Nick Kroll on Pushing Characters to Their Limits and the End of ‘Kroll Show’

Last month, Nick Kroll revealed in an interview with Vulture that he’s decided to end his hit Comedy Central series Kroll Show after its upcoming third season. Since premiering in 2013, Kroll Show has consistently proven itself to be one of Comedy Central’s top sketch shows, standing alongside the likes of Key and Peele and Inside Amy Schumer with a solid supporting cast including Jon Daly, Jenny Slate, Chelsea Peretti, John Mulaney, and more. Ahead of tomorrow night’s season premiere, I recently talked with Kroll about why he decided to end Kroll Show, how his series has evolved, and what we can expect from the final season and beyond.

Can you hear me okay? I have my speakerphone on.

Yes. I am also on Bluetooth in my car, so it’s a two-way street, Megh.

Oh no. I hope this is a safe interview.

I’m unfortunately given so many interviews while driving around, so if I crash during this one, just know that it was because I was so into the discussion we were having.

Congratulations on all the success you’ve had with Kroll Show. How does it feel now that you’ve announced that the show is ending?

Well, it feels both amazing to decide when to end it, and also very weird to make that choice. Normally it’s a very privileged position to be in because a show gets canceled or in the case of a huge, crazy crazy hit where there’s so much money at stake that it becomes impossible to walk away from it. Luckily being on basic cable it was not a worry that that was going to happen. But also what I’m really grateful for is how we did the whole show – Comedy Central and Kent Alterman, who runs it day to day, really left it up to us to make the decisions, so I’m very grateful for one, for how they let us make our show, but also how they let us decide to be done with it.

What made you reach that decision?

We didn’t know it was going to be the last season going into it or really while we were making it. It was only until after we finished shooting that I talked first with John Levenstein, who is the executive producer/showrunner, and we had a long conversation about creatively where we were with it. What we tend to do is write about two-thirds of the show then start shooting, and then write the last third as we’re shooting based on locations, actor availability, storylines, and characters we’re having fun writing for. And as we were structuring the season we were just continuing to write these characters’ stories, and when we finished, we looked at the stories we had told and both of us felt like there really wasn’t much more that had been left undone. And it was at that point that I decided to end the show.

So we didn’t go into it being like “This is the final season” – it just genuinely, organically happened. John and I weren’t really talking about it while we were shooting, but we were both writing stories and collaborating and we were pitching and gravitating towards stories that just wrapped things up without ever saying to one another “This is the end of the show, right?” It’s not until we finished that I talked to him about it and was like “How do you feel about this? I feel kind of done” and he was like “There’s not a lot left with the characters we created that doesn’t feel tied up,” you know?

So the storylines you had set up made it an easy decision?

Yeah. We had these characters who we kept building stories and shows around and we built new characters based on those stories, and our goal with the show was to never repeat ourselves and sort of push the characters and shows and stories as far as we could without, for lack of a better term, ruining the integrity of the characters, which I know sounds kind of cheesy. But if you look at, for example, where Dr. Armond begins on season 1 as Pretty Liz’s animal plastic surgeon to then getting his own reality show to then sitting off that reality show two or three times to go on trial for the murder of his wife last season to what happens this season on the show, we’ve pushed Armond to his limits… [laughs] …both in the reality of that character and the story. The same goes for Bobby Bottleservice or PubLIZity or how far the Rich Dicks have come; it just felt like we pushed them to their natural conclusion.

I interviewed John Levenstein about “Niece Denise” a while back, and he said he really loves the element of surprise that happens between writing a sketch and watching it come to life through the performers, costumes, and makeup. Do you feel any element of surprise with Kroll Show as a whole? Did you have a specific vision that maybe transformed over the course of making the episodes?

Oh yeah I think so, definitely. If you look at season 1 we had characters that we knew we were going to come back to and play with but we also had one-off sketches, it moved a lot faster, and it was kind of more chock-full. And in season 2 we started to let those characters and storylines breathe a little bit, and by the end of season 2 we were also simultaneously starting to have those worlds converge. And season 3 is even more of that – worlds and shows colliding and collapsing into one another. The last episode of season 2, which John really pitched the whole structure for, is about C-Czar’s Dad Academy and they go to the Rich Dicks’ house and meet Niece Denise and C-Czar brings her back and reunites with Liz and all that stuff – we continued along that track, not on every episode, but we continued on that track of Oh, we can do longform narrative storytelling even within an episode playing with all of these different characters in their own worlds still telling one continuous story. And I think that letting Jenny or John Mulaney or Jon Daly or Chelsea or Seth Rogen or myself or whoever we have playing the actual parts in the scene, letting them dictate it by what they would bring to it and also what our writers in the writers’ room and ourselves can bring to it – it’s important just not to map it out so richly, because there’s always room for discovery at every stage, and I think one thing I credit John with a lot is allowing those discoveries to happen and then trying to support them.

Jonathan Krisel directed the first two seasons – did he direct the last one?

No he’s not directing this season. One of the most exciting things this season – of course, it’s not exciting that Jonathan’s not there – but this season, for a good amount of our various departments it was their first time in a more senior position. So Jonathan left to go make Simon Rich’s show and Zach Galifianakis’s show and Portlandia; he just had too many things to do and very gracefully told us he had too many obligations. So we ended up hiring our editors Bill Benz and Dan Longino to direct the show after they’d approached us when we were trying to figure out who we were gonna have direct it.

There’s really three pieces of writing the show – there’s the actual writing period, then there’s on set and improvising, and then really there’s the edit, which is like a whole other layer of writing. And those guys were really so funny and responsible for so much of the look and feel of the show and the pacing of it and how to structure it because our show really is a puzzle – you shoot it all and then you start to put it together. So they directed season 3, and they just did an amazing job. They were so well qualified because they knew the show better than everyone – they knew the characters, they knew what the look and feel of each genre was, and they just did an awesome job.

That’s awesome. Kroll Show and Portlandia are both shows where the editing is definitely its own character.

It’s such an important part of the show, so I felt like, who better to take the reins from Krisel – who, if you look at his track record and resume there’s just about nobody else in his league right now – but if there was anyone who was going to take over for him, these guys were the guys that he’d been working with on editing, they’d been editing Portlandia, and the editing on our show is so integral that they were a great fit. I mean look, Scorsese started as an editor, you know? And these guys are the Scorseses of season 3 of Kroll Show.

So are your Kroll Show characters officially retired, or are you open to playing them in the future?

I have no idea. It’s not like I’m packing up Gil Faizon’s gross yellowed wig and shitty leather jacket and setting it out on a boat lit into flames – that would probably be a health code violation. I genuinely don’t know. It’s sort of like how the show was – you just try to let what organically wants to happen happen, you know?

Is there a new project you have in mind next, or are you taking a break after Kroll Show?

I probably won’t take too much of a break because I’ll go crazy. I have my movie coming out in the spring, Adult Beginners, that I wrote the idea for and produced, and it stars me and Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale. That’s already done but I’ll obviously go promote that. And I am starting to have some ideas for things, but I really wanted to end the show where I felt like we were doing our best work and also have a year where I know exactly what’s going to happen and just let that happen and try to be open to that – which means I’m going to open a yoga studio and sell fireworks out of the back of it.

Well thanks for your time, and congrats again on Kroll Show. I’m glad our interview didn’t make you get into a car accident.

Yeah me too. We’ll see – the ride is still going.

Kroll Show’s third and final season premieres on Comedy Central tomorrow at 10:30pm.

Nick Kroll on Pushing Characters to Their Limits and […]