Ellie Kemper, star of Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, charms in her memoir My Squirrel Days (Scribner, Oct.), about growing up in the Midwest, acting, and squirrels.
Let’s talk about your attraction to squirrels and the title of your book.
Part of me is surprised that Scribner went with My Squirrel Days. Before I even started writing the book, my husband and I were looking at a headshot of me, and I said, “Don’t I look like such a squirrel in this shot?” And when I was writing the book, I realized that one of my defining childhood experiences was trying to commune with nature, so I wanted that as the central story. I’m a bit of a clown, so connecting with nature in such an earnest way makes me laugh. I do think there’s something a little bit profound in trying to essentially control nature, or befriend it, when nature is kind of indifferent. I do hope there aren’t a rash of people out there who try to befriend squirrels, especially in New York, because the squirrels in New York City are crazy. If you need a squirrel friend, go to St. Louis, and I can show you where the best squirrel spots are.
Your book isn’t your first foray into writing—you’ve written for a variety of outlets, including McSweeney’s and the Onion.
When McSweeney’s accepted my pieces, it felt so validating that someone felt they were worth reading. And writing for the Onion was a great chance to develop joke writing. Although now, it seems like regular newspaper headlines could be from the Onion. This book is the longest thing I’ve ever written, and that was so daunting. I finished the first draft, and I thought, “Okay, I’ve done it.” And then my editor gently mentioned, “You need to tell twice as many stories as you’ve got here.”
While Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is usually pretty sunny, this season the show is taking on some serious issues, including the #MeToo movement. How did you approach the issue?
That was the writers. They tackled all the brilliant ways of approaching #MeToo, and I love that Kimmy is the one—unintentionally, of course—who is the offender in this situation. She drops her pants in front of an employee. I think it’s an eye-opener for her. For me, the last year has been an enlightening time—the fact that people’s eyes are being opened and people are speaking out about this and feeling the support that is out there. Two years ago, we just didn’t talk about this stuff. Now, so many women are comfortable enough to share their experiences. It’s empowering.