That’s What She Said: ‘Office’ Star Ellie Kemper On Her New Memoir

December 17, 2018
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That's What She Said: 'Office' Star Ellie Kemper On Her New Memoir

Fans of “The Office” have a new book to put on their Christmas lists this year.

Ellie Kemper, who starred as Erin Hannon in the Scranton-set TV show, shares stories from working in Hollywood, her life growing up in Missouri, her career and more in her new memoir, “My Squirrel Days.”

“I like to think of it like a cup of hot cocoa; it should be comforting and delicious,” she said recently by phone from New York, where she now lives. “My hope when people wake up on Christmas morning and find it under the tree is that they will be able to enjoy a nice treat.”

After growing up in the Midwest, the Princeton- and Oxford-educated actress began pursuing a career in comedy, working with improv groups for several years before landing her role on “The Office.” That brought her to Scranton with much of the rest of the cast in May 2013 as part of a city-wide celebration of the show’s conclusion, an event Kemper mentions in her book. She name-drops spots such as PNC Field and Backyard Ale House and notes how welcoming and kind she thought the people of Scranton were.

“That weekend was just about the best weekend of my life,” Kemper said.

She shares several memories of working on “The Office” in her book, noting that she considers the show to be her big break. Kemper said she “couldn’t have joined a more welcoming family” and that the example series star Steve Carell set has stuck with her.

“Steve Carell’s behavior on set was so exemplary, and I really tried to model my own behavior after his because he was such a good leader of the show,” Kemper said. “He never seemed to be in a bad mood and was always gracious. ... I think a lot about how he was not a squeaky wheel. He never complained, and he was kind and gracious to people he worked with.”

Kemper, who most recently has starred as the title character of Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” said she had wanted to write a book for a long time. She wrote for satirical publications The Onion and McSweeney’s earlier in her career but noted that penning a book amounted to a different kind of beast than those projects.

“The McSweeney’s and Onion material felt more like jokes and one-liners and sometimes just high-concept,” Kemper said. “There was more of, essentially, a gimmick involved or a game, and this was more storytelling.”

When she put McSweeney’s-style material into her manuscript, it just “didn’t click,” she said, so she and her editor decided to make “My Squirrel Days” fully a collection of nonfiction.

“I did find that challenging because also I wanted to write this collection but I didn’t want to get too personal, so that was a big challenge of what to include and what not (to),” said Kemper, who described herself as a private person. “That was hard for me to figure out how to do — reveal yourself but not all of yourself.”

Kemper jokes in the book about not wanting to follow the advice to “write like your parents are dead” because she values their thoughts. She cried when her mother told her she had enjoyed the book.

“Her opinion means a lot to me,” Kemper said. “Not only is she a brilliant writer, but I also think she has impeccable judgment.”

Others have reacted positively to the book, too, since its October release.

“I think the thing about the book is that the stories I tell are really relatable,” Kemper said. “And I think a lot of (people) can relate to moving to a new city and trying to find a first job. ... I think that people have been very kind, and ... what I consider to be the biggest compliment is people told me they laughed out loud when they were reading it.”

Kemper also did the audiobook recording for “My Squirrel Days,” which she said thrilled her.

“When I was reading the book (aloud), I felt like I was able to take more control and perform it in the way I meant it to be heard,” she said, adding that she likes when memoir authors do their own audiobooks. “I really enjoy that as a listener because you feel like you’re even closer to the person.”

Contact the writer: cwest@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5107; @cheaneywest on Twitter


‘My Squirrel Days’

Author: Ellie Kemper

Publisher: Scribner

Pages: 256

Price: Hardcover, $26; audiobook, $19.99 (download)/$29.99 (CD); e-book, $9.99

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