurance. I’ll do it. I’ll do it for an apple and two sugar cubes.”


KS: I did some research on bestiality, and I ended up going down winding dark paths on the Internet. There’s a really big argument that the animals want it. If they don’t move away from it, then they obviously want it. They can’t communicate it in any other way than their physicality, so if they don’t move away, then they’re into it. It’s crazy. It’s so layered and complex.

RB: It’s really scary to think of having a kid and what sort of innocent little detail in their childhood is going to turn into this crazy sexual fetish. Are they going to get hold of a high heel and grow up with a crazy shoe fetish?


AVC: Is he going to want to watch women step on roaches in high heels? The roaches are totally into it, by the way.

KS: Oh, they want it.

AVC: Did you look into slash fiction to do the parody of it for the book?

RB: Yeah, a little bit. I think part of it stems from the fact that there aren’t a lot of gay characters on TV until recently, so I think to fill the longing for gay characters, they just take straight characters and make them gay it up. It’s interesting.


KS: It’ll change in 10 years, because TV has become more and more gay.

RB: Then it’ll be the adventures of straight characters.