Those who've seen Mean Girls on Broadway have witnessed Kate Rockwell's comedic excellence. Teetering in too-high heels and a too-short skirt, her Karen Smith is perhaps the dumbest character you will ever meet—and also one of the funniest. Rockwell has been stealing scenes since the world premiere in Washington, D.C., last fall, and she's proven again on Broadway that she's not afraid of taking big swings to get a laugh.
Rockwell, a Broadway vet seen previously in Rock of Ages, Bring It On, and Legally Blonde, walked us through some of her favorite funny women inspirations—and though some big hitters are on her list (Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball), there are some idiosyncratic choices as well (Sarah Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus, anyone?).
Catch Kate onstage at the August Wilson Theatre in Mean Girls, and download her new solo album, Back to My Roots, when it is released April 27.
“What I marvel over is her ability to be so over-the-top. I mean, she's doing stage comedy on film, and 99 percent of the time that doesn't work. It's almost like silent film era, which is also sort of fascinating because she looks so glamorous all the time. I can't think of a single silent film star in the comedy world that was able to do pratfalls, joke, and still look like a model. I don't understand how she was able to do it, so the juxtaposition of all the different things that she had going for her... there was no one like her. There will never be someone else like her. And that's why she had the career that she had. She had no fear. I mean, the conveyor belt and the chocolate. I'm watching her and it's so obvious, right? In 2018, we know what this joke is; we get it. Yet because she's so committed to it, it doesn't feel stale.”
Carol Burnett in Annie
“I have a real love for women who can make a hateful character lovable. That is, to me, the ultimate goal of comedy, because these people don't know that they're terrible people. Or even if they do, they think that they're justified. And I love when you—as a comedian—can give these characters validation, because ultimately, that's what they're looking for. I have such respect for her in that because she's one of the worst characters in the musical theatre anthology. She's a child abuser! She tries to kidnap children! Like, it's really, really bad. And I love her. You're doing something right if I can hate you and love you at the same time.”
Jane Krakowski on 30 Rock
“Another character I was in love with. It's just such a wink and a nod kind of comedy. 'You know what I'm doing, and I know I'm doing it, and we're all still doing it, and you're still watching.' And I love that, because that's being a comedian actress as opposed to being a comedian.”
Beth Leavel in The Drowsy Chaperone
“The thing I love about Beth Leavel is that she took a role that could very easily have been in passing. The storyline has nothing really to do with her. She's just there for color. And I feel the same about Karen. The story's not about Karen; she's here to provide color and emojis. But Beth made a meal out of every single line—and lines that aren't funny! She's not afraid of silence. She's not afraid to take her time. And I watched that and was like, 'This. This is what I want to do.' That has informed everything I've ever done, watching her in that.”
Megan Mullally on Will & Grace
“I've always said when I grow up, I want to be Karen Walker. Not Megan Mullally. Karen Walker. I want to be super rich, drunk all the time, and basically not give a shit what anybody says at any point. If you go back and watch the first couple episodes, she hasn't quite found the voice yet. She has a very different physicality. But click on episode one of Season 2 and that character is done. I want to know who she met in between those two seasons, because she met Karen Walker. Like, that woman is out there somewhere. It was just so perfect. It was so consistent. Oh, I just love her. I will say there was a lot of Karen Walker when I did Bring It On. I said Skylar was definitely going to grow into Karen Walker. ”
Sarah Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus
“There's a lot of that character in my Karen. Like, a lot. And I hesitate to admit that because I don't want people to think I'm not creative! But when you watch the scene where she eats the spider, there's plot happening right here. And then like to the left is Sarah Jessica Parker picking apart the legs. And I just remember being like, 'Way to commit!' Who cares if you're on camera or not, she's fully in any moment. And that was something that I absolutely took for this because Karen doesn't necessarily have a lot of things to contribute to the story, but she has a very specific purpose. So that was something that I was like, 'I want to do that.' I want my own spider moment in the back. And instead, I got a popcorn machine and a poop emoji purse. Just as good, in my opinion.”
“She's been my top-of-the-pyramid person for years. You know those stupid questions, like, 'Any person living or dead, who would you go out to lunch with?' And I'd be like Tina Fey or Frank Sinatra. But for sure Tina Fey because she's hilariously funny. I love her. Her repertoire of work is some of the most skilled comedy I've ever seen. And then on top of that, she's funny on camera; she also wrote what's funny on camera; she produced what's funny on camera; and then she wrote a book that was funny. There's nothing that this woman can't do. She works 24/7, but she maintains all of the plates that she has spinning in the air with such ease. I think I knew I wanted to be somebody who creates the world they want to live in. And now I know I want to be someone who creates the world they want to live in and then is the most magnanimous center of that world. And so getting to see the person behind the personality has been such an incredible gift.”
Makeup: Tanya Rae for /skin regimen/ at ION STUDIO NYC
Hair: Patrick Kyle
Top by Hellesy. Pants by Aritzia.