JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thank you, Jonathan. It's time to welcome our special guest. He's starred in "Oh, Hello" on Broadway, "Kroll Show"...
EISENBERG: ...On Comedy Central. And the second season of his animated series "Big Mouth" is streaming now on Netflix. Please welcome Nick Kroll.
EISENBERG: Hey, Nick.
NICK KROLL: Hi, Ophira.
EISENBERG: Thanks for joining us.
KROLL: Thanks for having me.
EISENBERG: So I want to start from the beginning. You grew up in Westchester, N.Y.
KROLL: Tough streets - the tough streets of raw New York.
EISENBERG: You are the youngest of four.
KROLL: Yes, I am.
EISENBERG: So were you babied or teased?
KROLL: I was both babied and teased. My brother definitely - who's turned into a wonderful man and father...
KROLL: ...Of four himself but as a child would give me what we would call in the business a toothpaste wedgie.
KROLL: That means you put toothpaste in underwear and give your younger brother a wedgie.
EISENBERG: That's terrible.
KROLL: And if you were curious if your butt could feel mint, it does.
KROLL: Shout out to Dr. Bronner's.
EISENBERG: And you were a theater kid.
KROLL: I was not much of a theater - I did a few plays along the way. Growing up, my friend Andrew Goldberg and I, who I created a "Big Mouth" with...
KROLL: Thank you. He and I would, like, host the Purim talent show...
EISENBERG: I love every moment of this.
KROLL: ...As, like, as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World."
EISENBERG: Sorry - not even a Purim character, Wayne and Garth.
KROLL: No, no, oh, no, no, not at all. But no, I didn't do much theater. It was really when I got to college I started doing improv comedy that I really fell in love with doing it, then wanted to do it for the rest of my life.
EISENBERG: So you make a New Year's resolution that you're going to try some UCB classes...
EISENBERG: ...In New York.
KROLL: Yeah. I graduated college, made a New Year's resolution to start doing improv and stand-up comedy and met people that I'm still friends with and work with today. I also started doing open mics around New York City and very - at some point in that process met you.
EISENBERG: That's right.
KROLL: Yes. We go back many years doing stand-up...
EISENBERG: We go back...
KROLL: ...In horrible bars...
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Terrible.
KROLL: ...Around New York City with people like ourselves - very funny, talented, kind people and, like, 60-year-old men still living with their mothers.
EISENBERG: Yes, exactly. And they killed.
KROLL: Yeah, they were doing great.
EISENBERG: They were doing great.
KROLL: They were doing great.
EISENBERG: They were doing great. So 2013 - I just find this interesting. So you do the "Kroll Show" on Comedy Central, which is a show built around you.
EISENBERG: Obviously we know this is a character-driven show. But at the time in the comedy world, there were not a lot of people doing characters. Everyone was really doing a lot of self-referential comedy, talking stories from their lives. I mean, in a way, that just seemed, like, much easier than doing characters.
KROLL: Not if you don't want to share who you really are with an audience.
EISENBERG: That just never appealed to you.
KROLL: Keep those walls up, Ophira.
EISENBERG: But I'm just wondering. When you were pitching this, I assume Comedy Central was like, what do you have? And you were like, I want to do this character-driven show.
EISENBERG: Were they like, great? This is different. Nobody's doing this right now.
KROLL: They were actually very cool. I had done a bunch of sketches online and that we'd put out like Bobby Bottleservice and Fabrice Fabrice.
KROLL: And so the early - I don't know if we had any "Oh, Hello" online at that point. But we had - I'd done a bunch of stuff. And so - and I did a special for Comedy Central called "Thank You Very Cool," which...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Whoo.
KROLL: ...Is about the response that it deserves.
KROLL: And it was sort of - it became a backdoor pilot for the "Kroll Show." We were - very specifically wanted to do character-driven comedy. I think I've always been drawn to people, trying to make people I don't like in real life somehow sympathetic.
KROLL: And I don't know what that says about my inner-world.
EISENBERG: So the characters that you and John Mulaney play in "Oh, Hello," which...
EISENBERG: And "Oh, Hello" is - it was a Broadway show. It - but it started as a fun live show at a small room in New York...
KROLL: Yeah, Rififi.
EISENBERG: ...Based on two men that you observed in...
KROLL: In - yeah.
EISENBERG: ...The Strand, which is a famous bookstore here in New York.
EISENBERG: And what was it about these two elderly men?
KROLL: They were, like, real New York people, like the people you see at the Strand in New York. And there's a bookstore like that in every city in the country. It's, like, dudes in - I wouldn't call them dudes.
KROLL: Legendary elderly bachelors in, like, turtlenecks and blazers. And they were buying a copy of Alan Alda's "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed."
KROLL: Like, me and Mulaney saw them. We were just like, oh.
KROLL: Look at these two 10s.
KROLL: And I think we both had always loved that kind of person. And we sort of followed them to a diner and watched them read their...
EISENBERG: You stalked them.
KROLL: Oh, yeah.
KROLL: And so we just started, you know, talking like them and thinking like them.
KROLL: And one day, Mulaney was like, (impersonating George St. Geegland) let's do some cocaine. And...
KROLL: And it just was like, that's it. It's just like, that's it; that's those guys. And we started doing this show at this place Rififi, and we just, like, started hosting the show as those guys. And that's over a decade ago. And I think both of us have never wanted to not do them since.
EISENBERG: Just - yeah.
EISENBERG: It's great. And now you're hanging out with another friend of yours from your childhood, as you mentioned. You and Andrew Goldberg grew up and joined forces to create this animated series "Big Mouth."
