Oh, Hello, starring Nick Kroll and John Mulaney as infamous tuna lovers/prankers Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, was one of the biggest hits on Broadway last year. It was a hilarious and perfect send-up of a very specific, very niche kind of New Yorker: Upper West Siders who reference Steely Dan and Alan Alda, constantly kvetch about their careers, and compare themselves to Richard Dreyfuss and Philip Roth. Add in a meta autobiographical play about getting kicked out of their rent-controlled apartment that sends up Broadway traditions and cliches, a central friendship that wavers between tender and abusive, relationships with raccoons, and their famed talk/prank show, "Too Much Tuna," and you end up with one of the funniest shows on Broadway in years.
Even if you didn't get to see it in theaters, you can now stream Oh, Hello On Broadway, on Netflix starting today. We got the chance to speak with Mulaney and Kroll at a roundtable discussion this week about the special, the evolution of the show, the work of Nancy Meyers, the catharsis in screaming onstage, tuna sandwich techniques, and what the future holds for George and Gil.
So we were actually talking a little bit about how we've each seen the show in some way in various forms: seeing it off-Broadway, I saw it when I was traveling to Boston, and then seeing what it's turned into with the version on Netflix. So what decisions went into how it was gonna change at each stage when you're doing it, since it's been awhile?
John Mulaney: Ah, decisions. There were more observations and trial and error. I think one of the biggest things was going from only off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theater, which was what, 200 seats?
Nick Kroll: Yeah.
John Mulaney: Or less. Well, our first tour stop was at San Diego at the Balboa Theatre, which is a thousand seats, and it's San Diego. Now he's taking a photo, so I'm going to act like I'm yelling. [Ed's Note: I was very confused by this at the time, because Mulaney was pointing at me as he said this, but I later realized Kroll had been taking a photo of him. So if you look at the Instagram photo below, that is my arm being fake-scolded.] That was like, “Oh shit.” It had been this intimate New York-specific show, we thought. Then it was in San Diego and it was more kind of like a rock concert feel, except it was Steely Dan.
So that was the biggest thing where we were like, "We can scale this up and up." So when you saw it in Boston at the Wilbur, that's like a thousand seater. And we were like, “This is working on this level and certain things about New York are universal.” People just know what New York is from Seinfeld and Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. In one interview today I said Nancy Meyers, and Nick jumped down my throat.
Nick Kroll: You know, the great New York films, like Woody Allen, Nancy Meyers.
John Mulaney: When I said that, I think all her movies are set in Santa Barbara, but there's a Nancy Meyers-quality to films like The Out-Of-Towners.
Nick Kroll: I don't want to do this in front of all of these—
John Mulaney: Lets do it on NY1.
Nick Kroll: Let's do it on NY1 tomorrow in the morning.
John Mulaney: My biggest thing was that this is scalable upwards. The question of, "Can you go to Broadway?" first is, "Can you validate that many people watching you?"
Nick Kroll: And I even think the story, the play that it started as and it then evolved into, was constantly changing. So as much as we were trying to get the funniest jokes we could, it was also like, what's the story that makes the most sense, or what is the most cogent version of this. That evolved. It was like Groundhog Day, where every day you're just getting your shot at trying to sleep with Andie MacDowell. By the time we shot the special, that was at the end of 138 shows, like the 135th we did on Broadway.
John Mulaney: Plus, maybe another 100 from off-Broadway touring.
Nick Kroll: So we just kept trying to make this story work. There's stuff that we improvised on stage on Broadway over the run. I don't want to ruin this, it's not a spoiler, but Gil does develop an emotional and physical relationship with a raccoon named Lisa.
John Mulaney: That was fully improvised on Broadway from September to January. It just kept getting longer and filthier.
Nick Kroll: And now it's considered one of the greatest love stories ever told on stage.
John Mulaney: Absolutely. It's like the revelation of adultery in Death of a Salesman.
Nick Kroll: What?
John Mulaney: Yeah, Willy Loman.
In the New York Times review of the actual live show, they had a warning that said, "Just so you know, there are lots of bad puns on tuna." I was wondering, in your minds, how you balanced doing the old jokes that people already knew from the sketch, with obviously adapting it to people who might not get that. Was there too much tuna for the audience?
John Mulaney: Never. I think there were two things happening at once. One, Nick and I were saying the same material sometimes every night, and there was one or two jokes that dated back to 2005. So in one sense, we were performing material that we've done before, but like Nick was saying, you kind of get to perfect it. There's a real joy in that repetition that I didn't expect.
But also, Gil and George, if they wrote or said something funny, they would repeat it for the rest of their lives. Each time making it worse, or setting it up with like, "We like to joke," and then say something that's not funny.
Nick Kroll: Like, "There's too much tuna in your tuna-tini, but my mar-tuna needs more tuna..."
