Ellie Kemper (born May 2, 1980) is an American actress, comedian, and writer. She is best known for her role as Erin Hannon in the NBC series The Office, as well as her supporting roles in the films Bridesmaids and 21 Jump Street. She currently plays the title role in the Netflix comedy series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, for which she has received critical acclaim. In the summer of 2015, she joined NBC News as a temporary co-host on NBC’s morning news program, The Today Show.
Kemper was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the second of four children of Dorothy “Dotty” Ann (Jannarone) and David Woods Kemper, one of the wealthiest families in the State of Missouri. She is the granddaughter of Mildred Lane Kemper, the namesake of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis, for which the family donated $5 million. Kemper’s father was the chairman and chief executive officer of Commerce Bancshares, a bank holding company founded by the Kemper family (her paternal great-great-grandfather was banker William Thornton Kemper, Sr.). She is also the older sister of television writer Carrie Kemper. Kemper has Italian (from her maternal grandfather), English, and German ancestry.
The family moved to St. Louis when Kemper was five years old. She attended Conway Elementary School in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue and then high school at John Burroughs School, where she developed an interest in theater and improvisational comedy. One of her teachers was actor Jon Hamm, with whom she appeared in a school play. In 1999, Kemper made her debut at the Veiled Prophet Ball, where she was named the Veiled Prophet Queen of Love and Beauty.
Kemper graduated from Princeton University in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. At Princeton, she played field hockey in the 1999 season, and said she sat on the bench “roughly 97 percent” of the time. Her field hockey team went to the national championship in her first year, but she quit the team in later years to focus on theater. She then attended the University of Oxford, where she studied towards a graduate degree in English.
Kemper continued her interest in improvisational comedy while in Princeton. She participated in Quipfire!, an improv comedy group, and the Princeton Triangle Club, a touring musical comedy theater troupe. She also appeared in a radio spot for Dunkin’ Donuts.