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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Abbott Elementary’s Lisa Ann Walter promises ‘adult fun’ at standup Spokane Comedy Club show

Lisa Ann Walter had trepidations about telling her mother that she got her role as teacher Melissa Schemmenti on “Abbott Elementary.”

Her mother and the character were almost exactly alike, both fiery Sicilian public school teachers. Superstitious, Walter never told her mom about her projects until they were about to air.

“If she starts asking me, it’s like the kiss of death, it’s not going to go,” Walter said.

Before the pilot aired on ABC, her mother’s health was in rapid decline and she was hospitalized for what Walter knew was the last time. She urged her to “try to pull through” until the show aired.

“She said, ‘Honey, I don’t know that I’m gonna make it,’ ” Walter recalled.

“I said, ‘You have to,’ ” Walter recalled. “For the first time I said, ‘It’s an homage to you, I’m doing this character based on you, and it’s a teacher and she’s Sicilian and and you just have to see it.’ “

Walter pulled some strings and got an early version of the pilot to play for her mother in her hospital bed. Walter’s mother passed away before the show aired, but she’s relieved her mother witnessed the tribute that continues to bear her mother’s influence.

Walter will visit Spokane for the first time this weekend for a comedy show at the Spokane Comedy Club. Her show will be taking her back to her roots as a standup comedian.

The actress is known in recent years for her role on “Abbott Elementary” and as housekeeper Chessy in the 1998 “Parent Trap” with Lindsay Lohan. Her introduction to show business wasn’t in TV or movies, but as a standup comic in New York the late 1980s, “during the height of the comedy boom,” she said.

Her comedy show is about parenting older children, the Los Angeles dating scene and her acting roles, but there’s something for everyone, Walter said, just not kids.

“We’re gonna have some adult fun,” she said.

While her resume is extensive, she doesn’t mind being associated with roles like Chessy or Ms. Schemmenti. She often hears her roles were “comfort characters” for women and kids alike.

“I’ve been extraordinarily lucky that people know me from anything, and that they like me,” Walter said. “The feeling that they have when they think of me is warm, you know, they associate Chessy with feeling comforted and safe and loved.”

She welcomes fans who approach her in public, she said.

“It’s wild because people come up to me and say ‘I’m so sorry to bother you, but I love you.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re not bothering me,’ ” she said. “If I wanted to be ignored, I’d stay home with my 23-year-old.”

When she auditioned for her role in Abbott, it was a “no-brainer,” she said, given her mother’s career as a public school teacher in Washington, D.C.

“I know that character,” Walter said. “I honest to God said, ‘There is no one in town better suited to playing this role than me.’ ”

She channels her mother in more than just her character, but as a teacher of the children cast as her second-graders. They’re deeply immersed in their role as pupils and “adore” their TV show teachers. She said they’ll often ask for help on the prop worksheets they work on in the show.

“I’ll turn around and look at whatever our set decorators left on the board as the thing I’m supposed to be teaching that week, and I’ll teach that to the kids,” she said. “It’s incredible fun.”

As a daughter of a teacher and mother to kids who went to public school, she’s aware of struggles facing educators, like high class sizes and low compensation. She sees the value in comedies like Abbott for reminding watchers that their teachers are humans first.

“They have full lives, and I think it shows teachers being fallible and trying and sometimes getting it wrong, but it’s their heart is in it,” Walter said. “They want to get it right, and having the older teachers mentor the younger ones, all of that is great stuff.”

Education plights that are effectively communicated through comedy, she said, rather than feeling like a lesson. In her own comedy, she jokes about her life: being a woman in America with Gen Z kids, romance in a city filled with “narcissists” and her favorite reality TV shows.

“The comedy that I’ve done always throughout my entire standup career is just a reflection of wherever I am at that time,” Walter said. “So most of the stuff that I talk about is very personal to me and it resonates with other people, they respond to it.”

Walter promises fun for all who attend her show, concluding in a “big bang” surprise finale.

“It always kills,” Walter said. “People lose their minds.”

Walter will take the stage at the Spokane Comedy Club on Friday and Saturday, with two shows each night at 7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at Spokane Comedy Club’s website.