Comedian Kelly Cooper’s Adult Swim’s Small “Duchess of Nothing” premieres today

Duchess of Nothing. Image courtesy Adult Swim
Duchess of Nothing. Image courtesy Adult Swim /

Culturess interviews Kelly Cooper, a multihyphenate who has an animated short premiering on Adult Swim’s anthology series Smalls today, April 22. We talked to her about her background and the process of creating her short ” The Duchess of Nothing.”

Kelly Cooper’s animated short “Duchess of Nothing” premiers today on Adult Swim’s Smalls. Kelly is a Brooklyn-based comedian, actor, writer, and filmmaker. The anthology Smalls features animated shorts from up-and-coming comedians and animators. Smalls creators are given the freedom to produce the weirdest, experimental content. The Smalls series on Adult Swim was created by Dave Hughes in 2018. He is known for producing Off the Air, a more abstract series on Adult Swim.

“Duchess of Nothing” is about a duchess who desperately wants to find love and figure out where her place is in the strange dukedom she resides. Culturess got the opportunity to speak with Kelly Cooper about her career, how she created her shorts, and how she started working with Adult Swim. Below is our fascinating conversation.

Duchess of Nothing. Image courtesy Adult Swim
Duchess of Nothing. Image courtesy Adult Swim /

Culturess (C): Tell us more about yourself in terms of being a writer, actor, comedian.

Kelly Cooper (KC): I started doing comedy in my early 20s. I didn’t do it in college, I didn’t do it in high school. I was a writer. I worked in newspapers. And then when I was in my early 20s, I moved to New York and started taking improv classes at the UCB,  The Pit, and The Annoyance Theater. My intent was that I wanted to move to New York and be a comedy writer. And then I started doing improv, performing, and then I fell in love with the stage. I started meeting friends and collaborators through that. Now I’ve been doing sketch comedy, comedy plays, stand-up, and short films ever since then, for the past 8 or 9 years.

C: You mentioned you moved to New York. Where did you move from?

KC: I’m from Sacramento, California.

C: What did you study in college?

 KC: I studied printing.

C: So, you were very much writing-focused.

KC: Yeah, my job in college was working for my college newspaper. For a while, I just wanted to work in newspapers or magazines. Then I caught the comedy bug.

C: So how did you find out about the Adult Swim Smalls series? Can you describe the process and how you submitted it? What went into it?

KC: Sure, I was introduced to the Smalls team through my friend Felipe Di Poi, he’s an animator. He and I have done comedy together, and he had sent over this web series I had made called “Sunday Night News,” where I was an insane news reporter. He really liked it and sent it to the Smalls team – that was very nice of him to do.

They didn’t want to pick up the news reporter series, which is totally cool, but when you get introduced to someone the door opens.  I decided to go for it and pitch them some other ideas. I had pitched them a couple of live-action sketches and I think at that time they were more interested in animation, which I never worked on before.  They asked me if I wanted to make one of my live sketches into animation and I said yes. I worked with my friend Felipe on our first video in 2020 or 2021, “Message in a Bottle.” And then after that came out, I just pitched them some more ideas and kind of broadened the idea a little bit, to see what this character might look like, to expand her world. That’s been the process. I met Adult Swim in 2019 or 2020, we have been in touch for a while.

C: Do you have to be invited to be in the process? Or is it a program you can apply to?

KC: I think it’s like with any entertainment thing, at least in my experience, it was just me meeting someone, meeting the team there, and then pitching them ideas.  I don’t think it’s something you can apply to, you have to be introduced.

C: It’s like an ongoing series?

KC: Yeah, they just work with up-and-coming creators on small projects. They give you total freedom to create what you want, which is so awesome. There are not a lot of places where you get to do that. Really grateful to them for giving me the opportunity.

C: We really loved “Duchess of Nothing.” We loved how you put millennial worries in a fairytale, medieval setting. Was that your premise? What was your inspiration behind that?

KC: Yeah, I think you nailed it. A lot of my comedic voice and the characters I find myself playing onstage are pathetic women who are so desperate to be loved, and that’s the thing that pushes people away. It’s a reflection of my voice.  I think in the series the issues are more like how to faint on a couch, and how to find a rich husband, the problems are of the 19th century, but the tone is contemporary.

C: Was this an idea you already had before you went toward the animation route or was this something you worked on with an animator?

KC: So “Duchess of Nothing “is an expansion of the original animation I did in 2020 or 2021 “Message in a Bottle.” We made that original cartoon and after that I realized there was more I wanted to explore with the tone and character. It’s interesting to have a flawed female character as the lead. That’s the comedy I make. I should mention that “Duchess of Nothing” was animated by Grant Lindahl. And he is someone I met 7-8 years ago doing comedy. It was cool to reconnect with him on this.