EISENBERG: ...On its second season. Now, you said, keep the walls up; don't talk about your own personal life. That's what you like doing.
EISENBERG: But you are mining your teenage years for the show.
KROLL: Yeah. It was - felt easier to be more autobiographical as, like, a 13-year-old animated character.
KROLL: Yeah. So it's a show about me and Andrew based on our childhood of - he was a very early bloomer. He hit puberty, or puberty hit him real hard. We actually have - the first episode of the second season is ripped from the headlines in that his father made his mother wax his upper lip.
KROLL: ...When they - when he was in, like, sixth or seventh grade. And then he was unable to grow a mustache for years to come.
KROLL: He could grow a full beard and no hair on his upper lip.
KROLL: ...Which we referred to as his reverse Hitler.
KROLL: Stories from my life as well - specifically, in Season 2 - I got pantsed around - in seventh grade.
EISENBERG: What does that mean?
KROLL: That's right. You're Canadian. So that would be...
KROLL: I was trouser removed.
EISENBERG: Were you wearing runners at the time?
KROLL: Yeah, I was running my runners.
EISENBERG: Did you have a ginch?
EISENBERG: Were you wearing your ginch?
KROLL: Yeah. What's a ginch?
EISENBERG: That's underwear.
EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.
KROLL: That's so Canadian.
KROLL: I was wearing silk ginches.
EISENBERG: Yeah. OK. Sure.
KROLL: So they slid right on down. I got pantsed by a girl in front of the girl - my, like, middle school crush, the girl who I loved, like, all through elementary and middle school.
KROLL: And now I'm a comedian.
EISENBERG: All right, Nick. Are you ready for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
KROLL: Yeah, I'm so ready.
EISENBERG: OK. Great.
EISENBERG: Nick Kroll. Nick Kroll. Nick, you starred in the sitcom "Cavemen," which was based on characters from the Geico commercials. And it's not the first or last time an ad was turned into a TV show or movie, so we wrote a quiz about it. And if you do well enough, listener Luke Rabieou (ph) from Oxford, Miss., will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube. OK, so here's your first question. This is a softball.
EISENBERG: All right. What character was originally created by actor Jim Varney for local TV ads in Nashville and went on to star in a series of films in which he goes to camp, goes to school and goes to jail?
KROLL: "Ernest Goes To Camp" eventually became...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Yelling) Ernest.
KROLL: Was it a Sprite commercials as well? Did he - was it for Sprite? But he was always talking to Vern.
KROLL: Where's Vern now? That's what I want to know.
EISENBERG: Vern was, like, a fantasy.
KROLL: Oh, wow.
EISENBERG: That was - yeah, yeah, yeah.
KROLL: Oh, it was, like, a psychosomatic drama...
EISENBERG: That's right (laughter).
KROLL: ...That he was playing out.
EISENBERG: That's right. It had - they had, like, a real deep...
EISENBERG: ...Storyline, the Ernest thing.
EISENBERG: All right. How about this one? The talking baby who starred in ads for freeinternet.com and Quiznos also starred in what early 2000s CBS sitcom?
KROLL: I know this because I remember...
KROLL: ...When "Caveman" coming out, being like, this will be the joke I tell when we're a hit.
EISENBERG: Write your late-night joke.
KROLL: Yeah, it's...
EISENBERG: The initials are B.B. But one of them is baby. Does that help you?
KROLL: I mean, it's "Boss Baby," but it's not. It was the...
EISENBERG: It's cool. Don't worry about it. "Baby Bob."
KROLL: "Baby Bob."
EISENBERG: Yeah. No. All right.
KROLL: You know, there's a reason it didn't work.
EISENBERG: All right. This is your last clue. What 2018 movie featuring Nick Kroll began as a 2012 Pepsi commercial?
KROLL: Obviously, its "Operation Finale," the hunt for Adolf Eichmann.
KROLL: But my second guess would be "Uncle Drew."
EISENBERG: That is...
KROLL: ...Starring Kyrie Irving, who...
EISENBERG: That is correct.
KROLL: Yes. Yeah, I got that one. Wow.
EISENBERG: Hey, that movie you just mentioned, that "Operation Finale," that was a very dramatic role.
KROLL: It is a very dramatic role.
EISENBERG: ...With Sir Ben Kingsley.
KROLL: Yes. Sir Ben Kingsley and I, who obviously started together doing sketch comedy...
EISENBERG: That's right.
KROLL: ...In New York.
KROLL: Sir Ben always, like - it was, like, great to do sketch with him, but he always had his punchline.
KROLL: Like, he had his catchphrases. So, like, no matter what the sketch was, all of a sudden, he'd be like, (impersonating Gandhi) I'm Gandhi.
KROLL: But it worked. You know what I mean? He killed. And so it was like - it was hard to disagree. But it, like...
KROLL: It was hard to work with him.
KROLL: You know what I mean?
EISENBERG: I could see that. Well, congratulations. You and Luke Rabieou have won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES BRADLEY SONG, "CHANGES")
EISENBERG: What a pleasure. What a pleasure.
EISENBERG: Thank you.
KROLL: I don't know what this will be worth in Mississippi, but I hope you enjoy it. And, Ophira, thank you for having me. It's wonderful to see you.
EISENBERG: Oh, Nick, you're the best. Season two of "Big Mouth" is streaming on Netflix. Give it up for Nick Kroll.
EISENBERG: Want our next special guest to play for you? Follow ASK ME ANOTHER on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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