Broadway on the small screen is generally limited to a Billy Crystal one-man show on HBO or those videos your high school English teacher would put on when they just couldn’t deal anymore. And it makes sense – the theatrical experience is hard to capture, and long-running shows are wary of cutting into ticket profits. But for a limited-run show, particularly one starring comedians with a fanbase that extends far beyond the typical New York theater crowd, a wide release makes perfect sense. In May, Chris Gethard brought his off-Broadway show Career Suicide to HBO, and today one of the biggest draws of the past Broadway season, Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s Oh, Hello, comes to Netflix. Yesterday, I joined a roundtable discussion with the stars to talk about the evolution of the show, what’s next for Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, and, of course, tuna.
Journalist 1: We were talking about how we’ve each seen the show in various forms, either seeing it off-Broadway, I saw it when it was traveling in Boston, and then seeing what it’s turned into and the version on Netflix. What decisions went into how it was going to change at each stage that you’ve done it?
John Mulaney: There were more observations and trial and error. One of the biggest things was going from only off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre, which was what? 200 seats?
Nick Kroll: Yeah.
Mulaney: Or less. Our first tour stop was in San Diego at the Balboa Theater, which is 1,000 seats and it’s San Diego. That was like, “Oh shit.” It had been this intimate New York, we thought, sometimes New York-specific show, and then it was in San Diego and it was more kind of like a rock concert feel. Except it was Steely Dan. And so that was the biggest thing where we were like, “We can scale this up and up and up.” So when you saw it in Boston at the Wilbur, that’s like a 1,000 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.
Kroll: You know, if you know the great New York films like Woody Allen, Nancy Meyers.
Mulaney: When I said that, I think all her movies are filmed in Santa Barbara, but there’s like a Nancy Meyers quality to films like The Out-of-Towners.
Kroll: I don’t want to do this in front of all of these…
Mulaney: Let’s do it on NY1.
Kroll: Let’s do it on NY1 tomorrow.
Mulaney: My biggest thing was, this is scalable upwards, and that to me was the biggest thing. The question of, “Can you go to Broadway?” first is, “Can you validate that many people watching you?”
Kroll: The play that it started as and then evolved into was constantly changing. As much as we were trying to get the funniest jokes we could, it was also, “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 getting a shot at trying to sleep with Andie McDowell. By the time we shot the special, that was at the end of 138 shows, like the 135th we’d done on Broadway.
Mulaney: Plus, maybe another 100 from off-Broadway touring.
Kroll: We just kept trying to make the story work, and there’s stuff 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.
Mulaney: That was fully improvised on Broadway, from like September to January. It kept getting longer and filthier.
Kroll: Now it’s considered one of the greatest love stories ever told on stage.
Mulaney: Absolutely. It’s like the revelation of adultery in Death of a Salesman.
Mulaney: Yeah, Willy Loman.
Journalist 2: 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 know anything about there being all these tuna jokes. Was there too much tuna for the audience?
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 were one or two jokes that dated back to like 2005, so in one sense, we were performing material that we had done before, but like Nick was saying, you kind of get to perfect it and 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…”
Kroll: That “There’s too much tuna in your tuna-tini, but my mar-tuna needs more tuna…”
Mulaney: That’s 2005. That’s a 10-year-old joke when we premiered off-Broadway. But 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.”
Kroll: But also tuna weirdly outside of the puns or wordplay stuff. There’s just something about tuna that has this weird universal quality.
Mulaney: It’s like the second chicken, but it’s, like, gross. It’s so weird, its popularity. Same with Oh, Hello. That like, 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.”
Kroll: I’d like that smell as I carry it around and then on my breath for the rest of the day.
Mulaney: It’s not something that should have worked, but it did, this tuna sandwich.
Journalist 3: Over the course of doing this, did you you guys grow sick of tuna?
Mulaney: Only one time. I grew sick of it when I had food poisoning. Matthew Broderick was the guest and the sandwich came down and it had been under the lights for 45 minutes and it hit the table and I was like, “This is not a funny prank.”
Kroll: He was literally on the verge of puking.
Mulaney: And then Nick discovered during the run…
Kroll: Yeah, I am genuinely allergic to tuna. I had too much tuna and now I have an allergy to it.
Splitsider: 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 turning it into a movie or something?
Mulaney: They had the most money.
Kroll: And I think the reason we chose Netflix was it’s where we thought 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 time when you watch plays on TV they feel really flat.
Mulaney: Most are filmed by Lincoln Center Studios and they’re really flat so you get the whole stage.
Kroll: Right, which makes sense, but it’s just different when you’re watching something. So 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 standup special. Most people are used to seeing on Netflix a standup special and we’ve done something that’s not a standup special and yet not a classic play either. It’s this hybrid of stuff.
Mulaney: It’s like the Hamilton documentary. I’m kidding but I’m also not kidding.
Kroll: What we’re trying to say is we are as good or more than Hamilton.
Mulaney: We’re more current. We opened more recently.
Journalist 4: One of the things that stood out to me, knowing the characters from the Kroll Show skits and everything before, 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.
Mulaney: I had a big problem with that. I didn’t like it at first. There was Largo when we decided they would fight. It was a Largo show in LA and I was like, “Nah, nah, it’s them against the world. We shouldn’t do this.” And I remember the first time we ran it I was like, “I don’t like yelling at Gil.” By the end of Broadway, I loved yelling at Gil. And I would stomp my feet and I loved screaming and being mad so much. At first I was like, “It should be them against the world. They prank other people. They don’t get pranked.”