John Mulaney: That's 2005. That was a ten year old joke when we premiered off-Broadway. We had to. But then it's like, well, they would. My dad always tells stories of something funny he said, and then he goes, "And everyone was laughing hysterically."
Nick Kroll: But also tuna, weirdly—outside of the puns or wordplay stuff—there's just something about tuna that has this weird universal quality.
John Mulaney: It's like the second chicken, but it's gross. It's so weird, it's popularity. Same with,Oh, Hello. I'll take some gross-ass fish from a can and mix it up with mayonnaise and put it on white bread, and everyone would be like, "I'd like that. I'd like that on most days."
Nick Kroll: I'd like that smell as I carry it around and then on my breath for the rest of the day.
John Mulaney: It's not something that should have worked but it did. It's the tuna sandwich.
I have a coworker who eats tuna and sits next to me. I like have to get up and move away. Over the course of doing this, did you guys grow sick of tuna?
John Mulaney: Only one time I grew sick of it, when I had food poisoning. Matthew Broderick was the guest, and the sandwich came down. It had been under the lights for like 45 minutes, and it hit the table and I was like, "This is not a funny prank."
Nick Kroll: He was literally on the verge of puking.
John Mulaney: And then Nick discovered during the run...
Nick Kroll: I am genuinely allergic to tuna. I had too much tuna and now I have an allergy to it.
I'm interested in how you approached filming it for Netflix. How did you decide that this was the right venue for the show, as opposed to trying to turn it into a movie or something?
John Mulaney: They had the most money.
Nick Kroll: The way we chose Netflix was we thought maybe the most people would end up watching it. We shot two shows, and we shot a bunch during the day as well. A lot of times when you watch plays on TV they feel really flat.
John Mulaney: Most are filmed by Lincoln Center Studios, and they're really flat so you get the whole stage.
Nick Kroll: Which makes sense, but it's different when you're watching something. We did our best to film it in a way that feels both like the play but also a little more cinematic. The stuff growing up that you watched, the teleplays that were shot on stages, that you’d have moments of that, to make it feel more dynamic. The weird thing is it's not a stand-up special, which most people are used to seeing on Netflix. We've done something that's not a stand-up special and yet not a classic play either. It's this hybrid of stuff.
John Mulaney: It's like the Hamilton documentary. I'm kidding but also I'm not kidding.
Nick Kroll: Yeah. What we're trying to say is that we are as good, or more than Hamilton.
John Mulaney: We're more current, we opened more recently.
One of the things that stood out to me, knowing the characters from the Kroll Show skits and everything before that, in those earlier skits you see them as such good friends and you think they hate everyone else but they’re always with each other.
John Mulaney: I didn't like it at first. It was the Largo show in LA where we decided that they would fight. I was like, "Nah, it's them against the world, we shouldn't do this." I remember the first time we ran it, I was like, "I don't like yelling at Gil." And by the end of Broadway I loved yelling at Gil. I would stomp my feet and I started screaming, and being mad so much. But at first I was like, "No no no, it should be them versus the world. They prank other people, they don't get pranked."
Nick Kroll: Every night when George starts reprimanding Gil during the show, breaking the fourth wall or whatever, every night right by the staircase, when you're like, "You think if you OD'ed anybody would give a shit?" Stuff like that.
John Mulaney: "You are God's bottom."
Nick Kroll: Every night it was a different thing.
John Mulaney: "You don't want to blow this, like CBS," I'd say. Then it would get a big groan, George doesn’t realize the audience can hear him and then says, "Do you think if you OD’ed anyone would give a shit?" The white hot meanness was so fun. There was a point where you and I really dialed into the emotional arc of Oh, Hello—and it has one— It’s so fun to do but when you’re doing it 138 times, you’re like, "Tonight I’m just going to be like, 'I’m George and I’m mean.'" Like that character.
Nick Kroll: Or we had Edie Falco or someone in the crowd who was a really super talented actor, and you want that person to be like, "Hey, I know they're joking around, but that guy is a pretty good actor."
John Mulaney: I remember Wolf Blitzer was in the third row one night, and I walked out and went, "Oh my god, Wolf Blitzer is here," and then I was like, "I don't care about Wolf Blitzer."
Nick Kroll: Then I went out in the crowd, where I would say my goodnights at the end of the show, and I went out knowing that Wolf Blitzer was there, thinking, 'My last little bit will be to Wolf.' I literally turn to him in the aisle, and he was not in his seat anymore. I thought he had walked out or something, he was in the bathroom.
So when the decision came to have that conflict with one another, how did you decide who was going to be the instigator? I say that because one of my friends was like, "Can you ask Nick Kroll why he always plays a douchebag?" I was interested in the idea of how it would be that John, who doesn't typically have that reputation, was the one that gets to take on that role.
