The Stories Behind The Hormone Monsters in Nick Kroll's 'Big Mouth' : It's Been a Minute Nick Kroll is the co-creator of the raunchy animated Netflix hit Big Mouth. The show (and Kroll) are known for over the top, strange, yet totally relatable comedy. Now, Kroll is out with a new film in which he plays a romantic lead for the first time. Olympic Dreams was filmed at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. He tells Sam about making the movie and how it has a lot in common with Big Mouth.

Nick Kroll on 'Olympic Dreams' And 'Big Mouth'

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NICK KROLL: (As Maury the Hormone Monster) Touch yourself, Andrew.

SAM SANDERS, HOST:

My guest today does a lot of voices.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BIG MOUTH")

KROLL: (As Ricky the Hormone Monster)Yeah, man, you gotta - yeah, what are ya gonna do, man? What are ya gonna do, baby?

SANDERS: The one you're hearing now, it's maybe his craziest.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BIG MOUTH")

KROLL: (As Nick Birch) Are you the puberty fairy?

(As Maury the Hormone Monster) Puberty fairy? I'm the hormone monster. I'm not a fairy.

SANDERS: That is Nick Kroll voicing what he calls a hormone monster for his animated Netflix show "Big Mouth."

KROLL: It was just, like, trying to figure out a way to personify the roller coaster of hormones and emotions that kids are feeling.

SANDERS: Nick Kroll stars in "Big Mouth." He's the co-creator as well. The show is based on Nick and his friend Andrew Goldberg's awkward, randy, over-the-top experience with puberty. "Big Mouth" is Nick Kroll doing what he's most well-known for, but he's out with a new movie that is a total departure from the Nick Kroll we're used to.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OLYMPIC DREAMS")

KROLL: (As Ezra) I want to take more risks. That's why I came to the Olympics. You inspire me to do that.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders and this episode - a different side of comedian and actor Nick Kroll. Nick is playing a romantic lead for the first time in a movie called "Olympic Dreams." This film is a love story of sorts with a twist. It was filmed at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea in the Olympic Village. And his co-star in the movie is real-life Olympic athlete Alexi Pappas. In this interview, we'll talk about the film and what it was like for Nick to take on that kind of role. We will also talk a lot more about "Big Mouth" and how his new movie and that show actually have a lot in common. All right. Let's get to it. Nick Kroll.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: I watched your movie last night. Oh, cool. And I got to say, that scene where your character first arrives in the Olympic Village and spends, like, a whole day just getting lost and asking for directions, that hit so close to home for me because when I was a reporter, they sent me to cover the Olympics in Sochi.

KROLL: Uh-huh.

SANDERS: And all it is is getting lost.

KROLL: Yeah. No. It's - obviously, you were there working as well. Like, you know, we were lugging camera bags and sound equipment 'cause we had no crew. It was just the three of us making this movie. So we were outside a lot waiting for cars, trying to figure out how to shoot something, you know, just sort of doing everything we could to get the scene done. But it also meant shooting in freezing cold conditions and the camera would freeze and the...

SANDERS: The camera would freeze.

KROLL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

SANDERS: Oh, my God.

KROLL: It just was very challenging. We had a - you know, my character is a volunteer dentist in the movie. People don't probably realize that at the Olympics, there are people who volunteer as dentists and doctors and chiropractors.

SANDERS: So they can go to the Olympics.

KROLL: So they can go to the Olympics and hang out. And so my character is a volunteer dentist and so we didn't know where we were going to shoot the dentist scenes. So we flew over with a mobile dentist chair.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Stop it.

KROLL: You know, like, a four-by-four folded up chair that we were sort of lugging around, you know, Korean mountains to try to figure out a place to shoot. And there were things like that that just were, like, what's happening?

SANDERS: This - OK. So whose idea was this? This is a very hard undertaking. Did you pick this life for your film?

