Everybody has to start somewhere. In Firsties, we talk to some of our favorite pop-culture figures about the many first steps along the way to their current careers.
Though he’s been a working comedian for a while, Nick Kroll’s only garnered mainstream success in the past couple of years, following the launch of his successful and hilarious sketch show, Kroll Show, on Comedy Central. Season two of Kroll Show kicks off Tuesday, January 14, and finds Kroll once again running the insanity and playing characters like Raven-Symoné aficionado Fabrice Fabrice, the eerie faced Dr. Armond, and Mikey, one of the only able-bodied characters on hit Canadian teen-drama Wheels Ontario. This season, Kroll will be joined by a number of celebrity guests, including Zach Galifianakis, Amy Poehler, Katy Perry, and Will Forte. Because everyone’s got to start somewhere, The A.V. Club talked to Kroll about some of his firsts, from the first joke he knew to the first time he sat on the dais at a roast.
The first day filming The Kroll Show
Nick Kroll: The first day shooting the Kroll Show pilot we were doing an Ed Hardy Boyz sketch that eventually didn’t make it to air. Christian Audigier—who was the head of Ed Hardy and who had been in the second Ed Hardy Boyz video online—gave us access to his warehouse to wear all the Ed Hardy crap we could get our hands on. Then, when we went to edit it and get the final rights for using their logo and stuff, he wouldn’t sign it. So, we weren’t able to use that sketch, which I believe was, “The Ed Hardy Boyz And The Case Of The Ugly Guy Who Was Good At Chicks,” or something like that. But Audigier went back on his word. It’s so surprising that the guy behind Von Dutch and Ed Hardy was not trustworthy.
The A.V. Club: Did he think you were negatively representing his esteemed brand?
NK: No, I think they had sold the company, or something like that. But Audigier looks like a Grand Theft Auto villain. I mean, he was in the second video with Tom Sizemore, and he’d seen the first one. He knew what we were doing. I just think he sold the company and was shockingly not trustworthy.
The first time he performed his Bobby Bottleservice character
NK: Bobby came from me talking to girls—friends of mine who had to deal with getting hit on by guys like Bobby. He was originally that. The first time I realized I wanted to call him Bobby Bottleservice was when I was in Vegas. I was like, “Oh! His name is Bobby Bottleservice.” I think he’s just like—I don’t remember her full name—Jane who lived with the gorillas in the mist and learned how to communicate.
AVC: Jane Goodall.
NK: Yeah, Jane Goodall. She had to live among the gorillas in the forest to understand those she was studying. So being in Vegas gave me the epiphany that he loved bottle service.
The first video of him I made, I actually made on my computer in Skype. I used the computer camera and I just cut it together myself.
The first joke he remembers telling onstage
NK: The first time I tried to do stand-up was my freshman year of college. It was a contest that Mike Birbiglia actually won for the funniest act on campus. I was going to stand onstage and say, “God, I thought I was going to be so nervous, but I’m actually totally relaxed.” Then I was going to pee my pants, but I was going to use a water balloon. I forgot to bring the water balloon, so I had a sandwich bag full of water and a pen and I kept trying to jam the pen in the bag of water, but it just looked like I was furiously masturbating onstage.
AVC: Did it work? Did the water ever come out?
NK: It did not work, and it did not get laughs. But then I started talking about what I was trying to do, and that got a chuckle. But the first joke I remember writing was about how my girlfriend and my mom are wearing the same perfume and it’s bugging me out.
AVC: Why did you decide to get into stand-up as a freshman?
NK: I was doing skits at camp, and my friend Andrew and I would do Wayne’s World. We would literally quote Wayne’s World at talent shows.
I did like one or two plays in high school, but I don’t think I realized I wanted to do comedy until I got to college and I started doing improv and saw the Upright Citizens Brigade perform and did workshops with them.
The first time he saw the Upright Citizens Brigade
NK: The first time I saw them, there was a big comedy festival at GW and we went and did a sketch. Of course we thought it was genius, but it was just fine. Then I saw them do Asssscat . I had never seen long-form improv before and it blew my mind. I think if you ask a lot of improvisers, sketch people, about the first time they saw long-form improv—and specifically UCB—and it’s a real defining moment. It was like, “That’s what I want.” Whatever that was looked super interesting to me.
First TV appearance
AVC: According to your Wikipedia page—which I’m sure is accurate—your first TV appearance was as “man in audience” at a UCB show in 1988. Is that true?
NK: Yeah. Someone put up a screen grab online of it.
