I’ll admit, it took me a while to warm up to the Oh, Hello act. Gil Faizon (charmed, he’s sure) and George St. Geegland — the co-dependent geriatric testaments to failed creative ambition played by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, respectively — initially struck me as having too much of a high barrier to entry, speaking as a person who isn’t super familiar with Upper West Side types. When I first saw them in a series of Kroll Show sketches several years ago, the act felt like an inside joke several layers too deep. It was funny for whatever broad jokes there were, but they were ultimately driven by characters that were made for someone else.
In hindsight, I can’t remember when I crossed over to the other side. Nowadays, what once felt like a joke in a foreign language has grown into a gag that was tailored specifically for the back of my brain. Some of this can probably be blamed on the simple math of ubiquity, as Faizon and St. Geegland drifted out of Comedy Bang! Bang! and The Kroll Show and into appearances on late-night shows, and then leveling up, exposure wise, into a stunning Broadway show that also became a Netflix special, titled Oh, Hello on Broadway.
Writing about that Netflix special, The Atlantic’s David Sims hit the nail on the head when he articulated the unlikeliness of the act’s continued progression through form and scale. “For both Mulaney and Kroll, Oh, Hello felt at best like a niche hit, two characters they could trot out on a podcast or a UCB stage, but nothing bigger than that,” Sims wrote, marveling at the ways the act proceeds to expand its dominion ever further while still maintaining its charms of specificity. In many ways, Oh, Hello still preserves its underlying feel of being an inside joke. It’s just that what constitutes the notion of the “insider” has grown larger and larger with each new iteration.
Today, of course, you can find Faizon and St. Geegland on a new podcast, called, well, Oh, Hello: The P’dcast. It comes with an appropriately daffy premise that sees the Upper West Side duo trying to make a show about the death of Princess Diana. (A nod, of course, to the scores of pods out there investigating this or that tragedy.) That we’re seeing the act take up residence in a podcast isn’t particularly surprising these days, given the limited creative production environment with most people being largely stuck indoors. What has been surprising, however, is the sheer effectiveness of the duo’s transition to podcasting, which has resulted in a show that’s a near-perfect piece of quarantine listening.
Much of this has to do with the fundamental pleasures of the core Oh, Hello experience, which you get in buckets off each episode: mis-emphasized pronunciations, delusions of grandeur, liberal orientations cut with egregiously outdated views, dense rapid-fire joke delivery, nearly infinite personal biographies, and so on. As performed by Kroll and Mulaney, two wildly talented comedians, Faizon and St. Geegland are memorably strange characters who never stop never stopping. One is sweet though slightly childlike, the other scheming and probably sociopathic; both are amusingly tragic.
But what makes the podcast feel particularly special is the underlying complexity of its construction. Produced by Lina Misitzis — current This American Life staffer and a frequent audio collaborator with Jon Ronson (The Butterfly Effect, The Last Days of August) — the show builds off several interlocking systems that come together to create an impressive whole.
On one level, you have the aforementioned Faizon and St. Geegland character work, tuna and all. On another, you have the overarching “Princess Diana investigation” premise, which provides a rough sense of context so it never feels too free-floating. Finally, you have the conceit of the actual episode-by-episode format, in which each entry serves as homage to a different podcast (think along the lines of Documentary Now!).
And boy, it’s a treat. The first few episodes are essentially nods (parodies?) to This American Life, Serial, and S-Town … though, can you call them nods when they feature the active participation of Ira Glass and Sarah Koenig themselves? A later episode takes the style of WTF With Marc Maron, featuring a suitably Maron-esque interview with Saturday Night Live featured player and Mulaney buddy Pete Davidson. A more recent episode picks up the form of The Daily, where we’re given “highlights” from a “classic, unaired news segment from 2018.” It comes complete with a “Here’s What You Need to Know Today” segment.
All three components gel together incredibly well, adding up to a machine that’s not only able to dispense jokes with stunning efficiency, but one that’s able to shapeshift when needed to tackle any number of targets and contexts. That structural fluidity is enthralling, and one gets the sense that, if the creators so chose, they’ve built a vehicle that can run however they want for a very long time.
None of this will be surprising to those who enjoyed Oh, Hello on Broadway. In addition to being a wildly entertaining comedy performance in general, that stage show was a simultaneous study, homage, and deconstruction of some theatergoing experiences, full of one-sided phone conversations, world-view embodying characters, the evocation of a googly-eyed Pillowman, and an abrupt closing line. Playing with the tropes of the medium cultivates a sense of communion with an audience that has strong feelings about those tropes. This is how the inside joke gets bigger.
On the whole, Oh, Hello: The P’dcast on its own is generally less impressive than the stage show, at least at this point in its run. Some of this is just a matter of length, as the latter’s runtime of slightly under two hours allows for a bigger contiguous story, a longer runway for joke momentum, and more complex constructions of interweaving narrative threads. Not for nothing, the Broadway show was also a finished product, one that benefited from the polish and refinement that comes with multiple executions over time.
But the podcast is a delight, one that’s helped by the fact that it’s coming out at a time when we’re really in need of something that can take the edge off the world. As of this writing, Gil and George’s p’dcast has even more episodes to look forward to. Now that I’m on the inside of their increasingly expansive inside joke, there’s simply nothing better than that.