EXCLUSIVE: John Mulaney and Nick Kroll on 'Oh, Hello,' Whoopi Goldberg and Ghosts
By Leigh Scheps
Unfortunately, this article about Nick Kroll and John
Mulaney is about Nick Kroll and John Mulaney. That's just one
of the countless jokes from Oh, Hello on Broadway that will
make your sides split from laughter.
The hilarious Broadway play is about the two comedians' longtime
alter egos: the elderly Upper West Side bachelors Gil Faizon and
George St. Geegland. Gil is a "Tony Award-viewing actor that looks
like Steven Spielberg if he hadn't made any money," and George describes
himself as a "party man going through the coats." The show ran for
138 performances last fall at the Lyceum Theatre and was taped for an original
comedy special now streaming on Netflix.
There's always “Too
Much Tuna” for Kroll, who says he's allergic to the fish. Any form
of it -- canned, sushi or seared. But audiences couldn't be hungrier for more
of their well-known bit, where, roughly halfway through the 90-minute
performance, Gil and George bring up a celebrity guest to be interviewed on their
cable-access show with a diner-like setting. Judd Apatow and his family, Will
Forte, Stephen Colbert, Laura Benanti, Bobby Cannavale, Katie Couric and Fred
Savage have all joined in on the meal, which consists of an extra-large Katz's
Deli-style tuna fish sandwich that floats down onto the stage.
Last year, while the show was running during the
presidential election, Kroll wanted former Democratic presidential candidate
Bernie Sanders to fill one of the coveted cameo slots. “He’s playing hardball
with us,” he previously told ET. On the Netflix special, Steve Martin gets the
Kroll, 39, and Mulaney, 34, have been performing and
perfecting these characters for years. Perhaps they work so well together because
they've known each other since they were students at Georgetown University.
"He was like the coolest older brother," Mulaney says of Kroll,
"I just wanted to go to his place all the time." As for Mulaney, he
got himself into trouble shortly after the pair met. "I remember we
had our first improv rehearsal," Kroll recalls. "It was going to be
on a Saturday and he said, 'I can’t make it -- I have an appointment. I
thought, Oh, he’s so professional. A nice, young man, he’s got an
appointment." The appointment, as it turns out, was a Phish
concert, where Mulaney was caught with an open container. "It’s so weird,
I did that a lot at that age," Mulaney explains. "They found out
later because I was like, 'I have a court date.'”
In honor of the play's Netflix release,ET
caught up with the dynamic duo to talk about their favorite guests on the show,
appearing at the Tony Awards for the first time and where you might see Gil and
George perform next.
ET: Who were your favorite celebrities to join you onstage
during the run for “Too Much Tuna”?
Nick Kroll: John
Oliver was a very fun night and fun to pound. He’s English and very
polite, but so funny and sharp. He’s a great listener, so it becomes this
really popping conversation.
John Mulaney: He
and I were looking at each other during the interview and I said, “Gil has a
question about Israel now.” He started laughing so hard.
Alan Alda, who did our opening night.
Mulaney: That was
the best guest ever.
was the show. When we used to describe the characters, we
used to say they were Upper West Side bachelors who were obsessed with Alan
Alda. So, the idea that he did our opening was very special.
I saw it with Whoopi Goldberg.
Kroll: Whoopi had
done her show, Whoopi, at the Lyceum in 1984. We loved having
her. But then the show itself was a weird one. There was
lighting and sound issues.
was a hook that fell down very fast.
Kroll: I felt
like the crowd was a little strange that night. So I got off the stage and
said, “Boy, that crowd stunk.” You were great.
I had to be, I was laughing so loud.
Kroll: [Then] I found out that our mics were still live. Everything that could have gone wrong for us went wrong. It was our belief that the ghost of the Lyceum was not happy that the two shows were crossing over.
Mulaney: Whoopi had said she was experiencing the ghost of the Lyceum a lot.
Kroll: If anyone would be an expert on ghosts, it would be Whoopi.
Who was the most unexpected guest that agreed to do it?
Kroll: One night we pulled out of the crowd -- because our guest fell through -- Katie Couric, who was randomly in the [audience]. We asked if she’d be the guest and she did. In the middle of being on stage with us, she quietly looked at me and very quietly said, “You guys are so weird.”
Mulaney: David Letterman did our last night. I’m still shocked he did it. Truly, I can’t express how delighted we were but how surprised, with how wonderfully selective he is.
Kroll: I think that was the height of it for our last show. We had the guy who doesn’t want to do anything -- do it.
John, what was one thing that made you break character?
Mulaney: I broke a lot. Every night, [Gil] had this ridiculous walk that I never got to see. A few times, Gil would have an upset stomach and would go to part of the stage to let it out. I would have to cross over there, and I could never mention it. He would look at me like a 4-year-old would.
Kroll: It was so fun farting onstage and having John walk through it.
Mulaney: What I couldn’t laugh at that made me want to laugh every night is that we’d get into a fight. Gil’s threatening to leave and every night, I’d turn my back and say, “If you don’t apologize, our friendship is over.” And he said, “I guess I’ll say my goodbyes.” It’s such a weird line.
John Mulaney and Nick Kroll Talk Bob Dylan, Hillary Clinton and Squirrels in Funny Interview
Nick, same question.
Kroll: John makes me break constantly. There’s a noise [he made] -- it’s actually in the trailer for the Netflix special. Oooowah. So much of the show is improvised and kept and tweaked. If something really made us laugh, it would oftentimes stay in the show and we would laugh less as we polished it.
What was the writing process like?
Mulaney: We would sit and write a lot of it, but it kind of came from improvising. We kept having live shows to do and kept being able to throw new lines in.
Kroll: I don’t want to ruin it for the audience, but Gil has a pretty serious affair with a raccoon named Lisa and it’s a love affair. It’s sexual, physical and emotional. That whole plotline was improvised onstage on Broadway. We slowly wrote about an affair between a man and a raccoon.
What was the funniest audience reaction?
Mulaney: When they would legitimately gasp at dramatic moments in the play.
Kroll: George has a moment where it’s a revelation.
On Sunday, you both announced the Radio City Rockettes’ performance at the Tony Awards. What was it like being there for the first time?
Mulaney: So fun. During the opening number, I leaned over to my wife and I said, “I love entertainment.”
Kroll: You get the sense, more than the Oscars or Emmys or other awards, that people who are there are so excited. It was cool to feel the audience feel so excited for people winning and performing in a way that you don’t feel at other award shows.
Will we see Gil and George in the near feature putting on their shtick anywhere else?
Kroll: Yeah; we think it’s a mistake, but they’re going to audition for American Idol on ABC.