Kemper’s much anticipated visit misses mark with unfocused Q&A

Elizabeth Worthington and Margaret Ekblom, Assistant New Editor and Senior Writer

Ellie Kemper was brought to campus as part of the University Forum speaker series, “Revolution Redefined,” which focuses on how society has evolved over the years. Past speakers have included Jane Goodall, John Legend, and Laverne Cox, and each has provided the University with his or her perspective on topics such as current events and social change. 

The talk was held in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts on April 4 and was moderated by Associate Professor of Philosophy Sheila Lintott.

Personally, I love comedy and am a novice stand-up comedian. So my name came up as someone who’d be interested in participating in the event. I’m thrilled I had the opportunity and loved every minute of it,” Lintott said.

Audience members gleaned a brief history of Kemper’s academic and professional career. Although she had a relatively early start in comedy in high school when actor Jon Hamm was her improvisation teacher, Kemper did not pursue acting professionally until later in life. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts in English from Princeton University, then went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of Oxford for a year. Afterward, she moved back to New York where she eventually landed the role of Erin Hannon in “The Office.” Kemper currently stars in Netflix show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Kemper said that Kimmy has been her favorite character to play in her career. She praised writers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock for taking such a dark premise and turning it into a comedy full of hope and optimism. She sees some of her own cheerful personality in Kimmy’s character and strives to emulate Kimmy’s resilience.

“I’ve never gone through anything nearly as horrific as what she has gone through and come out on top, so I can’t really compare myself in that way, but I would hope to share some ounce of her strength,” Kemper said.

Kemper discussed topics that ranged from political correctness and social media to the frequency with which she wets her pants from laughing so hard.

Kemper emphasized the importance of deciding what you want to do after college while still in school. She advised students to take initiative and to “create your own breaks” instead of passively waiting for jobs to come to you.

When asked about the role of women in comedy, Kemper called the idea of women being a novelty as “a media talking point” and stated that even bringing up the question of women being funny is “just so unnecessary.” While she acknowledged the fact that other female actresses may have different experiences, Kemper admitted that she never felt like she was in the minority as a woman in the entertainment industry.

“I think that women have always been funny and have always excelled in entertainment, but I do think there is always room for empowering women,” Kemper said.

As an actress with experience in both writing and improvisation, one may expect Kemper to have an active role in the writing process for her television show. Kemper affirms this is not the case; she has never been inside of a writer’s room before and she typically uses the script written out for her instead of improvising on the set.

“I don’t know if an English major helps you in anything but becoming an English professor. But it’s good to have read a lot of books! You should always read. That’s my other message tonight: ‘Keep reading, children,’” Kemper said.

 Referring to her experience on “The Office,” Kemper said, “On a very practical and personal level, it was such a lovely group of people to work with. It’s like the opposite of anything horrible you’ve heard about show business. Everyone there was very normal and grounded.” 

Students picked up on Kemper’s affinity for authenticity.

“She’s exactly how I’d expect her to be in real life, basically the same as her characters,” Cleo Greenwood ’18 said.

“I liked how it was candid and interview-style because she showed a lot of her personality. She seemed very down-to-earth and it didn’t feel super formal or like we were being lectured. We just got to know her outside of her characters,” Michelle Choe ’18 said.

“I thought it was cool how after it was over, she stayed and talked to people. She just seems so happy to be here,” Mikayla Berliner ’18 said.

While excited to hear Kemper speak, many students were disappointed with the content.

“I wish that the moderator was a little better because I wanted to hear more about ‘The Office’ and ‘Bridesmaids,’ and I think she only focused on the one piece of work she’s doing right now,” Sarah Cattano ’18 said.

“It was not what I was hoping to see or hear from her. I wanted to hear more about her experience and how she got to where she did,” Meg Belinsky ’18 said.

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