Kroll: Every night when George starts reprimanding Gil for the show breaking the fourth wall, every night right by the staircase, when you’re like, “You think if you OD’ed anyone would give a shit?” Stuff like that.
Mulaney: You are God’s bottom.
Kroll: Every night it was a different thing.
Mulaney: “You don’t want to blow this like CBS,” I’d say. And then it would get a big groan and George doesn’t realize the audience can hear him and then says, “Do you think if you OD’ed anyone would give a shit?’ That white hot meanness was so fun. There was a point where you and I really dialed into the arc, the emotional arc of Oh, Hello—and it has one—of being like, at a certain point, 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.’”
Kroll: Or when we had Edie Falco or someone in the crowd who is a really super talented actor, you want that person to be like, “I know they’re joking around, but that guy’s a pretty good actor.”
Mulaney: I remember Wolf Blitzer was in the third row one night and I walked out and was like “Oh my God, Wolf Blitzer’s here.” And then I was like, “I don’t care about Wolf Blitzer.”
Kroll: And then I went out into the crowd – I would say my goodnights at the end of the show – and went out knowing Wolf Blitzer was there, and I was like, “My last little bit will be to Wolf.” And I turned in the aisle and he was not in his seat anymore. I thought he had walked out or something, and he was in the bathroom.
Journalist 1: So when the decision came to have that conflict with one another, how did you decide who was going to be the instigator of it? And I say that because one of my friends was like, “Can you ask Nick Kroll why he always plays a douche bag?” I was interested in the idea of then how did it then be that John, who doesn’t typically have that reputation, is the one to take on that role?
Mulaney: Because 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. So that might have been it. I always was a little meaner to guests. But what became evident was because I never yell at anyone in real life I have so much saved up. So it was always there.
Kroll: I think it’s a 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 was really fun and I’m sure a release.
Mulaney: Such a release. And then when the show was over, I would go to the gym for hours and get in physical therapy because I got this thing out of my system every night.
Kroll: For me, you know, I like to have fun, but Gil is a true child who likes to be led around.
Mulaney: Nick is very sharp and Gil gets rat fucked every night.
Kroll: 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.
Mulaney: I think what he’s saying is that we switched, where I got to be the asshole.
Journalist 2: 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.
Kroll: We get pranked with tuna pretty often when we go to delis, and we do like going to delis.
Mulaney: We were at Canter’s Deli together and the waiter put down a tuna sandwich and we said “No, we didn’t order this,” and he went, “Read the note.” And it said “You’ve been pranked.” We have some devoted fans, which is very nice. And so to look over and be like, “Well that must have been fun that we’re, like, at a tuna diner sitting there having a serious conversation like two marks.”
Kroll: We’ve been to Russ & Daughters a bunch of times. We are putting ourselves in harm’s way.
Mulaney: We go to places that have so much tuna fish and we sit there talking and we’re like, “What is this? What are you doing to us?”
Journalist 2: But in terms of the prop, did you ever have to make it yourself? That giant mountain?
Mulaney: We’ve definitely made it ourselves, because when we were on tour sometimes we had to.
Kroll: It was interesting in different cities as other people would make it, you’re like, “This is not…”
Mulaney: That was a harder thing to convey to people than I thought. It needs to be so big that it would be a lot.
Kroll: And it made a props person crazy because you want that bread, like, teetering on the top.
Mulaney: And you want a small piece, like a yarmulke piece on top, like the heel. And they’d be like, “Don’t you want bread wide enough for the sandwich?” No, you don’t.
Kroll: In the tuna, there was panko, as a way to keep the shape, and John did not know what panko was. People would be ready to bite and he’d be like, “Don’t don’t don’t don’t.”
Mulaney: I thought it was an industrial filler. Powdered sawdust or concrete. I did not know it was breadcrumbs.
Kroll: He thought when our guests were eating the tuna for a while….
Mulaney: Here’s what I actually pictured, that it was in the center, so they could eat around the edge, but I was always like, “Don’t get too close to the panko!”
Kroll: And we had huge toothpicks to help keep the shape, and Mo Rocca…
Mulaney: They were like, “Only thing, guys, is 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.” And 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!” And 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.”
Kroll: We did get to tell Mo Rocca a joke that we wrote for our first screenplay many years ago.
Mulaney: It was a college movie and the coffee stand on campus was called Mo Rocca’s Rocking Mochas.
Journalist 3: Does the special feel like a culmination or the end point for these characters? Or is this just one more stop?
Mulaney: We were just debating that.
Kroll: I think for them it’s just the beginning.
Mulaney: They would say this is only the beginning.
Kroll: Truly for them it is. They’ve never achieved this level of success before.
Mulaney: They’ve been ketchup packets their whole lives and now they finally have something.
Kroll: Now they’re a whole bottle.
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.
Kroll: They’re going to go do The Amazing Race.
Mulaney: George and Gil are going to do it with Dr. Ben Carson and Gene Simmons. It’s a foursome.
Journalist 3: I could definitely see them giving tours of Manhattan, like their own bus tours.
Mulaney: That’s not a bad idea.
Kroll: They’re not allowed on busses.
Mulaney: Not top decks, no.