Lisa Ann Walter on the Comedy Genre and Incredible Response to ‘Abbott Elementary’

Lisa Ann Walter portrays Melissa Schemmenti in Abbott Elementary. The season 2 finale airs tonight at 9 PM ET on ABC. You can watch new episodes on demand and on Hulu the following day.

A workplace comedy following a group of dedicated, passionate teachers — and a slightly tone-deaf principal —as they navigate the Philadelphia public school system. Despite the odds stacked against them, they are determined to help their students succeed in life, and though these incredible public servants may be outnumbered and underfunded, they love what they do — even if they don’t love the school district’s less-than-stellar attitude toward educating children.

We discussed what she loves about comedy, all of the love that the series has received, which sitcom character she would want to make a cameo, and more. Keep reading for everything the actress shared!

ABC/Gilles Mingasson

I want to start off by talking about the finale, which I am so excited about. I know Quinta shared that it was actually shot in Philadelphia. Can you tell me what that was like?
Lisa Ann Walter:
Well, I wish I could tell you, but only some of us went to Philadelphia. I very much look forward to the day when they fly all of us to Philly to do an opening, some scenes, or something, but some of the cast members went and most of us did not. That’s why they had to get the kids to be local and stuff like that. So, our crew went but unfortunately, I didn’t get to go.

Next time. You’ll to have to do more episodes in Philly.
Yes, I would love it. Well, from what I hear from Quinta, South Philly is ready to embrace me with open arms, so [I look forward to] going and having them all take me to the best Italian places to eat.

What is your personal favorite aspect of the comedy genre?
Well, that’s a great question. Entertainment in general was created back in the days before the Greeks, in caveman times, so people sat around the fire. They probably did impressions and it made people laugh because it was a shared community experience, it’s what we call in theater, holding the mirror of nature. So when you show people aspects of their life, some of which can be very difficult, like working in a school that’s not funded or being in a love relationship where it’s unrequited or you get your heart broken, there are all sorts of aspects of the human experience that we can make funny, but at the same time, when you experience them yourself, it’s not funny. It could be sad, but it helps us get through things to make us laugh about them.

ABC/Scott Everett White

So I knew quite young that what I wanted to do was to make people feel things and both things, you know, make them cry and make them laugh in either direction, laughter into tears or tears into laughter. Both are good because it’s cathartic and it helps us share with each other what these feelings are like and to get through them or to embrace them. There’s nothing better as a performer than to have that experience with your audience. In our case with the show, we hear about it almost immediately because our social media response is so engaged and they’re so enthusiastic, so we get a really quick response from people on how different lines make them laugh or made them feel seen and all of that is just so important. So I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

You managed to perfectly sum up my favorite aspect of television and comedy perfectly. It’s so true and so many people feel it.
With a half-hour comedy in particular, you have someone who invites you into their homes every week: “Come, Abbott Elementary, and have dinner with me and my family.” They get to feel safe with you, they get to feel that you are part of their experience and I think that’s one of the best parts of our show.

There are a lot of celebrities that love your show and your work. I have say the coolest one for me was Henry Winkler, I’ve seen him giving you all so much love. It’s awesome. What has been the most surprising celebrity to find out is a fan or wants to make a cameo?
Well, I mean, listen, Quinta gets hit up all the time by some of the biggest stars there are, you know? Hannah Waddingham, that was the one I loved. “I can come be an annoying English teacher,” and I’m like, “Yeah, okay.” It’s fine with me, she’s genius. I absolutely adore her, but Quinta loves to make sure that she is keeping the world of Abbott sort of realistic and authentic. Obviously, we had Taraji come on and that was incredible. Taraji fit in the world of Abbott Elementary. Sure, there’s some people where you might have to crowbar them in, but I would be happy to have them. I mean, certainly, look, Henry Winkler has been an incredible talent on television that we all grew up with. Personally, when I was doing my sitcom on ABC, our offices were in the same building and I used to see him every day. We’d go down, stand in front of the building, and sort of decompress. He gave me incredible advice. He was a mentor. He is that man, everybody in our industry absolutely adores him.

ABC/Gilles Mingasson

So, sure there are people that would make sense that are hugely famous in their own right, it’s when movie stars start to figure out what we’re about. I’m a big fan of Cate Blanchett. The first time I walked up to her, she was standing next to Bill Nighy at a BAFTA event right before the Oscars and I couldn’t believe I had the nerve to do it because, believe it or not, I’m reticent to approach people that I don’t know or I’m not being introduced to cause I don’t know them. They don’t know who I am, it’s weird. With Cate Blanchett, I marched right up because I’m such a huge fan of her work and everything she’s done since the first time I saw her in a movie, and Bill Nighy by the way, sitting with each other.

So I walked up and introduced myself, “Hi, I’m Lisa Ann Walter, I’m on a show here in the States called Abbott Elementary.” It had just started playing in the UK. Bill, I think, knew who I was. I don’t think she had clue. But she was very gracious, very nice. Well, over the course of the next ten awards shows that she kept seeing that we won, maybe she checked us out because then she started to be like coming by our table like, “Hey, how you doing this?” And so I was like, “Yeah, yeah, Cate Blanchett knows who I am. This is awesome.”

The fan response to the show is just incredible. Since we were talking about how much television affects people, do you have a fan moment, encounter, or message you received that has really stuck with you?
Any time a teacher comes up, thanks us, and says, “You are representing what it is like to be a teacher,” I am incredibly grateful to do what we’re doing. My mother was a public school teacher. I think, it’s not just my friends at home, but also when the teachers online, you know, I have a lot of friends from a really good school system in Maryland that went on to go into education that said that the show gave them hope about what we start to do to respect teachers and pay them what they’re worth. But it’s when the teachers that I see online say or people who aren’t teachers yet say they’re going to go back and get their accreditation for teaching that they were going for, stopped, saw the show and said, “I’m gonna do this,” that means the world to me.

ABC/Gilles Mingasson

Anything that you hope you see for Melissa in season three?
Just more of what they’ve been doing. I love what the writers do. I think putting me with people that I haven’t worked with that much like Tyler, we just had an episode that we got to work together on. I respect all of our cast members so much. They are so good, each and every one of them is brilliant, so any time I have a real story with one or with Quinta, I’m thrilled.

Lastly, Abbott Elementary is definitely going to be one of those iconic comedies like The Office, The Big Bang Theory, and Friends. If you could have one character from any sitcom that you’re personally a fan of do a cameo, who would you pick?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyer from Veep because it is one of the funniest characters I’ve ever seen written.