The Laura Krafft Interview

Today is the day to make some Mexican food.

Midwesterners: start marking those calendars.

Speaking of Midwesterners, today's interviewee does us proud. I read about her in Chicago magazine--she is an ImprovOlympic and Second City alum, and now is a staff writer on "The Colbert Report." Also, she went to my high school: this won't make sense to anybody who did not attend Evanston Township High School, but she has confirmed that she has actually seen with her own eyes the legendary bowling alley in the basement. I thought that was just a myth!

The Laura Krafft Interview: Just Under Twenty Questions

What did you work on between your Chicago improv show "Glitterball" and the "Colbert Report?"
There was a long time between Glitterball and The Colbert Report. I think Glitterball was in '95? I think I was still in the Second City Touring Company. In '96 I joined the e.t.c. cast at Second City and did three shows. In '97, I moved to Los Angeles where I started working as a writer and producer on some pretty bad television shows for networks like MTV, Oxygen, USA and first-run syndication game shows. How bad, you ask? So bad that I can remember working on a show for MTV that was shooting in Las Vegas and I had to fill up water balloons to approximate different breast sizes so guys could then pick the balloons that most matched their ladies. It was hosted by Joey McIntyre and co-hosted by the Barbi Twins. I think it was called, 'MTV's I Got Married at Spring Break'. It was insane and I made a vow never to work on a job where the guys were fully clothed and the girls were only wearing whipped cream. I didn't keep the vow and went on to work on such hits as 'E!'s Party at the Palms.' That was the last show I worked on before The Colbert Report. It starred Jenny McCarthy and she hosted a party at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, usually in a bikini.

As a writer and as a viewer, which are your favorite segments of the show?
I don't really have a favorite segment, I truly like them all. If pushed, I would lay claim to liking The Word a lot, and I like watching the interview. My favorite guests are the ones who figure out how to get all their talking points out while still having fun with Stephen. My favorite parts are the ones where you can tell Stephen is having the time of his life. It becomes very infectious.

Was the staff at the show talking much at the office about Stephen's appearance at the press corps dinner or was there less to-do about it than in the general media?
There was much less to-do about it around the office. We were all really excited about the whole thing and I feel like I can speak for everyone when I say we were all really proud of Stephen. I was suprised at all the play it got. The stuff didn't seem that different from what we do on the show.

Do you ever feel like you get tired from mining the news for jokes, like you could just read a really depressing story in the Times and not have to think of something potentially funny to write about it?
I don't really ever get tired of the news. I think of it as gossip, so I always want to hear what people have said about other people and who's in a fight, etc. even if it's on a federal or international level. I've learned that there are some things that are just not funny. No matter how hard you twist it, turn it, bend it, etc., it just can't be made to be funny. Those things usually have a defenseless victim or it's gruesomely violent. Something that's completely ludicrous, and there's a lot of that now, is actually pretty easy to write about because it's already ludicrous. A lot of stuff actually writes itself.

Does it seem like there are really that many writers/comedians/actors from Chicago or are we just noisier about it because of our second city complex?
I think the city breeds a lot of great performers because there's not a lot of industry there, therefore, people perform for the love of performing rather than for some kind of pay-off. I can remember teaching an improv class at Improv Olympic in LA and asking the class what drew them to improv and out of twelve students, probably nine of them said they wanted to become a star. I don't remember that happening in Chicago. I remember people being competitive and ambitious but the competition was centered on performance and coming up with interesting, smart comedy. The people I know who've moved to LA or NY seem to have retained that feeling.

Other than the institutions of Second City and ImprovOlympic and all the others, is there something about the Midwest, you feel, that generates a performer or artist that has a certain amount of preparation or a certain mentality that will help them down the road?
I think there's a strong work ethic inherent to the midwest. Some of that might be from the weather. I know I had a hard, hard time adjusting to the NY winter and it wasn't even that bad this year. When I first moved to LA, I was shocked by the flakiness factor. I learned over time that when people say they'll call, they mean maybe, and when people make plans you need to double-book because a lot of them don't materialize. That goes for social plans as well as projects. Sadly, I feel like I've taken a lot of that into my personality and it's something I'm working hard to change. I think it stems from the fear of missing the bigger, better deal that might be around the corner. People in the midwest have a stronger sense of dedication to something they've committed to.

Do you think it's easier for performers to become writers or vice versa?
For me, the two are entwined. When I sit down to write, I really feel like I'm improvising to an audience of one computer. I know a lot of actors who won't write and a lot of writers who won't perform, but I truly feel if you can tell a good story you can write, and if you can imagine different lives you can act. A lot of it seems to be a willingness to look the fool and fail. That exists in both professions so I guess that's why I think people can do both if they choose.