KROLL: No, no, no, no. This was - the idea and the - most of the legwork belongs to Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher. And Alexi is a summer Olympian. She ran in Rio for - she's American but of Greek descent and ran for Greece and one night I think or one day was at the gym in Rio and met a volunteer doctor. They started chatting, and then he asked her out to dinner. And she had - was already with Jeremy and so she, you know, politely turned him down, but it gave them the idea of what if there was a movie about this sort of a romance between a volunteer - in our case, dentist - you know, with an athlete because everyone's, you know, in these village - the Olympic village together. And then they went to the Olympic Committee and they got an artist in residence grant from the Olympics. So what they decided to do was they were going to try to shoot a feature. I think the movie sort of speaks to this very particular experience that most people don't really have insight into about the Olympics.

SANDERS: Well - and this is the thing about the Olympics and seeing it back. It is not nearly as sexy is NBC Sports makes it seem.

KROLL: Correct. You know, we wanted to sort of explore those other moments that you don't see on NBC, those moments of trying to figure out what you're going to do with your day or figure out how to, in the case of Alexi's character, Penelope, like how - what do you do when you've trained your entire life for this one moment to make it to the Olympics and then that moment ends. And whether you win or lose, you don't necessarily think about what's next.

SANDERS: And she has that line in the movie where she says, like, I don't have a plan.

KROLL: Yeah.

SANDERS: She finishes her event and she's like, OK.

KROLL: Yeah, now what?

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. This is a love story at its core, but it's also - for me, it felt - you know, watching it, it felt like a story and a commentary about, like, how we choose to struggle.

KROLL: Mmm hmm.

SANDERS: There is this line in which Alexi's character says to you - when you're dealing with something tough, she says, in so many words, you can see it as a complaint or you can see it as a goal.

KROLL: Mmm hmm, yeah.

SANDERS: And I was like, huh, yeah. Were y'all trying to say something there about the nature of how we view struggle and how we view hardship and how we get over it?

KROLL: You know, I think to an extent - I think, like, really Alexi particularly has thought about that and is constantly trying, you know, to be a long-distance - Olympic-caliber long-distance runner is what Alexi is. The amount of hard work and pain that you put your body and your mind through requires you to, I think, adjust your lens at how you look at things. And I think that's what a lot of professional or Olympic-level athletes do because they have to make so many sacrifices to accomplish what they want to accomplish. They miss prom. You miss, like, you know, bar and bat mitzvahs. You miss birthday parties. You miss graduation because you have to go do a meet wherever competition takes you. And there's just a ton of sacrifices that these people make every single day. And these sacrifices is what makes them great. And it's a real mindset thing.

SANDERS: What are you? Are you more of a see it as a complaint or see it as a goal kind of person?

KROLL: I mean, to be honest, I am someone - a see it as a goal person. I think, like, I've been blessed with an incredibly privileged and fortunate life, and I am very aware that my complaints are minute compared to the vast majority of the people on this planet. They are no less, the issues and problems that I deal with in my life, but I would be crazy not to see them as much smaller than some of the very, very real, very dire issues that other people are dealing with. I strive to do the most with the fortune that I've been handed.

SANDERS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: Time for a break. When we come back, Nick Kroll tells me about growing up a certain kind of way.

KROLL: What's frustrating is I grew up wealthy and incredibly privileged and fortunate. The Internet seems to think I grew up a billionaire, which is not true.

SANDERS: BRB.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: In multiple podcasts, you've spoken about growing up rich. My intern, in the prep for this interview, she had a little note that was like, you should also know he grew up rich and I was like, OK.

KROLL: Yeah. No, people are...

SANDERS: (Laughter) Is it a thing you have to talk about all the time?

KROLL: You know, it's like people like to talk about it. I mean, what's frustrating is I grew up - I so grew up wealthy and incredibly privileged and fortunate. The Internet seems to think I grew up a billionaire, which is not true.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Just go with it.

KROLL: It's - unfortunately, there's nothing cool - there's nothing good for me that comes out of something that isn't entirely true.

SANDERS: Is your real last name Bloomberg?