C:  We like the messy female character. She is the messiest duchess ever.

KC: Yeah, I feel like what I wanted for her to be was to be a part of the dukedom that’s next door to the way nicer one. There is a way nicer and prettier duchess down the road and she’s kind of like in the crapshoot. A little rougher around the edges.

C:  So how did you work with the animator. Can you tell us more about the process of how you, the writer, and the animator work together?

KC: I wrote the scripts and then I sent them to Grant. We talked about the scripts. We talked about any additional gags, so just like explaining what the joke, within the animation, might look like. And then from there, once everything was approved and we liked the script, I made a radio play. I worked with the voiceover actors and recorded all the character voices and make it timed the way I wanted it to be.

From there I hand it to the animators and then they make an animatic, a moving storyboard, and then we make sure it looks good, and we make any changes before we move into the final animation. And then after that, I take that piece and then give it to the composer and sound effects people. That is the basics of how I’ve worked with animators.

In animation, there is no going back. Animation takes so much time that you really must be aware of every part of the process. Because once you reach the part when they’re starting to animate, there is no time to go back and do anything because it is such an intense process.

C: How long did it take to finish “Duchess of Nothing?”

KC: This whole project from start to finish took about a year, and then an additional couple of months for Adult Swim to figure out where it fits into their programming…it takes a while.

C: Do you prefer voice acting over onstage or film? Do you have a preference?

KC: I certainly love performing on film and stage. Voice acting is new to me , but it’s very fun because there are jokes and fun ways you can deliver lines with your voice. I worked with a lot of my friends on this, and there was a lot of improvisation.  The short is scripted, but we improvised some jokes.

Duchess of Nothing. Image courtesy Adult Swim
Duchess of Nothing. Image courtesy Adult Swim /

C: Wasn’t there a festival that hosted some of the Adult Swim Smalls shorts?

KC: Yes. At the New York Comedy Festival in 2022, last fall, they showed a bunch of the upcoming Smalls cartoons and some of us performed, including me.

C: What did you perform?

KC: I performed this character who is a stand-up comedian, and she starts doing comedy about her boyfriend, complaining about him. Then it’s revealed he is in the audience.  She is doing a lot of personal roasting of her boyfriend and then checking in with him, asking if it’s okay to make the joke.

C: That sounds hilarious! What reaction did your short get live? Were you happy with the reaction?

K.C: Yes, it was such a great show. It was a great turn out and it was so cool to see. Everyone’s shorts totally killed, and all the performances were great too. The reaction was great. I was so happy to show it to people.

C: What advice would you give to writers, actors, or comedians who are trying to pitch a TV show or get on a show like Adult Swim Smalls?

KC: My advice would be to first find a comedic community. I know New York, LA, Chicago, and a little bit of DC are main places where comedy is really thriving.  All my opportunities have just come from creating my own work and collaborating with people. And as people get opportunities and you get opportunities, you start to get connections and support people that way. It starts with building a community, supporting your friends, and making art together.

C: How about trying to get noticed for the big jobs? How do you pitch? How do you meet those people?

KC: I mean there are many different ways. I have friends who have been doing comedy for years, but then a couple of their TikTok videos blew up and that’s what launched their career. There are also theaters where people from the industry will come and watch. So if you can get involved in a theater like the Brooklyn Comedy Collective, which is one where I perform a lot, they have a lot of nights where they invite the industry out or people from the industry will come out and get to know you as a performer. If you’re in it for a while and you’re making comedy you believe in, then people will also come to you and notice you. It’s hard, in comedy, there is no straightforward way of pitching a show or getting the golden opportunity. It’s all very random and can take a very long time or a very short amount of time. It all depends.

C: Besides your great short “Duchess of Nothing, “which is premiering April 22nd, do you want to plug anything else?

KC: I have a one-woman show on June 22 at the Brooklyn Comedy Collective. It’s called “Kelly Cooper Takes You Out on a Date.” It’s an experimental show where I take the whole audience out on a date. I also perform often with my comedy group “Ladies Who Ranch.” You can follow me on Instagram, @kellyccooper, to check out when I have more shows.

C: Well, Kelly that was our last question. It was great talking to you!

KC: Thank you so much for reaching out! I appreciate it.

You can tune into”Duchess of Nothing” on the Adult Swim Youtube Channel. You can follow @adultswimsmalls on Instagram to get more details and learn about the other shorts that will be premiering soon.

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Are you going to tune into “Duchess of Nothing?” Are you going to follow Kelly on Instagram? Please let us know what you think about the short in the comments!