Ellie Kemper, star of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and fan favorite from “The Office,” has a new memoir, “My Squirrel Days,” out this month. While according to Kemper “there comes a time in every sitcom actress’s life when she is faced with the prospect of writing a book,” her turn was a long time coming, with over a decade in TV comedy, working both on and off screen. Throughout the book, Kemper, a typically private person, shares a series of charming personal essays that chronicle both her professional and personal life, from being a child to having one. Rather than write a tell-all, Kemper gently lifts the veil on specific elements of her life, revealing “tidbits from [her] past” and “morsels of the present.” Here are a few.
THE SQUIRREL ORIGIN STORY
Kemper grew up in St. Louis with two brothers and a sister. Her father built a treehouse in the family’s backyard and, in the sixth grade, Kemper decided she wanted to commune with nature. She found a cute, chubby squirrel and named her Natalie. Kemper settled “deeper and deeper into the squirrel community,” but she and Natalie grew apart when Kemper fell and Natalie squawked at her in “laughter.” Those were the end of Kemper’s squirrel days, and she concluded: “In the lawless land of nature, as it turned out, it was every squirrel for herself.”
Kemper lives in New York with her husband, comedy writer Michael Koman, and their son, James. Kemper first met Koman while she was interning on “Conan” in 2005, but they remained just friends for years before finally deciding to date, and then deciding to be just friends again. While auditioning for “Saturday Night Live” in 2008, Kemper and Koman, only two floors apart, wound up talking daily: over the phone, during breakfast and lunch, and even over some pie one night. Kemper never heard back from “SNL,” but after her final audition, Kemper, Koman, and some of the “Conan” crew went out to a pub together, and she recalls falling asleep “pretty happy” that night. The two married about four years later.
IN THE OFFICE, ON ‘THE OFFICE’
When Kemper joined “The Office” in the show’s fifth season in 2009, as replacement receptionist Erin Hannon, the computer that she sat behind on set was, in fact, hooked up to the Internet. She bought a number of things while “working” in the background shots, including her 2011 Emmys dress, a rug from Gilt.com, and her usual dinner order (from Pimai It’s Thai!), which she picked up on her way home at night. She was originally just booked for a multi-episode character arc, but the writers of the show decided to keep the former receptionist character on as salesperson, and offered Kemper a multiyear contract.
Before Kemper had a baby, she considered herself a bit of a “slob” and thought that her “laid-back approach toward germs” would translate to her being a cool mom. Instead, she and her husband were immediately terrified. Like many first-time parents, they worried about things like a spot on James’s skin (it turned out to be dust), a dropped pacifier (they threw it out the car window), and swaddling (hard pass). Amid this anxiety, Kemper realized that there was one thing she wasn’t afraid of: New York City tap water. With the knowledge that she’d been living successfully off of it for years (she still drinks it “by the gallon”), she was able to go forward more confident in her sometimes slob-like self, and decisions as a new mom.
Like her beloved character, Kimmy Schmidt, Kemper enjoys spin classes, but also realizes that they’re kind of pointless — you don’t, after all, actually get anywhere. Unlike Kimmy, Kemper didn’t stop after this revelation. She’s ridden over 500 times, something which seems to at once horrify and excite her, and knows that this makes her both a “warrior” and an “idiot,” but she does it anyway. “But where did you go on the bike?” Kemper imagines her future granddaughter asking. And, on her deathbed, she chokes out: “Nowhere.”
When Tina Fey and Robert Carlock first came to Kemper with the idea for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (at the time called “Tooken”), she was already working on the pilot for another comedy, this time about a symphony conductor. While Kemper was disappointed that the pilot didn’t get picked up(she says she’s still determined to play a symphony conductor at some point), it gave her the opportunity to take on the role of Kimmy Schmidt. The comedy, now in its fourth and final season on Netflix, has garnered Kemper two lead actress Emmy nominations.
“Have you ever noticed that when God closes a door, he opens a window?” Kemper writes. “Neither have I. But I have noticed that timing and luck sometimes line up in such a way that you can catch a break.”Lillian Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lilliangbrown.