KROLL: Yeah, that's the truth. It's a weird thing that I - it's - I mean, again, I wouldn't trade the life that I was given for anything. I had every privilege and I have an - most importantly, I have a very loving and supportive family where if we had grown up without money, I think I would have been in equally good standing to succeed because of the, like, real love and support that I have felt from my parents and brothers and sisters, which I think is ultimately the most important thing. And it gave me the confidence to go pursue the unlikely dream of becoming a successful, you know, comedian, actor and writer. The thing about the money, it feels like it takes a little bit away from what I've tried to accomplish because the assumption is, you know, he paid his way to this or that.

And, you know, what I will say is the privilege that I grew up with allowed me to take more risks because I knew that if I didn't succeed, I still had the backup of knowing that I could get some job in the real world through the connections that my family and friends have because of how I grew up. But, you know, my ego wants to be like yes I grew up with money, but don't let that take away from what I have done myself. But understandably I've done it to other people. So it's like, what am I going to do? What am I going to complain about here, you know?

SANDERS: How do you think growing up whatever word you want to use - wealthy, whatever - affected your comedic sensibilities? Like, do you inherently tell different jokes or gravitate to different comedic topics because you grew up wealthy as opposed to someone who grew up poor? Like, I imagine there are so many comics I hear who talk about and their comedy is based in I was so poor. Like, that is a comedy.

KROLL: Right, right, right. Yeah. No. That definitely was not - that's never been my angle. I think in - a couple things. I mean, I think, again, it just - because of how I grew up, I got to go - I got an incredible amount of exposure to different places and cultures and people. It meant I got to travel a ton growing up and saw a lot of different countries. So I think it gave me a sense of how big the world was and how many different kinds of characters and people there are all over the world. And I think that was a huge advantage. And I also think knowing where I came from and how I grew up that I tried very hard to figure out who the targets were for my jokes.

The people that I have - the characters that I've played for the most part I think deserve a little ire, you know, like, deserve to be sort of poked fun at and others to me do not because I look at my experience and I'm like, boy, that person doesn't deserve me making fun of them. And so I think I've just been mindful, I think, for a long time about who the target of my joke is and if there has to be a target, you know? Or can it just be something beyond, you know, I've got this person in my crosshairs, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: All right. One more quick break. After that break, Nick Kroll goes deep on Netflix's "Big Mouth." Heads up, listeners and especially parents, the next section does contain discussion of sex and hormones and puberty, all that stuff. OK. BRB.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: Can we talk more about "Big Mouth" for a bit?

KROLL: Sure.

SANDERS: OK. I want to make sure that we're adequately describing "Big Mouth" for folks who haven't watched it. And for folks who haven't watched it, what's wrong with you? Get your life. It is a cartoon show on Netflix in which several young kids - what are they? - 12, 13-ish.

KROLL: Yeah. Yeah, both.

SANDERS: Yeah. They are starting to experience puberty, and it is insane - like, the strongest, harshest, hardest puberty ever - but they are accompanied on their journey through puberty by these, like, hormone monsters.

KROLL: That's exactly what they are.

SANDERS: I want you to describe the hormone monsters for folks who don't know what they are yet.

KROLL: You know, the hormone monsters are - they're like...

SANDERS: Awesome.

KROLL: Yeah. They're, like, the little devils that we have on our shoulders, you know, angels and devils. But they were created to personify these things that all of a sudden start to guide kids. That's what it feels like those hormone monsters are doing is they're telling you to masturbate. They're telling you to fight. They're telling you to scream at your mom. They're telling you...

SANDERS: It's like a demonic possession.

KROLL: Yeah. And it's - and we started with them, and then we've built out in the show, as time has gone on, more of these creatures and characters that become the governing principles of our lives. So in Season 2, we introduced the Shame Wizard, voiced by David Thewlis, because we felt like in talking to kids and thinking about our own lives, that shame plays such an important part of puberty and adolescence. It's really where shame really starts to flourish because, you know, you all of a sudden have these desires and you want to act on those desires or - and you're embarrassed about it. You're ashamed of it. You don't know how to talk to people about it. You don't have those tools. And so this Shame Wizard appears. We also started talking about, you know, the Depression Kitty, you know, that this Depression Kitty that comes and sort of sits on you and makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning. And we keep developing more of these kinds of characters that speak to the varying elements of experience and emotions that at the very least exert influence over kids' and adults' lives.

