Nick Kroll is a man of many faces. For his first hour-long stand-up special, “Thank You Very Cool,” premiering Saturday at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central, Kroll created what he calls a “one-man ‘Muppet Show,'” a stand-up set mixed with taped skits and a loose narrative arc. In the course of the show, he also plays four of his most popular characters, who he’s developed on the web and on stage.
There’s Bobby Bottleservice, an Ed Hardy devotee with a spray tan and spiked hair; and Fabrice Fabrice (“The name so nice, you have to say it … again”) a flamboyant, multiple sunglasses-wearing craft services coordinator. Hosting the show is El Chupacabra, Kroll’s over-the-top Mexican radio personality. Then there’s “The Oh Hello Show” starring best friends Gil Faizon (Kroll) and George St. Geegland (“Saturday Night Live” writer John Mulaney), two middle-aged Upper West Side divorcees who just love cocaine.
Already a regular on two cable shows (he stars as Ruxin on”The League” on FX, and plays Stu on “The Life and Times of Tim” on HBO), Kroll’s built his career on the web, where he produces his own shorts and appears regularly on several comedy podcasts. That’s in addition to his scene-stealing bit parts in films like “Get Him To The Greek” and “Date Night.”
We caught up with the 32-year-old Georgetown University alum by phone while he was at Sundance earlier this week supporting girlfriend Lake Bell’s debut short film, “Worst Enemy.” “I’m just arm candy,” Kroll says. “It’s both nice and bizarre.”
It’s impressive how seamlessly you integrate your characters using skits and stand-up in “Thank You Very Cool.” Why use that format?
I have spent so much time developing these characters, both live and in film, and it seemed like a waste of an opportunity to not integrate them. I wanted to create a real representation of what I do and what I think is funny and that involves both [skits and stand-up]. I think everybody’s goal in this was to try to do something that hadn’t been done before, or at least since the ’80s, like a Billy Crystal special.
Without the web videos, do you think you would have been able to develop these characters the way you have?
I think we live in an amazing time to do comedy because there are so many different venues to get your comedy out there and build characters. Instead of just performing live in clubs, or making short films and showing them at festivals, I get to perform live constantly in all types of venues, and then also make web videos and develop characters that way.
The special seems to lay the groundwork for a sketch show. Have you thought about taking these characters into a half-hour TV format?
It’s something I’m interested in; we’ll see what happens. I know it sounds really cheesy, but I really do find a specific joy in all these different formats. I like the idea of telling a full story, and [with the special] you’re seeing a number of different voices and perspectives covering one night. And in showing all these different perspectives, you’re really showing my voice.
Your characters are all very over-the-top and boisterous. Do you sense a common thread between them?
For a long time, I found characters almost easier to do than stand-up because you find a wardrobe, you put the outfit together, you start to figure out how they speak and then simultaneously you’re trying to figure out what their viewpoint on the world is. And for a while, it was easier to know what Bobby thought about family, or Fabrice thought about celebrities, than [figuring out what I thought]. I find people who lack self-awareness really funny because I find myself ultra self-aware. [With] these characters, that’s what they share.
When you’re doing your own stand-up, is that closer to who you actually are?
I think that is who I am. Some stand-up [comedians], when they’re doing stand-up they’re doing a character. It’s partly because I have all these other characters to play that, when I’m up on stage, you’re seeing me as opposed to a character version of me.
“Jersey Shore” seemed like quite the gift for you, in terms of Bobby Bottleservice. He’s really taken on a life of his own since then: He has a Twitter feed and he’s hosting an event at the Palms in Las Vegas on Jan. 27. [Ed. Note: Kroll will be appearing at the event in character, as Bottleservice.]
He is legit hosting a Vegas nightclub. It is crazy to me that he’s doing that. I can’t explain it. I mean, the character’s name is Bobby Bottleservice, who’s now hosting a Vegas event based around bottle service culture. It’s amazing.
Did the character change after “Jersey Shore?”
When “Jersey Shore” came out, my first reaction was: “This is so annoying.” I was doing this character; now everyone’s going to think [the show] inspired this character. So for a couple of days I was pretty pissed. Then I was like, “No, this is a great opportunity. I have a jump start on this point of view and there will only be more interest in him because of the growth of [“Jersey Shore."] Plus, every week is like further character study.
I’m very grateful for “Jersey Shore,” but I actually think Bobby transcends “Jersey Shore” because whether or not there’s a show on about dudes from the Jersey shore, there are always going to be guys who are aspirational, uncouth in how they brag about things, who treat women badly but also love their mothers. It’s the type of dude that’s been around forever. But at the same time, you also get to hear Ronnie say stuff like, “It’s no hair off my back.” And I’m like, “Great, thank you.” That kind of stuff is very useful. Reading the Situation’s do’s and dont’s in Glamour magazine, I’m like, “Thanks. You just wrote Bobby Bottleservice’s do’s and don’t’s for Maxim.”
Georgetown University isn’t exactly known for comedy, but Nick Kroll is part of a small group of alumni who’ve recently had success in stand-up. When Kroll was a freshman, senior Mike Birbiglia (for whom Kroll recently opened on tour) cast Kroll in his first sketch show. As a senior, Kroll would cast freshman and future “Saturday Night Live” writer John Mulaney in an improv group. “I think the beauty of being at Georgetown as opposed to going to NYU or another very artsy school [was] we were the only game in town,” Kroll says. “Part of being a comedian is just getting up on stage as many times as you can and being at a school where performance wasn’t expected gave us more time to hone our craft.”
Photos by Brad Barkett