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A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The fact that hot comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney immediately sold out a three-week December residency at Greenwich Village’s intimate Cherry Lane Theatre is not shocking. What might prompt curiosity is that the duo is performing the entire 70-minute set dressed as elderly men, characters they’ve played for more than a decade in sketches, in Funny or Die clips and even on Kroll’s former Comedy Central series.
“We saw these two guys buying individual copies of Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, Alan Alda’s autobiography, at the Strand [bookstore] back in 2005,” says Kroll, 37, explaining the origins of would-be cosmopolitans George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon — the hosts and stars of Oh, Hello. “We followed them around for a bit and just fell in love. They typify a very specific kind of New York personality.” Adds Mulaney, 33, who dons a gray mop, oversize corduroys and Velcro sneakers for each show: “It’s like guys from Hannah and Her Sisters who wore turtlenecks with blazers. You know, bachelors.”
Even with Kroll Show having wrapped in March, it became clear they wanted to devote more time to the bit — despite their profiles rising considerably since its inception. (Mulaney, a former SNL writer and eponymous Fox sitcom star, released a Netflix stand-up special in November, and Kroll’s film and TV résumé keeps growing.) “John and I can spend entire days talking like these guys,” says Kroll, who first workshopped Oh, Hello with Mulaney in Los Angeles and Nashville. “There’s no time limit where we would get tired of staying in character.”
Promotion has been unorthodox. An in-character press conference is replaying on Manhattan public-access channel MNN through the holidays, and tickets were touted by only two tweets to their 1.4 million followers. A-list guest appearances from such pals as Aziz Ansari and Seth Meyers and a rave from New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley — he compared the duo to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet — have brought more attention than either expected.
Riding the wave of heat, Kroll and Mulaney are looking to parlay the show into a Broadway run or TV comedy special after its Dec. 20 close. “It feels like the kind of thing that would be great for everybody to watch,” says Mulaney. “We’re down for all of it — it’s George and Gil who are quite difficult to deal with.”
The pair, who often refer to St. Geegland and Faizon as if they’re also in the room, spoke at length with THR about Oh, Hello‘s origins and future.
How long have you guys been working on these characters?
Mulaney: We were at Cedar Tavern in 2005. Nick had been hosting this show called “Welcome to Our Week” with Jessi Klein on Thursdays over at Rafifi. I was going to co-host, but we didn’t want to do it as ourselves. We were sitting there like, “Oh, what about those types of guys that we saw at The Strand?” We just sort of knew that person right away.
Kroll: And then so we started hosting the show at Rafifi as those characters, and the responses were really positive. That was it. We’d host the show, do some stuff from up top, drink a tuna martini — which was just like tuna fish in water in a martini glass — and then interview the comics, who were our friends, after their sets.
And then you started making videos?
Kroll: The first two videos we made, one with Julie Klausner and the other with Dave Hill, we were pleasantly surprised by how they turned out. We tried to go to the Aspen Comedy Festival, but we were told that the bit was “too New York.”
Mulaney: And that it’s a young festival, they said, and these characters were too old. (Laughs.) That’s what I remember.
Kroll: Yes, not taking into account who the audience of the comedy festival was, which was old Jews who want to be cowboys. Is that fair, John?
Mulaney: Yeah, coked up men in fringe jackets.
You interview a surprise guest each night over a very large tuna sandwich. Did that start on Kroll Show?
Kroll: I moved to L.A. and John started doing SNL. We just never forgot about these guys. When I got Kroll Show up and running, I knew that I wanted them to be involved. So we made some stuff for the show — including the new wrinkle, which was the “Too Much Tuna” prank show.
Mulaney: It came up at this restaurant called French Roast on Sixth Avenue. We ordered a sandwich, and it had way too much tuna on it. And we said “Oh, no, this is too much tuna.” What if there was an interview show where, midway through, a plate of tuna comes out and they just grinds everything to a halt.
Kroll: I mentioned it in my writers room, and everybody really responded to it in a way that I was almost surprised by. They thought it would be funny to do “Too Much Tuna” as a prank show. Doing Kroll Show allowed us to show a larger audience, and we saw that it wasn’t too New York. There’s something weirdly universal in it. The tuna helped. We did them on three seasons of the show, and it was definitely one of people’s favorite things. Hundreds of people were sending me and John pictures of people dressed as Gil and George for Halloween — 15-year-old girls from Phoenix who theoretically shouldn’t understand it.
What’s the biggest difference from doing this as a show and a full production?
Kroll: For us, Nick and John, I think we were like, “We want to go make something that feels different from anything that we’ve done with them so far. We want to do something that has more weight to it.”
Mulaney: To Gil and George, this would be a huge deal. The joke at UCB was that they were such fish out of water. With the Cherry Lane, now we’re in their world. This is where Wendy Wasserstein played. George and Gil would take this very seriously. While still undeserving, they would take it seriously.
Kroll: The goal was, “Let’s do something lasting that could also be fun to do at the Cherry Lane, and see if it would be fun to build into different versions.”
Mulaney: And also, honestly, let’s win the Obie for best drama. Let’s not mess around, I want an Obie Award.
What other vehicles do you imagine for the show after this run?
Mulaney: I’d imagine them, vehicle-wise, in an old Volkswagen.
Kroll: That’s where John and I are really fighting. I imagine them in an off-white, boxy mid-’80s Volvo.
Mulaney: They bought the Volvo so that they could move an old exercise bike that a friend didn’t want anymore.
Kroll: I think the truth is though, is George and Gil would be both interested in going to Broadway, or just doing a tour of Manhattan.
Mulaney: We could take a tour bus from Cherry Lane to the Barrow Street Theatre, two blocks away.
Kroll: Then, if we can, we’ll fly to The Triad on the Upper West Side.
Can you do whatever you want with these characters or does Comedy Central have any say?
Kroll: Gil and George have gone rogue.
Mulaney: Yeah. And they’re represented by William Kunstler, the deceased civil rights lawyer. He’s all over it.
Do you bring out the same tuna sandwich every night, or do you get a new one?
Mulaney: I don’t know the answer to that.
Kroll: If it were up to George and Gil, it would be the same sandwich. Contractually, they have to buy the sandwiches.
Do you have anything else to say about the show before I let you go?
Kroll: Yes. George and Gil want to communicate for The Hollywood Reporter audience that they are open to studio deals — only studio and network deals — and they want “pay to play.” That’s what they keep saying.
Mulaney: And they wanted two per diem every day. Which is not even against the Latin phrase, per diem, they want two of them. Two diem.
Kroll: They also want to make sure that the great people of the show business industry know that they would like to bring back Webster. They would like to remake that show.
Mulaney: But reverse it. A former football player and woman with a crew cut are adopted by Emmanuel Lewis.
Kroll: That’s the show they want to make.
Mulaney: That probably will happen.
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