Netflix's 'Big Mouth' On Sex Education: Life Kit Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg are the co-creators of 'Big Mouth,' an animated comedy about a group of tweens stumbling through the mysteries of puberty. Kroll and Goldberg talk with Life Kit parenting hosts about normalizing shame, building empathy, weathering awkward puberty moments and hormone monsters.
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'Big Mouth' Creators On Embracing The Awkwardness Of Puberty

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'Big Mouth' Creators On Embracing The Awkwardness Of Puberty

'Big Mouth' Creators On Embracing The Awkwardness Of Puberty

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ANYA KAMENETZ, HOST:

Hi. I'm Anya Kamenetz.

CORY TURNER, HOST:

I'm Cory Turner. And this is NPR's LIFE KIT. Now, we've done a couple of episodes now on sex education for a new generation.

KAMENETZ: Yeah, we did one for parents of little kids and one for puberty and beyond.

TURNER: Now, when we do these episodes, there's always tape that ends up on the cutting room floor.

KAMENETZ: Yeah, not for any fault of their own but just people we talk to who don't make the cut for some reason.

TURNER: But for our sex-pisodes (ph) - did you hear what I did there, Anya?

KAMENETZ: I'm going to change your name from Cory to Corny.

TURNER: You sound like my kids. You're terrible.

KAMENETZ: (Laughter).

TURNER: Well - so for our sexpisodes, we had to cut something that Anya and I both really loved.

KAMENETZ: Yeah. But we didn't really think it was appropriate, I guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BIG MOUTH")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As video narrator) As puberty begins, hormones are released and the sexual organs begin to change. The uterus is the center of...

TURNER: It's an animated show from Netflix called "Big Mouth." It's about a bunch of tweens stumbling their way through the mysteries of puberty. And they don't shy away from being pretty explicit.

KAMENETZ: Yeah. So maybe don't listen to this with your kids.

JOHN MULANEY: (As Andrew) The uterus? I thought girls had vaginas.

NICK KROLL: (As Nick) I thought that, too. But I guess they don't.

MULANEY: (As Andrew) Maybe vagina is, like, slang.

KROLL: (As Hormone Monster) Did someone say vagina?

MULANEY: (As Andrew) Oh, no, no, no - not now.

KROLL: (As Hormone Monster, laughing) [Expletive], yeah now.

MULANEY: (As Andrew) Go away. You are not real. You're just some hormone monster my brain created.

KROLL: (As Hormone Monster) If I'm not real, then how come I'm sending blood to your sweet penis right now?

MULANEY: (As Andrew) Oh, come on.

KAMENETZ: (Laughter) OK. So "Big Mouth" does something that, really, only a cartoon show could do, which is it takes tweens' internal confusion about sex and the embarrassment of puberty and externalizes it. So every kid, no matter their gender, has their own hormone monster.

TURNER: Yeah. Or when one character, Andrew, gets caught masturbating at a friend's house, he is abducted and taken to Shame Court.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BIG MOUTH")

TURNER: (As Andrew) Where am I?

DAVID THEWLIS: (As Shame Wizard) All rise. Shame Court is now in session, the honorable Shame Wizard presiding.

THEWLIS: (As Andrew) Shame Court?

THEWLIS: (As Shame Wizard) Silence. Thus begins the trial of Andrew Glouberman, who stands accused of being a loathsome little pervert.

KAMENETZ: "Big Mouth" was created by two lifelong friends, Andrew Goldberg and Nick Kroll, and we got to chat with both of them. So Andrew has two kids.

TURNER: And Nick, while he doesn't have any kids, has lots of nieces and nephews.

ANDREW GOLDBERG: Nick, did you ever think you'd be on a parenting podcast?

KROLL: I could only dream. I could only dream.

GOLDBERG: (Laughter).

(LAUGHTER)

KROLL: Andrew I have been friends for 35 years. We met in first grade. And we were best friends, but we had gone through puberty at very different times. Andrew was a very early bloomer. He had, like, facial hair. His parents waxed his upper lip when he was in seventh grade. And I was a very late bloomer. I didn't really grow any, like, pubic hair or anything until, really, high school. And the idea of a show about these two boys who were best friends who were in very different places physically in puberty felt like a very rich territory. And then we built the show from there.

GOLDBERG: I think it's like when we started thinking of stories that it really started to coalesce around puberty.

KROLL: Yes, absolutely. The character of Jessi is based on a friend of ours we were very close with at that age. And when we told her we were doing the show, she was like, do you guys remember how I got my period for the first time on our class trip to the Statue of Liberty? And we were like, we did not know that.

And we really, I think, started to realize that, like, this girl was our very, very close friend. We shared a lot, but we had no idea that that's what happened to her on that day and that so many of the stories of puberty are these secrets that we hold inside of us for our whole lives and that this show was an opportunity and a platform to begin to share those secrets and demystify a lot of those largely shameful, embarrassing elements of our lives at that age.

TURNER: Yeah. I mean, I have to say, guys (laughter) - I've watched a bunch of the show now, and and even the very first episode, I was surprised to find myself feeling like, oh, I wish I could send this back in time to my 12-year-old self...

