“I’m just never gonna be the guy who rides a motorcycle. If I were, I’d be the guy at the back of the pack who’s like, ‘Oh no, I’m gonna miss the light!'” It’s Nick Kroll, working on another recipe for jokes in the comedy kitchen.
After a wildly successful standup special last fall, “Sunday Morning” found Kroll back on stage at Largo, one of Los Angeles’ hippest nightclubs, trying out new, yet still unrefined, material.
“I am so excited for tonight’s show. We have an insane lineup. You guys, Kanye West is here tonight!”
Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz asked, “Were there a couple things that you know basically worked that will probably, likely, show up in the next special, whenever that is?”
“Yeah,” said Kroll, “at least be the base of operations that will be tentpoles that I’m like, okay, that joke works well enough to put here.“
Forty-four years old, Kroll has had an enviable last decade in show business, with jobs producing, writing, and acting. But his vocation hasn’t changed. He’s a comedian.
“Yeah. it’s like whenever you tell someone, you’re like, ‘I’m a comedian,’ before you’re well-known, or when people are like, ‘I’m dating a comedian,’ or like, ‘I’m a comedian,’ they’re like, ‘Oh! How’s it going?’ And you’re like, ‘Well it’s actually going pretty well!'”
He forged his identity early, growing up just outside New York City, the youngest of four.
Mankiewicz said, “My impression of your family, they wouldn’t be surprised at your career path?”
“No,” Kroll replied. “I was always, like, performing for them. Like I remember being with my family and just reciting Andrew Dice Clay jokes to them when I was like 11.”
Kroll came out to L.A. in 2007. “I lived in the Oakwoods with a bunch of child stars. Not child stars – children aspiring to be stars. Like they had a little deli, and there was all these, like, 150 head shots of brooding seven-year-olds.”
After going on auditions for pilots, he landed a show called “Cavemen,” inspired by the popular Geico commercials. The ABC sitcom failed to evolve, canceled after just seven episodes.
“Beloved commercials, despised show,” Kroll said. “It’s not bad It’s funny … I still stand by it. I’m like, ‘That’s as funny as any other show.'”
Mankiewicz asked, “So, it didn’t feel like failure to you?”
“Well, it didn’t feel like personal failure. It felt like I’m participating in a failure. It’s different.”
Kroll is philosophical about failure: “My dear friend Maya Angelou said, basically, ‘If you don’t pick up the compliments, then you don’t have to pick up the criticisms.’ So, it’s like, how much do you let in? … If you just don’t let other people’s opinions sway you too much?”
Kroll kept working, with a steady diet of supporting roles on TV, such as “Parks and Recreation” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Along the way, he found a strength, writing and playing outlandish characters, from a crass lawyer playing fantasy football with his friends in “The League,” to a tacky, overconfident entrepreneur, Bobby Bottleservice, who eventually became a fixture on Kroll’s self-titled sketch comedy show.
“Kroll Show” ran for three seasons on Comedy Central. “If someone didn’t like it, it wasn’t like they didn’t like Nick Kroll,” he said. “And it gave me a freedom and confidence to say things and do things that were harder for me to do as myself.”
These days, Kroll is putting the final touches on his latest sketch comedy show for Hulu: “History of the World, Part II,” a limited-series sequel to the 1981 Mel Brooks comedy.
It’s the same sketch style with an updated cast, including Wanda Sykes and Ike Berinholtz.
For Kroll, it’s a chance not only to collaborate with his friends and peers, but to work with his comedy hero.
When asked how important Mel Brooks was to a young Nick Kroll, he replied, “It’s Mel Brooks and ‘Saturday Night Live.’ But Mel Brooks’ movies, to me, we owned ‘History of the World’ on VHS. We owned ‘Young Frankenstein,’ ‘Blazing Saddles,’ and ‘The Producers.’ I watched ‘The Producers’ basically every day as I became a teenager for, like, three or four years.”
There’s a school of thought in Hollywood these days that Brooks’ brand of comedy isn’t 2023-friendly, that movies like “Blazing Saddles” couldn’t be made today, in an era when comedians like Kroll have to watch what they say. “But I don’t think it’s limiting,” he said. “I just think it’s like anything else. There’s just challenges that have to be figured out. And the ones who are the best figure out how to continue to shock and surprise, and also be mindful of the time and place that we live. However we can figure out how to keep that connection with an audience where you’re surprising them into laughter is the ultimate goal. The journey is figuring out how to do that.”
To watch a trailer for “History of the World, Part II” click on the video player below:
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Story produced by John Goodwin. Editor: Remington Korper.