Nick Kroll and John Mulaney Make a Zany Riot of ‘Oh, Hello on Broadway’
‘Oh, Hello’ has migrated from a Comedy Central sketch show to a brilliant, surreal, zinger-filled Broadway hit.
There is, now three days later, still the inner chuckle that comes with muttering “Brudway,” as Gil Faizon (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland (John Mulaney) mispronounce New York’s theaterland. Or “cuh-caine.”
The repetitive collapsing of vowels in so many of their words should be a one-note joke, and it should become tiresome. Instead these mis-words glintingly stud Oh, Hello on Broadway, a 90-minute “Brudway” show that has blossomed from a sketch on Comedy Central’s Kroll Show.
Here, fans can see Faizon and St. Geegland bathe in an infectious, self-conscious zaniness on stage, and many will be tickled by any stray “Oh, hello,” and “Charmed, I’m sure,” from their two heroes.
If you haven’t yet met them, the characters Kroll and Mulaney play are two aging theater-loving duffers, lacking full command of language, self-awareness, and sensitivity, who live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, “the coffee breath of neighborhoods.”
The writer (St. Geegland) and actor (Faizon) are legends in their own perversely unfulfilled lunchtimes. They should have been contenders, and the play they perform for us is the story of their supposedly platonic friendship and professional travails (the main characters transformed into “George Reddington” and “Gil Stone”), with a dizzying battery of insults, jokes, and riffs on theater thrown in, like deconstructing “the one-sided phone call.”
Willie Geist, at a 92Y event, said George had been born “to verbally abusive parents,” hosting an imaginary talk show in his Long Island childhood bedroom from which he was banned as a guest. Later a professor, he “resigned for stuff which remains in sealed documents.”
Gil “is a stand-in model for mashed potatoes and other creamed foods. When photographing mashed potatoes, Gil lies there so they can get the lighting right.”
The play Faizon and St. Geegland will perform for us has been made possible by the “Lillian Hellman Female Playwriting Initiative, who has accidentally funded this production.”
Every word is the opportunity for a ridiculous gag: “In this deeply haunted theater, so many great playwrights put up their work. Tennessee Williams and his sister Serena.”
“The magic of Broadway. That’s what this play is,” said George. “It’s a love letter to theater…” “Or more of a stalker’s note scrawled in lipstick on a mirror,” added Gil.
The men are wounded, hilarious monsters, persecuting Ruvi, their poor lighting operator intern (who misses a spotlight cue at his peril). Their set is, they claim, constructed from jewels of Broadway productions past, including the trap door to Anne Frank’s attic, “not to be confused with the diarrhea of Barney Frank, which we experienced on an Acela train from Washington, D.C.”
One moment Gil and George are being absurdly surreal, the next Kroll and Mulaney are breaking character and cracking up at their own, sometimes made-up-on-the-spot jokes. Gil is a mess of fuzzy hair, tatty trousers, and incontinence; George is sharper-dressed, angrier, and crueler. (In real life, Kroll and Mulaney look young and very handsome.)
Like any good comedic duo, Faizon and St. Geegland need each other desperately, especially after things go a little Baby Jane.
Faizon and St. Geegland would like us to think of them as good friends, in deep, devoted love with the arts, but the skillfully written subtext of Oh, Hello hints at something darker—a kind of abusive relationship, with St. Geegland keen to ensure the physically and mentally less robust Faizon knows his place.
The genesis for Oh, Hello, Kroll and Mulaney have said, was being inside New York’s Strand bookstore—“8 miles of books, 12 miles of loneliness”—and seeing two men in turtlenecks and blazers, each buying a copy of Alan Alda’s Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned.
The comedians “fell in love” with the two men and imagined them living together, and began to inhabit their characters. Even in their off time they speak like “Gil and George.”
On Broadway, they were hoping to have “as long a preview period as Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, the big-budget musical whose previews went on and on, as the production was beset by disaster after disaster.
“Theater is the hot new thing right now. There is Hamilton and no other examples,” said George.
“I’m Gil Faizon. I’m a Tony Award-viewing actor,” said Gil.
The men love Swedish fish, “the Cadillac of gummies,” and Werther’s Originals, “the original Amber Alert of caramels.”
Fame, they welcome. “We’re hitting a critical b’clash, like T’m Cruise,” Faizon and St. Geegland insisted to Seth Meyers last year, as Faizon squatted on his chair as Cruise had famously leapt on Oprah’s couch. He looked like “a little raccoon,” said George.
A mocking cartoon in The New Yorker was merely testament to a contentious relationship with the same magazine they would steal from their homeopath vet’s waiting room.
At a press conference, Faizon and St. Geegland said they had met the show’s director, Alex Timbers (full disclosure: cousin of Daily Beast Editor in Chief John Avlon), “during litigation. He’s the genius behind Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and we had the musical Bloody Bloody Tito Jackson. He took us to court and won big.”