John Mulaney: George was always a little meaner to people during the prankings, and a little blissfully unaware of how cruel he was and how misogynistic he was. But he does have a daughter, so he's a good guy. He's a good dad, like Louie. That might have been it. I always was a little meaner to guests. This wasn't why, but what became evident was, because I never yell at anyone in real life, I have so much saved up. It was like always there.
Nick Kroll: I think it's a good chance for both of us to exercise different things. Someone at some point described the show to us as, "George is an asshole and Gil is a baby." Underneath all of it. There's a thing where John doesn't get to be an asshole, so playing George is really fun, and I'm sure a release.
John Mulaney: And then when the show is over, I would go to the gym for like hours and get in physical therapy, because I got this thing out of my system every night, where I got to be like, "No, I'm going to fucking kill you, you're fucking dirt compared to me." That type of thing.
Nick Kroll: I like to have fun. But I think Gil is a true child who just gets lead around.
John Mulaney: Nick is very sharp, and Gil gets rat fucked every night.
Nick Kroll: Yeah. And that's fun. So I would argue Gil is not a douche. I wouldn't say he's a douche like the other guys.
Both of your careers have risen so much over the course of the "too much tuna" joke, and I was wondering if there was a point where you got to stop making your own huge tuna sandwiches or if you got good at it.
Nick Kroll: We get pranked with tuna pretty often when we go to delis, and we do like going to delis.
John Mulaney: We were at Canter's Deli together and the waiter put down a tuna sandwich. We went, "We didn't order this," and he said, "Read the note." It said, "You have been pranked." We have some devoted fans, which is very nice. So to look over and be like, "that must have been fun," we're like at a tuna diner sitting there having a serious conversation like two marks.
Nick Kroll: We've been to Russ and Daughters a bunch of times, we are putting ourselves in harms way.
John Mulaney: Often we go to places that have so much tuna fish. We sit there talking and we're like, "What is this? What are you doing to us?"
In terms of the prop, did you ever have to make it yourself, that giant mountain?
John Mulaney: We've definitely made it ourselves, because when we were on tour sometimes we had to.
Nick Kroll: Yeah. It was interesting in different cities, and as other people would make it, you're like, "This is not..."
John Mulaney: That was a harder thing to convey to some people than I thought. Like, no, it needs to be so big that it would be a lot.
Nick Kroll: The key is— and it made a prop service crazy—you just want that bread teetering on the top.
John Mulaney: And you want a piece, a small piece that's a yarmulke piece on top, that's like the heel. And they’d be like, "Don’t you want bread wide enough for the sandwich?" No, you don’t.
Nick Kroll: No, you don't. In the tuna there was panko as a way to keep the shape. John did not know what panko was. People would be like ready to bite it and he's like "no no no!"
John Mulaney: I thought it was an industrial filler. Like powdered sawdust or concrete. I did not know it was breadcrumbs.
Nick Kroll: He thought when our guests were eating the tuna for a while—
John Mulaney: Here's what I actually pictured: I thought it was in the center, so that they could eat around the edge, but I was always like, "Don't get too close to the panko!"
Nick Kroll: We have huge toothpicks to help keep the shape. Like Mo Rocca...
John Mulaney: They were like, "Only thing guys, these toothpicks are in here, so don't ever push down on it or have someone push down on it." And we were like, "Got it." He was one of our early guests and he was out there and he was like, "Can I push on this?" And I went, "Push away, baby." Then I was like, "Oh fuck. The one thing they warned us about." He was like "Ow, shit!" And I was like, "We’re going to be sued. All of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! is going to use us."
Nick Kroll: Yeah. We did get to tell Mo Rocca a joke that we wrote for our first screenplay many years ago.
John Mulaney: Which was a college movie, and the coffee stand on campus was called Mo Rocca's Rocking Mochas.
Does the special feel like it's a culmination or the end point for these characters, or is this just one more stop?
John Mulaney: We were just debating this.
Nick Kroll: I think for them it's just the beginning.
John Mulaney: They would say this is only the beginning.
Nick Kroll: Surely for them it is. They've never achieved this level of success before.
John Mulaney: They've been ketchup packets their whole life and now they finally have something.
Nick Kroll: Now they're a whole bottle.
John Mulaney: Now they're bottle ketchup. And Hunt's. But we want to do something else with them, and we're going to. We were just thinking out loud, "Well, that's about as big as it gets for these two." We're going to keep doing it even if it suffers.
Nick Kroll: They're going to go do The Amazing Race.
John Mulaney: George and Gil are going to do it with Dr. Ben Carson and Gene Simmons as a foursome.
I can definitely see them giving tours of Manhattan, like their own bus tours.
John Mulaney: That's not a bad idea.
Nick Kroll: They're not allowed on buses.
John Mulaney: Not top decks, no.