I had seen UCB that spring, and then that summer my friend Owen Burke—who works at Gary Sanchez Productions with Will Ferrell—had been to Georgetown before me and took classes at UCB and introduced me to all the guys—Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel and [Jon] Daly and [Andrew] Delman—who became sort of my entree into UCB. He brought me to a taping, because they needed an audience. If you look in that audience, there’s Rob Corddry and Paul Scheer too. If you look around that crowd you’ll see a ton of people who are all super active in the comedy world now.
The first time he met frequent collaborator Jon Daly
NK: I saw Jon perform a bunch before I knew him. One of the first times I saw him do Sappity Tappity the drunk, English pine tree, and it really made me laugh. We were friendly in New York, but it was when we moved to L.A. and would go on hikes and started doing stuff together that I started to work with him more. You know, “Rich Dicks,” and stuff like that.
AVC: How did you meet John Mulaney?
NK: John Mulaney also went to Georgetown. He was a freshman when I was a senior and I cast him in the improv group. By the end of my senior year, I was getting ready to go to New York, and you know how when you’re a senior, you’re the director of the improv group, and you’re like, “All right, I’m the big man on campus.” But by the end of the year after having worked with John, I was like, “Aw, fuck, I’m not funny.” And I left that year being like, “That dude’s the funniest dude I’ve ever met.” Now, however many years later, I’ve met or worked with just about everybody, and still, still think he’s the funniest dude I’ve ever met.
AVC: How did you guys come up with the Oh, Hello Show?
NK: We were doing the Oh, Hello guys in New York. We hosted a live show at Rififi as those guys, then we made some videos as them. But it was really something that everyone was like, “oh, well that will work in New York, but that will never work on a larger scale.” And then I put them in my special, Thank You Very Cool, which I did a few years ago.
I was in the writers room on season one [of Kroll Show] and I was like, “John and I do this think where we have a talk show called Too Much Tuna where we’re interviewing someone, and we get served our plate of food and we’re like, ‘This is too much tuna.’” And everybody thought it was hilarious. I was kind of surprised; I wasn’t even really pitching it, but everybody sort of took to it. I told John and we were like, “Oh, all right. I assume this thing is funny.” Then we sort of evolved it into a prank show and just continued to evolve it from there.
The first thing he did that made his family laugh
NK: When I was a kid I would do Andrew Dice Clay jokes for my siblings. Like we’d be on vacation and I’d just recite Andrew Dice Clay jokes. They seemed to think that was pretty funny. Then it evolved into Wayne’s World.
AVC: Was Wayne’s World your first favorite movie?
NK: Yeah, Wayne’s World definitely was a big, big movie for me. It’s still funny. Go back and watch it. It really holds up.
The first original character he ever did
NK: I was doing this Argentine stand-up character that eventually evolved into Chupacabra, but Fabrice was kind of the first original character that I started doing and really performing out and about with regularity.
AVC: How did Fabrice Fabrice come about?
NK: The first time I really did him, it was the first time I was coming to L.A. to perform. UCB in L.A. had just opened up and Aziz [Ansari] and Paul Scheer were doing Trapped In The Closet. I don’t know if you ever saw those shows, but they moderated and had all these people that quote-unquote “worked on the movie.” I had this idea that I wanted to do this Latino kind of Christopher Street guy, so Aziz and I went shopping at Target in L.A. that day, and I found the pink moon boots and multiple sunglasses and just sort of put it together. Then we were walking around talking about his name and I think we saw some Febreeze, and then it became Fabrice. I was like, “Oh, it’d be funny if it was Fabrice Fabrice.” So, that’s how he formed.
First favorite comedian
NK: Like a lot of guys around my age, Eddie Murphy Delirious was the first thing that I remember quoting regularly. I watched a ton of Mel Brooks as a kid, so like Blazing Saddles and The Producers and History Of The World, Part One. I watched a lot of that. The first movie we owned as a family was Top Secret, the Val Kilmer, Elvis WWII parody movie. That was the first movie we owned on VHS. It was a big deal.
AVC: Is your family funny?
NK: I think so. I’m the youngest of four, and I have a brother and two sisters and my parents. They all have a good sense of humor, I think. I definitely, definitely benefitted from them. My brother specifically would do stuff like show me Hot Dog… The Movie when I was 5. I watched Ghostbusters a lot and all those, but the Mel Brooks stuff was really pretty seminal.
First big break
NK: I remember the first time I did Invite Them Up, Eugene Mirman and Bobby Tisdale’s show at Rififi. It was a big deal to perform on that show, and I kind of bombed and slunk away for a year before I came back to do it.
