Nick Kroll’s ‘Big Mouth’ Is The Sex Talk Everyone Needs To Have
The comedy star spills on his wild new Netflix cartoon.
Puberty is a monster in the new Netflix animated series Big Mouth.
Created by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, the show centres on pre-teens going through puberty, which appears to them in the form of a Hormone Monster (voiced by Kroll) only they can see. It’s like a rude, hilarious sex-ed textbook come to life, and it’s essential viewing.
The show’s humour comes from its awareness of the horrors of puberty, but it provides relief to anyone still traumatised by puberty (basically, all of us). It’s surprisingly sweet with a strong focus on friendship, and the voice cast — including Kroll, John Mulaney, Maya Rudolph, Jordan Peele, Fred Armisen and Jenny Slate — is phenomenal.
Kroll has had a huge list of projects behind him before Big Mouth too. He’s definitely one those ‘that guy from that thing’ actors.
Maybe you know him from his Comedy Central sketch series The Kroll Show, where he played a bunch of crazy characters, including Liz G (big Liz), the star of the reality show ‘pubLIZity’. Maybe you know him as Rodney Ruxin on The League, a show about six friends competing in a fantasy football competition that will do anything to win. He’s also one of the co-creators of Oh, Hello On Broadway, starring Gil Faizon (Kroll) and George St. Geegland (Mulaney) — a hilarious deconstruction of Broadway theatre productions which hit Netflix this year as a comedy special.
Kroll’s career break came on the television series, Cavemen, one of the craziest shows to air on mainstream US television where cavemen live side-by-side with humans. The show got savaged by critics and only seven of the 13 episodes filmed made it air. It’s one of the most WTF television shows ever made which, incredibly, Kroll has managed to bounce back from successfully.
We spoke to Kroll about making puberty funny in Big Mouth, the future of Gil and George and the infamy of Cavemen.
Junkee: Big Mouth is cathartic in the way it works with the knowledge of the brutality of puberty. Did you and the writing team exorcise a few puberty demons from your teenage years making the show?
Nick Kroll: It was an experience for me of looking at my life now as a 39-year-old man, and seeing how many of the choices I make, and the feelings I’m having [now], and how much they’re connected to what I was going through or feeling at that age.
Puberty is such a formative time in every single person’s life that it felt like an area that was ripe to be examined. And trying to find some fun and joy in something that most people look at and remember as incredibly awkward and embarrassing and difficult.
How much of it is based on personal stories?
The show is based on Andrew Goldberg and I as friends from childhood. Andrew ended up as a writer on Family Guy and we came back together decades later to examine our childhood.
Andrew did slow dance with a girl once at a dance and cum in his pants, which happens in the first episode of our show. In the second episode, the character Jessi [voiced by Jessi Klein] got her period for the first time on a class trip to the Statue of Liberty, which actually happened to a friend of ours whose Jessi’s character is loosely based on.
We had a friend who used to fuck his pillow, which we attributed to one of our characters. And then the writers came in with their own stories, and the interview process for our writers’ room was people talking about the first time they masturbated or the first time they got their period. There’s no end to stories that are very specific to [the writers] but are also universal to the experience of going through puberty, which is something that we really wanted to mine and let people know that they’re not alone.
It’s one of the worst, scariest parts of that time in life. You feel like you’re alone and the only one going through it, but in reality we’re all going through it and dealing with it.
The show feels like the ‘sex talk’ everyone needs or needed when they were younger. A lot of people are going to finish watching this show being thankful it exists.
It is the sex talk we all should have had! We obviously want to make this as funny as possible but also to give a platform and a language to personify things we’re going through. I know [the show] is very dirty but I do think that teens might actually have a lot of these things demystified that are scary and tricky to figure out at that age.
Like bodily changes, everything in the show is perfectly normal, but people may react to the dirtier aspects and say the show is ‘crazy’. Do you have any theories as to why parts of puberty have become taboo?
With kids it’s tricky because you have to be really careful how we talk to them about sex and how they talk about it. But the truth is that it’s everywhere, and kids have more access to content, both good and bad, about puberty and sex. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have so people try to have the shortest version of it possible, but it’s like, so important! On so many levels.
“In the end, it’s healthy and useful to have those conversations.”
An animated show like ours is a format silly enough for people to laugh about it and talk about it. And I don’t know how different it is in Australia. I assume you guys are not that different [to the US] in the grand scheme of things in this regard.
My siblings have kids and I have lots of friends with kids who are approaching their teens and those conversations can be tricky, but I feel like in the end it’s healthy and useful to have those conversations with your kids. Look, we’ve made a very dirty show but we’ve been very careful about how we talk about this stuff and what we do choose to show, and we have tried to be on the right side things while doing it.
Which animated shows inspired you to go down this path?
Like most people our age we grew up watching The Simpsons. I remember watching The Critic when I was a kid a remember it being really meta and funny and interesting. Obviously, Beavis and Butthead and South Park. I mean, South Park was the first time you had truly naughty, bad kids and bad words in a cartoon format, and that was something that I hadn’t really experienced [at the time].
There’s a lot of great stuff out there at the moment too. We had long conversations with the guys who make Bob’s Burgers about how they do their show because we use improvisation in Big Mouth and we wanted to know how they did it. Rick and Morty is another one which is so crazy, surreal and smart now.
Oh Hello On Broadway hit Netflix year and was brilliant. Are we going to see Gil and George again soon?
Remember how Johnny Depp got in trouble for bringing his dogs to Australia? Gil is now posing as a comfort dog. So if people want to take their dogs to Australia, he can be a substitute on a leash. And George is currently not finishing his novel. Gil and George are ready to do the next show.
They keep saying they are going to fax us pages but they don’t have a fax machine. Hopefully we’ll figure out how to get in a room with them but you haven’t heard the last of Gil and George.
You’re a master of impressions and doing voices and characters. How did you decide which characters to voice on Big Mouth?
We wrote a joke for Joe Walsh to be on the show, which sounds bananas because everyone is clamouring for a Joe Walsh from the Eagles reference. And the joke came from the fact that he has a funny voice so we agreed that I could probably do his voice. The same decision-making applied to the rest.
I do the Statue of Liberty, Sylvester Stallone, I play the Hormone Monster and Coach Steve. But it’s the big three every comedy person aspires to voice: Joe Walsh, The Statue of Liberty and Sylvester Stallone.
You were on the TV show Cavemen, which is one of the craziest short-lived concept TV shows ever made, which you said is “the most important experience of my professional career”. Do you still feel that way?
It was my first TV show. It was my first real acting job in anything but stuff I had made or in a commercial that alone I am incredibly grateful for. It definitely kept me grounded because of how deeply it did not work. It’s great to have jobs and sometimes those jobs are not gonna pan out or people are not going to like the work.
I actually don’t think the show was that bad or worse than any show that premiered around the same time, it just became the show that everyone decided to hate which, you know, not for unreasonable reasons… But I learned so much. I don’t regret it.
People point to it a lot as a show that has to be seen to be believed. It’s a relic of concept TV.
I am yet to meet those people but am happy to hear it. You take different jobs over the years for different reasons, some of them are for the joy of doing it, some of them are for money, some of them are to learn something, and hopefully they all serve you in some way. In a perfect world they all serve you together. If they don’t, you sort of find a way to get something useful out of the gig.
Big Mouth is available now on Netflix.
Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.