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Ellie Kemper, star of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, spoke at Penn on Tuesday night.

Credit: Sarah Barakso Martin , 272076033290

Though she’s worked with Kristin Wiig and Tina Fey, Ellie Kemper didn’t always know she wanted to go into acting.

Kemper, most recognized from “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “The Office” and “Bridesmaids,” came to speak at Penn for a moderated interview and an open Q&A with Penn students. She was one of the Social Planning and Events Committee Connaissance speakers for this spring.

Kemper graduated from Princeton University with a degree in English, and then spent a year at Oxford University studying English literature, when she finally asked herself “What am I doing?” Kemper realized she wanted to try comedy and moved to New York.

Without a job or a safety net, Kemper started taking acting classes at theaters in New York. “Coming out of college is a strange transition. Many of my peers had much clearer routes such as medical or law school,” Kemper said.

Kemper said she never gave that much thought to what she wanted to do, not even in college. From Kansas City, Mo., Kemper moved to St. Louis at age five where she grew up with her siblings. “My whole family is funny. I’ve always liked laughing and joking around,” Kemper said. She reflected on watching Seinfeld with them, and describes Elaine as an inspiration.

“The Office” was Kemper’s big break. Previously, Kemper was focused on commercials and web series.

“I feel very old. It’s such a different landscape now. Doing web videos and web series is so different and it didn’t reach a mass audience as it does now,” she explained.

“The Office” was a result of Kemper’s one-person show “Feeling Sad/Mad with Ellie Kemper.” According to Kemper, her now-husband was in the audience not laughing, and one member of the audience blogged hatefully about the show.

After not getting a part for the show “Parks and Recreation,” the part of Erin on “The Office” opened up. Watching the series for a long time before being on the show, Kemper felt like she knew the characters.

“I went to work with them and I realized they were real people. It was intimidating and surreal, but they very welcoming,” Kemper said.

Nevertheless, Kimmy of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is Kemper’s favorite role to play. “I’m not only inspired by the character but the women who made this character. It’s fun to play her and I derive a lot of strength from her,” Kemper said. “We are similar in terms of outlook. My hope for Kimmy is that she finds something that captures her interest, as well as a good companion.”

While Kemper is currently trying to write humorous personal essays, the show is her priority for now.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was initially produced on NBC, but ended up being aired on Netflix. “Netflix is a cool company and I feel lucky to be a part of it,” she said.

For Kemper, college was the place where discovered a love for improv.

“People do it for a living and its doable. This planted a seed. If this hadn’t worked out, I think I would have become a teacher, which is infinitely more difficult,” Kemper reflected.

Kemper reflected that it is good to be bad at something and be humbled by it — she spent her freshman year field hockey career sitting on the bench.

“In general, college taught me how to socialize and begin to accept adult responsibility,” she said.

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