It’s Monday morning and Nick Kroll is anxiously scrolling through his phone. When I offer him headphones, he declines, saying, “I hear my voice plenty.”
The 41-year-old comedian’s low-level anxiety seems to be in part due to the fact that season three of his beloved animated show Big Mouth has just dropped on Netflix three days earlier and the reactions from fans are starting to flood in.
“If someone had said five years ago, that I would work on a show for over a year, the entire show would come out over a weekend, and then anyone who wanted to be in touch with you about the show, positively and negatively, could contact you in any number of platforms, it’s a pretty surreal thing,” Kroll tells me as we settle in for this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “So I both engage and try to keep some distance from it. Because no matter how positively everything comes in, it’s hard for the brain to absorb.”
Kroll is back in Los Angeles on a brief break from his national “Middle-Aged Boy Tour,” his biggest stand-up tour ever, which will bring him to the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the New York Comedy Festival next month. It’s the first time Kroll, who has spent his career embodying outlandish characters, is truly being himself on stage.
The same day the new batch of Big Mouth episodes premiered, Joker arrived in theaters to the best October box office opening in history and an outsized level of controversy for what is still essentially a comic book movie. I wanted to know what Kroll thought of that film’s director Todd Phillips suggesting that he stopped making comedies because it’s too hard to be “funny nowadays with this woke culture.”
Big Mouth, which in this season alone mines laughs from masturbation, the #MeToo movement and pansexuality among other potentially fraught topics, seems like the perfect counter-example to Phillips’ claims. As the critic Emma Specter put it in her Vogue review, “It’s refreshing to see a show made by adults tackle the complex question of sexual fluidity with humor that isn’t derived from a hacky, cynical angle of ‘Aren’t these kids crazy, with their nonbinary pronouns?’”
“Part of me is like, I don’t know about weighing in on any of this,” Kroll says as a preface before offering up a thoughtful, cogent answer that both references incestuous dick pics and a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands to explain his willingness to evolve as a comedian.
Meanwhile, Big Mouth is in no danger of being “canceled,” either literally or in the metaphorical sense. Not only did Netflix recently announce that it was picking up the show for an additional three seasons but they also gave the green light to a separate spinoff series called Human Resources about the world of the Hormone Monsters, Shame Wizards and other fantastical creatures that populate the show’s adolescent minds.
“It’s a workplace comedy set in the world of the monsters,” Kroll says, comparing it to shows like The Office. “I’m really excited about it.”
On kids watching ‘Big Mouth’ despite its dirty content
“We have been more than pleasantly surprised about how many kids have watched it and, even more so, that parents are OK with it. Obviously the show is very dirty, but I think more and more people are realizing that the messaging of what we’re saying is trying to be pretty responsible. My nieces and nephews are texting and DM’ing me being like, ‘My friends all watch the show, everyone loves it,’ and that’s awesome. Because, look, it’s a show that we made as adults, but we made it about this very tricky, lonely time in life, so the idea that kids would watch it and hopefully feel a little less alone and learn a thing or two and have a laugh at it, is very gratifying.”
How they decided to tackle #MeToo through ‘Disclosure’ the Musical
“This season was the first season that we wrote after #MeToo had really taken hold and built momentum. We wanted to talk about sexual harassment, so I sort of said off-handedly, ‘The bad example would be they do a musical of the movie Disclosure.’ Everyone laughed and then were like, well let’s try to figure out what the actual movie is. We went back to look at other movies that are now ‘problematic,’ like Revenge of the Nerds or Sixteen Candles—movies that we all loved growing up but then you go back and watch and go, these are tricky. But they weren’t quite as funny or didn’t make as much sense. And Disclosure really speaks to 25 years later, there is a lot of talk of the paranoia of women weaponizing sexual harassment.”
On making comedy despite ‘woke culture’
“I think that you can still talk about anything and be crazy and not feel too censored. It’s a trickier time, but also we have a show where a boy sends a dick pic to his cousin that he made out with. You can still do and say some pretty crazy, wild shit. But everybody approaches comedy differently and has different objectives and opinions inside of it. And we don’t always get it exactly right and there are people who are not always thrilled about how we are speaking about an issue. I’m of the opinion, personally, we have this ability to listen and communicate with the audience and hear what they have to say. And sometimes, I’m like, I don’t agree with you. And other times I’m like yeah, I hear you, we didn’t get that exactly right. We’ll do better. I’m here to evolve and adapt. And everybody goes and makes their own art and however they want to do it, god bless ‘em. And if they stop making it because it’s not the way they want to do it anymore, go ahead.”
On getting rejected by ‘Saturday Night Live’
“Growing up, SNL was so important to me. It still holds this weird power over all of us. Whether you watch the show or not, it does loom very large. I knew if I didn’t get SNL that things were going to be OK, that I was going to work, but more than anything ever in my life I wanted to be on Saturday Night Live. [John Mulaney] and I worked on our auditions together and he got cast as a writer on the show. Jordan [Peele] was in that audition, Ellie Kemper was in that audition. There were a bunch of people in that audition who have gone on to have very good careers. There’s something about SNL that I’ll always wish I got on that show. Even when I then got to go make my own sketch show, on my terms, doing characters I wanted to do without anyone else telling me what I could or couldn’t do in an environment that was entirely in my control, there was still that thing of being like, ‘Oh, but Saturday Night Live…’ But it’s all worked out just fine.”