Ellie Kemper of ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Talks Being Catholic With Stephen Colbert

Ellie-Kemper-Stephen-ColbertOn June 30, Ellie Kemper, star of the (not-family-suitable) Netflix comedy “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” made a guest appearance on CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”

In “Kimmy Schmidt,” Kemper plays a woman who recently was rescued from the clutches of a doomsday cult — where she was imprisoned as a child — who attempts to rebuild her life in New York City with little more than her unconquerable optimism and sense of wonder.

In real life, Kemper’s life is also changing. In 2012, she married comedy writer David Koman at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in New York City, and now she’s pregnant with her first child.

While you may or may not agree with how celebrity Catholics live out the Faith — and who among us is perfect at that? — it’s refreshing to hear two smart, funny, talented adults speaking positively of the Church in such a public setting.

Here’s a selection of the conversation:

Colbert: Now, I understand that you’re, actually, a practicing Catholic.

Kemper: I do. Yes, I am. I am a practicing Catholic.

Colbert: ‘Cause I meet a lot of people in show business who are Catholics and they generally go, “I’m arecovering Catholic” or something like that.

Kemper: Yes, they’re always lapsed, right?

Colbert: Exactly. So, you’re still sticking in there?

Kemper: I’m in there for the long haul, just like you. If you drop out, I’ll consider dropping out, but as long as you’re in it, I will stay, too.

Colbert: I was only in it ‘cause you were in it.

Kemper: Oh, wait a minute … In fact, yes, I am in Catholic. In fact, my wedding anniversary is coming up in a week and my husband … Thanks guys … It’s very meaningful to me for many reasons, but my husband is not Catholic. He’s Jewish and that’s fine.

Unbreakable-Kimmy-SchmidtColbert: I hope he’s watching this, I hope he’s just found out that it’s fine.

Kemper: It’s fine.

Colbert: I know your husband, Mike Koman. He’s a great guy. He’s a hilarious writer.

Kemper: He is a great guy, thank you very much. He is.

Colbert: Please pass that on to him.

Kemper: I will pass it on to him. He’s also Jewish, and he, very gamely, agreed to get married in the Catholic Church, ’cause it meant a lot to me. We did all the things … I’m sure you did. You got married in the Catholic Church, I think?

Colbert: I didn’t.

Kemper: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Colbert: I got married by a Catholic priest who was one of my father’s older friends, and an Episcopal minister who is one of my father-in-law’s oldest friends, in a Presbyterian church. We had everything except Jews. That would have fun, but we shoveled everything into the pile, hoping one of them would listen.

Kemper: Right, exactly. I didn’t realize that. OK, so you, maybe, didn’t do pre-Cana?

Colbert: Oh, we definitely did pre-Cana.

Kemper: Oh, you did do pre-Cana.

Colbert: For the people who don’t know, pre-Cana is his thing in the Catholic Church where you have to go either on one retreat weekend or multiple weekends, and you’re taught about what it’s like to be married.

Kemper: Exactly, it’s actually very helpful.

Colbert: I loved it.

Kemper: It wasn’t necessarily even that religious. It was a lot of good premarital advice. What caught me by surprise is, Michael and I’ve been talking about, how will we raise our future children? In what faith? ‘Cause we’re different faiths. We hadn’t really reached a resolution.

During the ceremony itself, which was in a Catholic church, the priest, Father O’Connor — I adored [him]; soft-spoken, very wise, grounded Catholic priest — he was saying, “Will you honor each other all the days in your life?”

“Yes, I will.”

“You come here freely to join yourself in Holy Matrimony?””

“Yes, we do.”

Then it was, “Will you raise your children in accordance with the law of the Catholic Church?”

I was so worried that Michael, who can’t lie … I was so worried [that] he was going to say like, “I don’t know” or something, so I very loudly said, “I will.” I could hear Michael, like, softly, out of the corner of his mouth go, “OK.”

Colbert: You worked it out.

Kemper: Yeah, we worked it out.

As for for “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” itself, it has racy elements that make it unsuitable for a family audience, but it has earned praise from Catholic reviewers. From a July 2015 piece at USCatholic.com:

Though saturated with humor, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has a message. “We’re not garbage. We’re human beings,” Kimmy tells Today Show’s Matt Lauer (playing himself) in an interview following her release from captivity. She stares right into the camera. It’s this conviction that drives Kimmy for the entire season, to help old friends, new friends, and, of course, herself. But it’s not about necessity and the need to survive in a cynical world. She left that life behind in the Rev. Wayne’s bunker. It’s because she believes people are worth it.

But it has come under criticism in the mainstream media. From an April 2016 piece in Time:

For a show whose central figure is a naif, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is poisonously savvy about the case it builds—that manners (or a perceived culture of political correctness) are the enemy of free discourse. That’s a point that’s well-made when Kimmy doesn’t get why her love interests think her childlike enthusiasm is a bit extra.

The second season isn’t just doubling down on a say-everything ethos that loses sight of character and plot in favor of being daring. It’s an elaborate defense of itself. Apologies may be the enemy of comedy. But demanding an apology as the price of admission is hardly much funnier.

We do, though, have a “Kimmy” fan right here at Family Theater Productions — post-production specialist Don Burt. Here’s what he had to say about the show:

I think it is worthwhile for a couple of reasons: first of all, even though unspoken, I believe there is a very subtle faith message in it – that there is always good in the world, that if you approach life with the eyes or wonderment of a child, you will be OK or “unbreakable.” Also, the value of being true to who you are is very important in this show. Kimmy becomes a mirror to her castmates and allows them to see who they really are, without the masks they have fashioned over the years. Kimmy displays a lot of the qualities that Christ has asked us to have: she is generous, trusting, forgiving and loving.  I think her faith has helped Ellie to shape the character this way.

There you have it!

UPDATE 5/1/2017: Kemper gave birth to a son last August, named James Miller Koman.


Images: Courtesy CBS/Netflix

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