That kind of layered emotion is important for Schaal's developing style, taking inspiration as it does from the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Ricky Gervais. "I love characters who are very funny but can also make you cry, they're so real and vulnerable."
Like Gervais' hapless captives, Schaal has put in serious time in some less-than-stellar workplaces, including a stint as a paralegal -- "It's mostly making copies, you're just doing this," she says, mimicking mind-numbing page turning "as life passes you by." There was also her brush with Sedaris-level department-store drama.
"I worked at FAO Schwarz for a while as a character called Miss Peppermint Twist. . . . I had to wear a pink wig and tights and glasses, and I started to drink on the job to get through it. Luckily, I was laid off after six months."
"There were dark days," she intones. "I got the stories. You know people who are like 'I got this job right out of college'? I hate those people."
But now Schaal's found herself in the throes of a career worth hating her for. "It was weird, it was like 'whoosh.' " Now, she's setting her sights beyond the world of comedy.
"Acting-wise, I'd love to do it all. If they would let me, but you know, they probably won't," she says. "In the dramas they always want a really beautiful woman crying, a really beautiful woman being victimized, with a tear falling down her high cheekbone. I think it might be too pathetic if a tear fell down my cheekbone. It might be too sad. You don't want it to be like, 'Just kill her.'
"That's one reason I got excited watching them cast the 'Conchords' show, because everyone they put in there was just like a regular-looking person. That makes the show look so much cooler than any other show on TV."