SANDERS: Yeah. I - the casting of the hormone monsters I find to be incredible. I'm most impressed by the way that Maya Rudolph perfectly inhabits her hormone monster. What was the thought process behind what you wanted the hormone monsters to sound like and who they should be? Because, like, I've never thought about what my hormones during puberty might sound like.

KROLL: Yeah. Well, in - you know, it started with the hormone monster Maury that I voice and that...

SANDERS: Which is great.

KROLL: Which is - literally came from Andrew being like, what about a hormone monster and me sort of immediately instinctually saying (as Maury the Hormone Monster) touch yourself, Andrew.

And then he grew from there. It's a voice that I had done in other things, on "Kroll Show," you know, slightly demonic but also maybe like a lifetime smoker and, you know, making crazy choices. And when we went out to sell the show, we made, like, a little pencil test, a very simple two-minute cartoon, very presentational in style. And I called Maya and Fred Armisen and Jenny Slate and Jordan Peele to record voices on - basically onto their phone for us to use in the presentation. And then when the show got picked up, they agreed to be a part of the show. And then once we - around Episode 2, we realized, oh, you know, Jessi, one of our friends in the show, this girl gets her period for the first time and - on a class trip to the Statue of Liberty, which really happened to a friend of ours in real life. And we were like, oh, she's going to get her period. She's going to need a hormone monstress. Who can we have for that? And then we're like, oh, maybe we should ask the funniest, most talented person in the world, Maya Rudolph, to play that character, and Maya agreed. And then we sort of gave her some lines. We had a general idea based on voices that she had done at various moments. And we brought her the character, and she, I think, around episode - the first or second episode that she had with it, we found, you know, words like bubble bath (imitating Connie the Hormone Monstress) bubble bath, you know, and that became...

SANDERS: She does it so well.

KROLL: With all of our our voice casts, you know, we have an idea of what the voice sounds like. We write to that voice. Then our incredibly talented cast come in and improvise and bring their own color to it and pronunciations to it. And then we start to write to what they have done in the booth. And then we - you know, we try to continue to specify and build these voices to be unique to their character.

SANDERS: My boss Steve loves "Big Mouth." We've discussed it before. He has three teenage boys, and he won't let them watch it, which made me think like, what do you think, as a creator of this show, is the appropriate age for someone to be allowed to start watching "Big Mouth?"

KROLL: What would I say to that? You know, my partner Andrew has kids. They're younger right now, but people have asked, like, when are you going to let your kids watch the show? And he said, I'll let them watch it when they are the age of the kids on the show, so, you know, 13-ish because I would argue that any kid who's around 13 while...

SANDERS: They're Googling this stuff anyway.

KROLL: There's - yeah. While our show is very dirty and very graphic, there is nothing on our show that kids cannot find online very easily with a lot less thought and care into what the message they're putting out there. Because as dirty as our show is, we are incredibly conscious about, like, the messages that kids could be receiving from it about their bodies. And a lot of the content out there, pornographic and otherwise, is not thinking about what are the messages that I'm sending to this very impressionable kid who's absorbing things? We are thinking at every moment about what we're saying and how we're saying it.

SANDERS: Yeah. Has doing this show made you look at anything in your puberty in hindsight differently?

KROLL: Yeah. I mean, I've spent a lot of time in therapy talking about the things that were happening to me during puberty and how they affected who I am now. Before the show and even more so now because I'm talking about things in the room and then trying to see if that makes sense in therapy and then taking some of the things that I've been working through in therapy and bringing that to the room, a lot of it just being - trying to figure out how to be vulnerable and honest. And there is great power and courage - you know, Brene Brown, who is...

SANDERS: I love her.

KROLL: ...Amazing and really her sort of theories on shame became very central to our...

SANDERS: Really?

KROLL: Yeah, yeah - our understanding and building of the Shame Wizard.