GOLDBERG: (Laughter).

TURNER: ...Because there's so much stuff in here that was so mortifying and confusing - and I couldn't talk about it with anybody.

GOLDBERG: Right. And when something is a secret and when something's silenced, whether it's intended or not, the implication is that it's shameful. And like - with the Shame Wizard in Season 2, you know, one of our real inspirations there was Brene Brown and her books and her talks and about how the main ingredients of shame is silence. And because puberty can be awkward or uncomfortable to talk about, it's easier not to talk about. And the kind of unspoken implication for kids is that what's happening is gross or wrong or shameful.

KROLL: You know, everyone feels shame. But we might just feel it for different reasons, you know?

KAMENETZ: So what feedback have you gotten from young people and maybe even from parents?

GOLDBERG: A lot. One of my favorite things is when I hear that, you know, parents and kids will watch the show - not necessarily together 'cause they don't want to sit next to each other - but that they'll watch it and then have, you know, real conversations.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GOLDBERG: We spoke to a writer recently who is watching it with her mother, who's in, like, her 60s, and in watching Season 3 and Jay's story about being bisexual, was able to speak with her mother in a more frank way than she ever had about her own sexual fluidity. And we - you know, we get a lot of stories about that - that it's not necessarily teaching people about sex education but that it's bringing up these discussions about sexuality that might have otherwise been unspoken.

TURNER: Yeah, the show's a great icebreaker.

GOLDBERG: Yeah.

KROLL: Truly, that's - that is - that has been a very, very gratifying thing across the board is that we hear about parents and kids watching this show, either together or separately, and then having conversations about those things is, to me, very, very gratifying.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAMENETZ: What have you learned about girls' experiences from the stories that you have learned with your co-creators or that just have come out on the show? How are they different from what you went through and what you knew?

GOLDBERG: Oh, my God - so much, yeah.

KROLL: I mean, last year, we were working on a story about, like, tampons and pads. And one of the women brought in a tampon into the room. And like, we've seen tampons. I've seen tampons, obviously, in packaging, and I've seen them even out of packaging. But I had no real sense of the mechanics of how, like, an applicator, like, works and what's actually happening.

So there's stuff like that. But then there's also just, like, how did they feel when - the first time they got their period? What happened? Who did they talk to? Who did they not talk to? - and that there's not a monolithic experience.

GOLDBERG: Well, like, on a story level, it's super educational, too. Like, I remember when we were breaking that story, really feeling like - well, once she gets the tampon in, isn't that the end of the story? - and the women on our writing staff being like, no...

KAMENETZ: (Laughter).

GOLDBERG: ...That is not the end of the story. She's got to...

KAMENETZ: Nope.

GOLDBERG: ...Take it out and put another one in. Like, that's only - she's only halfway there. And like, really, that kind of change of perspective, where, like, from my point of view, it was like, that's the end - but to women, it was so obvious that that was not the end of the story.

KAMENETZ: There's so much empathy in the way that you're talking about this. Do you think it would be good for boys and girls to have this information about each other and not just about themselves?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, a hundred percent. We even touch on it early in the show about also just the kind of bias about how sex ed is taught, you know, to us where it is so much - for men, it's about sex. It's about erections and ejaculation. And for women, it's about their menstrual cycle is kind - and getting pregnant - and that pleasure and that element of sex is kind of removed for the female side of sex ed in most cases.

KROLL: It's basically like - we talk to girls to be like, protect yourself physically from men and protect yourself emotionally from what's going on. And you're going to get your period and you're going to da-da-da-da (ph). But we sort of don't - boys don't want talk, and so we don't talk to them. We don't talk to them about what they're physically going through, and we don't talk to them about what they're emotionally going through. And it's a real disservice to the boys that we don't push through to be like, what's going on with you? Like, what are you feeling right now? - because it's embarrassing and they don't want to give it up and they don't want to talk about it. And we just think of them as a little masturbation machines.

And to simplify girls to, like, protect your chastity and to simplify the boys to be, like, boys will be boys, it's a disservice to both groups to not try to create a dialogue about all of the spectrum of feelings, emotions and physical reactions that they're having. We're not looking deep enough into both of these groups to understand the panoply of things happening to them.

TURNER: I'm curious if you guys could describe how your parents, each of you, talked about sex with you - or didn't.

GOLDBERG: My - I'll go first, Nick, because mine will be much shorter. (Laughter) My - it was mostly - it was basically, do you have any questions? Nope? OK, good - was kind of the way it was handled in my home.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: What about you, Nick?

KROLL: My family - really, my mom did her best to sort of, like, talk through things. We had books around the house. There were these old, like, '70s, '80s books called, like, "What Is Happening To Me?" (ph), which were kind of like groovy cartoon drawings and, like, also a very clear, like, here's what, like, a boy looks like naked, here's what a teenager looks like naked, here's what a man looks like naked - so on and so forth - and the same for girls.