I guess my first big break was getting the hit show Cavemen on ABC. People made fun of it, but it was a huge opportunity for me and moved me out to L.A., where I learned a ton about acting and how much I didn’t want to be in makeup for four hours a day.
AVC: What was all that makeup like?
NK: We did a well over 90-hour week. My face literally fell off after the makeup. I have very crazy skin, and gluing five pounds of silicone to my face turned out not to be great for it. We had to test for the show in the makeup, so everyone would know what we would look like. Then it evolved various times over the years.
Cavemen was obviously a big opportunity. I learned a lot about how to act and about the politics of being on a set everyday. Like, who do you have to listen to and who you don’t have to listen to. I had to eat only circular foods that I could put in my mouth, like little egg rolls or rolled up turkey slices. That was really the only stuff I could fit into my mouth with the makeup on.
AVC: When that show got canceled, were you heartbroken?
NK: It was not heartbreak. It was like a relationship where you’re like, “Well, I got laid a bunch, but I can’t say I’m unhappy we’re breaking up.” It happened right at the writers’ strike, so it was kind of good, because it went away, but everybody didn’t have a job after that.
Still, I was very grateful for the opportunity and the experience, and I do believe that if you go back and watch that show, it’s not bad. It’s no better or worse than any network show that isn’t great.
NK: The first date I went on was a double date. We went to Baskin Robbins twice. We went to Baskin Robbins then we went to the historical society in my town, which was not cool, and then we went back to Baskin Robbins. Mint chocolate chip is the best flavor at Baskin Robbins, there’s no question about that, but they had run out of mint chocolate chip, and all they had was fat-free mint chocolate chip. So, I had fat-free mint chocolate chip twice. Both times it was disappointing.
AVC: How old were you?
NK: We were like in sixth or seventh grade, so we really had no idea what we were doing. I wasn’t even close to puberty, so there were no hand jobs in my future.
AVC: A 12-year-old eating fat-free ice cream seems so sad.
NK: Yeah. I didn’t even have a license to drive, let alone a car.
First day on The League
NK: The first day on The League was a scene where Steve Rannazzisi and I were arguing. I’m a defense attorney and he’s a prosecutor. I was defending a client and he’s trying to get a trade done, so we end up basically making this client’s sentence based off a fantasy football trade.
I remember Steve Rannazzisi and I improvising with this line about how “You can break the law, but you have to be small about it. Like, I stole a Kit Kat today, I didn’t tell anyone about it. But it’s small, you know?” And then they kept that in the show. That kind of stuff, that was really like, “Oh, they’re going to keep the fun little weird things that I add.”
The first time he sat on the dais at a televised roast
AVC: Was last year’s James Franco roast your first roast?
NK: My first televised roast. I had done one or two roasts of friends at UCB, or something like that. I’ve been to a roast or two. I was at the roast of Charlie Sheen, just as a spectator, and the roast of Joan Rivers. But the roast of Franco felt like an opportunity to be with a bunch of people I knew, which was cool. It’s like when you watch the old roasts and you see all these people who kind of know each other. It was always fun to watch those, like the Dean Martin roasts.
AVC: It seemed weird that there were people on the panel who, like you, didn’t know Franco.
NK: Yeah. The only person I didn’t really know was Franco. I knew everybody else up there. I had a weird phone conversation with James beforehand, because I talked to Seth [Rogen] and I was like, “I don’t know the guy, I feel kind of weird.” So Seth was like, “I’ll put you guys in touch.” I was like, “Hey, do you want to get a coffee or something? So the first time I’m going meet you isn’t on the dais?” And he’s like, “Well, I’m in Montreal, so let’s get on the phone.” I get on the phone with him and he was real quiet. After a minute or two, he just said, “I don’t know why I asked to get on the phone with you. I don’t know what I want to talk to you about.” I was like, “Did they approach you or did you approach them?” He said, “They approached me. I’ve never watched a roast.” I was like, “Really?” And he’s like, “Yeah. What are they like?” I’m like, “Oh my God.” But then when we were doing it, in the middle of it I was asked how he was doing and he said he was great. He said, “I didn’t know you guys would be making fun of each other. I thought it was all just going to be everybody making fun of me the whole time, so I’m relieved.” So he’s really a glass half-full guy. But I thought he was a great sport.
AVC: Did not knowing him beforehand make you apprehensive?
NK: A little bit. But he’s such an adventurous spirit. He’s taken so much more heat than the jokes we were going to make about him from people he doesn’t know or random strangers, so I felt like he would have a pretty good sense of humor about himself. Especially after seeing This Is The End, all those guys came pretty hard at each other in that movie, so I felt like they’d all be anxious to do it again.