SANDERS: Have you told her this?

KROLL: Yeah, like, on Twitter, you know?

SANDERS: What did she say?

KROLL: She was - she got a kick out of it. I don't know how much she quite understood about "Big Mouth" at the time. But her TED talk on shame...

SANDERS: I hadn't watched that TED talk.

KROLL: It's worth a - go - it's on YouTube. It's really worth a watch. And you can see - if you know "Big Mouth," you'll see how much we took from her understanding of shame. But also she talks in her new Netflix special a lot about vulnerability and and the courage that it takes to be vulnerable. And in telling these stories about myself and my experience, both then and now, I think there is great power in speaking about what we were going through, what we're going through now and hopefully taking a little of the sting off of the harder things by vocalizing it and by really - and by vocalizing it, beginning to come to peace with it and coming to terms with the traumatic big and small events of one's life, you know?

SANDERS: Yeah. Brene Brown - the international implications that she has. She needs a producer credit.

KROLL: I know. Let's not push that. There's only so much money to go around.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Speaking of therapy and how it informs your writing for the show, you talked about this when you were on - what's the show? - "Without Fail," which I listened to in the car this morning. And you said this thing that really stood out to me. Well, one, you talked about this kind of therapy writers room feedback loop and how what you are unpacking in therapy informs the show, which I just love.

KROLL: Yeah.

SANDERS: But also you said that, like, one of the big points you took away from therapy and how you were trying to get that into the show is that, like, this idea that we learn over time that no one hates us as much as we hate ourselves and that we spend so much time being so self-critical and so hateful towards our own bodies and minds and souls when no one else is actually doing that.

KROLL: Correct.

SANDERS: That is a big thing to learn.

KROLL: Yeah. It's something that I've been learning over the last few years and, you know, nobody's a bigger critic of you than you. At least that's how I am. I can't speak for other people. But when I talk to people, you know, especially right now, I feel like there's just a ton - there are very few people who really, like, seem to be like, I love myself. I mean, there's a lot of talk about that, but I think there's a lot of talk about that because I think there's a lot of self-loathing. As I try to continue to evolve and grow as a person, so much of the relationships that I have with other people, specifically, you know, a partner, is built around one's ability to love one's self. And once one is really capable of loving oneself, they have I think the ability to be a better - a loving partner because I think it's really hard because if you don't love yourself, then you're like, what is this idiot doing with me? Don't they see how terrible I am?

SANDERS: Like, why are they so nice to me? I'm a trash hole.

KROLL: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And so it's a lifelong struggle. You know, I still can look at myself and be really disappointed or disgusted or turned off. And it's something that I - you know, I'm striving to work through and get better at, you know, because I don't want to live a life where I don't feel good about myself, you know?

SANDERS: What is your biggest life hack right now in helping you overcome those things? Give us tips, man.

KROLL: You'll - you know, it sounds so cheesy but, like, gratitude, like, taking a moment to, like, step back when things feel terrible and crappy and taking a look at some of the nice things that you do have in your life. Just have a slightly kinder lens on yourself. Like, we all have these lenses that we can shift and change focus and not letting yourself off the hook if you're not behaving well because oftentimes when you're not behaving well, it's because you don't like something about yourself. And so you are not returning the phone calls you're supposed to return. You are, you know, sleeping an extra three hours beyond when you were supposed to do. You're not cleaning your car. You're not reaching out to your friends. But so much of that is because of the self-loathing you have for yourself, not because you love yourself so much, you know?

SANDERS: Yeah. Funny enough, I got to go see my therapist in an hour.

KROLL: There you go. Be vulnerable and courageous.

SANDERS: OK. I will. I really will. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: Thanks again to Nick Kroll for that interview. His film, "Olympic Dreams," is out in theaters now and also available on streaming. And, of course, you can watch all of "Big Mouth" on Netflix right now. OK. This episode was produced by Anjuli Sastry and edited by Kitty Eisele. Listeners, we are back in your feeds on Friday. Till then, I'm Sam Sanders. Talk soon.

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