What do you like to play on the pianey?
I like to play classical music on my pianey. I like to play when I'm alone and I need an emotional outlet. I don't like anyone to hear me play. I like to take all the performance aspect out of the music and make it all about me. The downfall is because it's just me, I don't always feel the need to keep count, which is extremely important in music. Therefore, when I do play with someone else, it's usually a mess because I can make the most recognizable song unrecognizable. Right now I'm working on a Beethoven Sonata which I've been working on for years and years. I heard a recording of it the other day and it sounded nothing like the piece I've grown to know and love.

I asked this from Eric Spitznagel and I'll ask you, since it's turning out to be a nice tribute: will you share a good memory of Jim Zulevic with us?
I was in e.t.c. with Jim and it was an honor. My favorite memories of him are small and wouldn't even make sense to outside people. Basically, I loved the dichotic (word?) way in which he peformed. He obviously loved the audience and was a dedicated performer, but he also had a certain disdain for them, particularly if they lacked energy. I can remember being in a scene with him where the two of us were off to the side of the stage while the action was at the other end of the stage and he looked around the lackluster audience and said, pretty loud, 'What a bunch of dullards.' I love that. He was really smart and really funny and he couldn't stand a bad audience. Also, he made us keep the theater really cold. Really cold.

We went to the same high school: were you involved in any activities there that reflected your career down the road? (asked by the Head Writer of YAMO 96.)
I was in Yamo my senior year, in the acting company. There was a scene about Moliere and I still trot out the reference to Tartuffe when I want to sound like I know more than I do about French theater. I was also in Brillianteen, but that was through the YMCA. Other than that, I played in the orchestra (flute), ran cross country and track and played soccer.

Who have been some of the most fun guests on the Colbert Report? (Excluding those who seem to be more in on the joke than most, like Al Franken or David Cross.)
I loved Reza Aslan. I loved Madeline Albright. I loved Neil Degrasse Tyson. I like it when you learn something about the person you wouldn't have known otherwise. For example, Madeline Albright talked about not being included in the White House escape plans, you know, the nuclear fall-out shelter/terrorist attack plans, because she was born in a different country and therefore could never become president. I'd never thought of that before. She sounded vaguely insulted, which she should have been.

On a scale of 1-10, how tired are you of being compared to Lara Croft, Tombraider?
100. Actually, I don't think I would mind being compared to her, she's an aristocrat who kicks ass, two things I love. I get tired of people informing me of the similarity between our names. For a while, I harbored a fantasy that the whole thing was some sort of homage to me from a secret admirer who created the game, but that's sort of faded with each movie and no surprise premiere tickets or flowers or anything.

Which did you enjoy living in more, New York or LA?
I like them both for different reasons. I'm in LA right now and I really, really love it here. The air smells like flowers and nature is at the end of your street. Just today, I've seen a rattlesnake, several hawks, a skunk, a coyote and a baby coyote. In NY, it's hard to see the sky. NY does have a great sense of energy though. It's like choosing between an apple and an orange, they're both delicious but it comes down to whether you want to deal with the peel or the core. Also, I surf, so LA has that.

What are you reading now? When do you find time to do it?
Right now I'm reading several books. I'm reading a biography of W.H. Auden that's really great. And a book called Stiff that's all about cadavers. It's by a woman named Mary Roach who was actually on our show near the beginning. I wish I had read it then because I have so many questions I would love to have asked her.

What are the books you've read over and over again?
There are so many, it would be impossible to name. When I moved I actually gave some away because I hoped it would make me move on to making others as popular with me. Instead, I rebought most of them on one sad, rainy NY day. I have different books for different reasons. For example, I always keep A Moveable Feast in the kitchen to read while I'm waiting for something to simmer or boil because Hemingway makes all the food sound so good and delicious, it spreads to my senses. 'The potato salad was spicy and cold and it tasted good after my long walk.' That's a paraphrase, but doesn't it make you want to make potato salad to eat after a long walk?

What are you missing most about Chicago these days?
My family. My parents and four of my siblings live in Evanston and Wilmette. The nice thing is, it gives me a reason to always go back there so I get to check out all my favorite stores and restaurants a couple of times a year. The hard thing is it's far from LA and NY. Also, I love that lake so much, it's retarded. The first thing I do is go down and say hello to it.

What's the biggest difference between crappy improv and good improv comedy?
It's like anything else that can only be measured subjectively, you know it when you see it and it all comes down to opinion. I know I like it when people surprise me with directions I didn't see coming and unusual reference levels. Other than that, I couldn't really tell you what I like, but I could spend years telling you what I don't like. Years.

How does it feel to be the 146th person interviewed for
Pretty good. It feels pretty good. Also, it feels kind of sexy. Why is that?

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