So my mom was very much like, here's what's happening. You know, puberty's secondary sex characteristics are your eyebrows grow in, your nipples become engorged, you know, you'll grow underarm hair. And I was a very late bloomer, so I was constantly looking around at my friends and looking at Andrew's nipples and being like, Andrew's hitting puberty...

TURNER: (Laughter).

KROLL: ...And knowing...

GOLDBERG: I'm so glad I didn't know at the time.

KROLL: Yeah. Yeah, I played it pretty cool. So - and I gave an interview, and I talked about that. And my mom was like, I'm so sorry that I had that effect on you - that it made you feel not good about yourself. And I was like, it's not your fault at all. You were trying to give me information. What we can't control is how that information is absorbed, you know? Like, we can't control that that made me feel insecure. She was just trying to be like, here's what's happening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAMENETZ: Yeah. I mean, the flip side to that question, I guess, is how has this affected, Andrew, your conversations with your own kids? And Nick, I don't know if you're, like, the designated weird uncle for these conversations, but how has this affected your parenting or your uncle-ing (ph)? 'Cause I think uncles actually are really important and other adults are really important, too.

GOLDBERG: I think I'm, you know, for a couple reasons, much more open with my kids about sexuality and those types of things. My - I mean, one of the other reasons is just my partner. My wife - you know, she grew up the child of hippies. So that's - you know, it fits the worldview that I've grown into to, too, working on this show. I mean, like, my daughter, when she was 6 or 7, you know, explained to me that her deer, Deery (ph), and her fox, Mitzy (ph), these two stuffed animals, were having sexual intercourse, but they're using condoms because they don't want to get pregnant yet.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG: And I was like, well, it sounds like Mitzy and Deery are in a responsible, caring relationship and they're doing the right thing, so good for them. And she's also - it's really, very profoundly affected the way that I talk to my kids about sex.

KROLL: And I think for me, you know, I don't have kids of my own. And - but I think we spend all day, every day talking about all of this stuff, both the physical things happening but also the emotional landscape of it.

KAMENETZ: Yeah.

KROLL: And I think it has made me talk very frankly about this stuff with whoever I'm talking about because I - because we spend so much time talking and thinking about it.

You know, I talk a little bit with my nieces and nephews who are of that age about that stuff. One thing that my sister does, also, is we - I have a niece who's younger. She's got older brothers who are watching the show. She wanted to watch it. My sister was like, you know what? You can watch the show if you write five questions that you want to talk about after you watch it...

TURNER: (Laughter).

KAMENETZ: Wow.

KROLL: ...Which was really interesting to read the questions because they were - because her questions were like, why does Jessi like this boy who doesn't like her back? Or like, why does Jessi feel bad about those clothes? Or like - and it was really - it turned into a very interesting way to kind of - a platform to have bigger conversations.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. And it was much more about the emotions and the relationships in the show than the sex.

KROLL: Yes.

GOLDBERG: ...Were - was she was curious about, yeah.

KROLL: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: The other side of it, I found, is that when people find out what I do, a lot of adults want to share their experiences...

KROLL: Yes.

GOLDBERG: ...In puberty with me, like, no matter how incredibly personal they are.

TURNER: (Laughter).

GOLDBERG: I was at a party, and this a very elderly woman told me this story about how, when she was like 15 or 16, her best friend taught her how to give a blowjob by, like, doing it...

KAMENETZ: Wow.

GOLDBERG: ...In front of her to her boyfriend in this basement. And then my - and my wife walked up in the middle of this story and was kind of like, what are you talking to this woman about? (Laughter). And I was like, I didn't bring it up.

TURNER: (Laughter) I work on the show, but I still have boundaries.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, no, not anymore.

KROLL: Yes.

TURNER: All right, you guys. This has been a lot of fun. Thank you again for giving us so much time and for the show. It's been great.

KAMENETZ: Yeah, thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TURNER: All right. That was Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg, creators of the animated series "Big Mouth."

KAMENETZ: You know, I guess what occurred to me in talking with them, Cory, is that they're really kind of on the same mission that we are - you know, in their own very, very different ways. But you know, the message is so similar. Right? Like, let's start talking. More openness is better. And having empathy for other people's experiences is so important in these transitions.

TURNER: And don't forget to laugh.

KAMENETZ: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: For more NPR LIFE KIT, check out all of our other episodes. There's one about how to start a creative habit. There's one on how to quit smoking and, plus, lots of parenting episodes. You can find them all at npr.org/lifekit. And if you love LIFE KIT and want more, subscribe to our newsletter.

KAMENETZ: And here, as always - a completely random tip, this time from listener Sarah Coughlon (ph).

SARAH COUGHLON: If you're ever worried about accidentally spending your rent money, get a separate checking account just for your rent. And then, to be truly next level, have your work deposit part of your paycheck right into the rent account.

KAMENETZ: If you've got a good tip, leave us a voicemail at (202) 216-9823, or email us at lifekit@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Sylvie Douglis. Our managing producer is Meghan Keane.

TURNER: This episode was edited by Steve Drummond. Beth Donovan is the senior editor. I'm Cory Turner.

KAMENETZ: And I'm Anya Kamenetz. Thanks for listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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