To a New York Post reporter, one of the men noted of Anthony Weiner: “You did not give enough attention to how smooth and weird his chest was. I think that was lost in the narrative… The fact that a child was in the shot was not weird. It was just to show scale. ‘Oh my God, that’s a baby’s arm…’ In this case it really was.”
Here on Broadway there is also a groaning plate of tuna, as celebrities on their Comedy Central show expect. This prank, which is no prank, sees the two grandiloquent storytellers force a huge plate of tuna on to a hapless celebrity, until they utter the catchphrase: “Too much tuna.”
Bridesmaids director Paul Feig added pickles and an orange slice to his, causing anger on the part of Gil and George (“Don’t disgrace the tuna”).
On stage in L.A., Bill Hader joined a beset-by-total-hysterics Marcia Clark, who loudly proclaimed there was “too fucking much tuna”; Hader wolfed his down.
On Saturday night, their special “too much tuna” star guest was Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza, who remained magnificently deadpan on stage. She would not, as Willie Geist was at the 92Y when he interviewed the men, be forced into saying “Too much tuna” too soon.
Despite the men’s wheedling, she made them wait and was barely monosyllabic in her responses to them. The infinitely more loquacious and tuna-keen Geist was dismissed as a “shithead.”
The 90 minutes of Oh, Hello comprises sketch and character comedy, rather than a coherent play or a coherent play-within-a-play. The joke is on every dramatic and theatrical convention you have ever unwittingly accepted.
Rudy Giuliani, recently transformed into Donald Trump’s biggest cheerleader (and on Saturday night, Kroll and Mulaney worked in a magnficient “pussy-grabber” line), may have shut down all the porn merchants of Times Square, but they’ve moved one block west, noted Gil. “There’s even a handjob parlor called Shake Shack,” added George.
“I am neither Jewish nor a woman, but like many older men over 70, I have reached the age where I am somehow both,” George notes. “All three of my wives died the same way on the same staircase, each death improving upon the previous death almost as if it had learned from that death. And fun fact, for tonight, I am on competing medications.”
It was George who told Gil that he had not gotten the CBS announcing job he had been up for (and which may have changed his life), “but he wouldn’t let me sulk for one single second,” said Gil. “Nay nay nay. He made me get right back on the horse. We started doing heroin that afternoon.”
And so the rollercoaster goes on. We learn about theatrical method, like screaming: Gil’s “YOU CAN’T COME OVER FOR LUNCH BECAUSE MY FATHER IS MY BROTHER”; and George’s “DO YOU WANNA KNOW WHY? DO YOU WANNA KNOW WHY, KAREN? BECAUSE I COULD NOT AFFORD MICROSOFT WORD.”
In the play-within-a-play, we learn George is “waiting on a letter from my publisher about my new novel, Next Stop Ronkonkama. It’s the story of a Long Island Rail Road trip told from 100 different perspectives.” George is outraged to discover their rent “is being increased to $2,500 a month? $2,500? For a measly five-bedroom with crown molding, office, and fireplace on 73rd Street?”
Suddenly we are zooming back in time, to the 1950s, where George recalls being encouraged by another boy to see a body on the train tracks, which—yawn—he had already seen; and attending the Chauncey School for Misfits. “It’s just me and a nun and a young Robert Durst. Fun fact. Bobby Durst’s and I'’ mothers jumped off the same roof! But that’s not why I hate women. Which I don’t. And any cunt who says I do isn’t fit to hold my mother’s ashes.”
The years flash by—the ’70s is marked by particularly gray, sugary coffee—and then the chance for stardom at NY1, the news channel no one with Time Warner can avoid, presents itself. And this after a surrealist ballet involving a giant tuna, which the men will hope will net them a special Tony Award.
Events in Oh, Hello move to a time-traversing conclusion—professional and personal success and failure having hurtled by—at the men’s diner. The passage of years is marked by the sporting of a mustache. Gil is looking at new acting parts: “I play a secret agent who is trying to protect his family. It’s titled How Dare You Steal My Daughter.” George has a smash hit young adult novel series, Dracula Jr., so popular “mainly because it describes how to make a bomb.”
The Oh, Hello devoted left the Lyceum in audible bliss, while newcomers were happily dazed by the onslaught of jokes, skits, wordplay, meta-everything, and verbal carnage. Kroll, Mulaney, Faizon, St. Geegland, Reddington, and Stone would want it no other way.
A mini-wave of sadness settled over this audience member, with the knowledge that it will be a while before the late 1970s is captured as vividly it was in Oh, Hello: “New York is a bankrupt, crime-ridden mess and it’s awesome. Tires roll down the street on fire, and inside those tires? Babies with knives.”
Oh, Hello on Broadway runs until Jan. 8. Book tickets here.