Starting out doing stand up and writing for other sketch shows, Nick Kroll has come a long way; this fall he stars in not one but two shows: FX’s The League, and his own Kroll Show on Comedy Central.
Kroll is coming into his own during a unique time in pop culture, the collective unconscious seems to be getting simultaneously darker (movies mimicking the new Batman Trilogy, popularity of comedians like Louis C.K who favor darker material) but also more vapid (the overwhelming success of reality shows like The Real Housewives, Jersey Shore, all the Kardashian projects).
Nick Kroll seems not only to recognize, but to embrace this unusual trend. His bread and butter are characters who are “confidently unselfaware.” Characters like Fabrice Fabrice, the flamboyant craft services coordinator/slam poet or Bobby Bottleservice, the Italian mama’s boy who speaks from the heart, wants to be a producer, and hunts ghosts.
Everyone has poked fun at popular reality shows from celebrities (Mila Kunis and James Franco in their ‘The Hills’ remake), to Saturday Night Live, to critics.
However Kroll is unique in his satire because he portrays these characters so lovingly. Satire usually hinges on ridicule and irony, making fun of the people it lampoons. But in Kroll Show we see something different; he provides insight without being callous, a hard balance to strike.
In an interview with Kroll he explains, “We strive to make them [sketches] look and feel exactly like one of these shows… For me I like the light and dark- the show is dark but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily mean.” In being dark but not mean, the show parodies the phenomena and culture that creates these characters rather than the characters themselves. A difficult distinction to make, but with sustained viewing, one the show seems to pull off flawlessly.
For example, in a sketch called “Ghost Bouncers” that follows Bobby Bottleservice as he goes to haunted houses, we find ourselves in a home that used to be a brothel where there was a huge fire. As a tour guide (Alison Becker) mentions a painting of a girl who perished in the fire on her first night in the brothel, (never actually participating in prostitution) Bobby Bottleservice exclaims, “Virgin whore. Perfect.” In this line, he eloquently summates the impossibility of the sexual identities women are supposed to fulfill. The joke isn’t on Bobby Bottleservice, “look at this idiot,” the joke is on us for expecting this societal Catch-22. He’s just the outspoken self identified “white Jay-Z” who allows us to see it.
The show opens all the right channels for us to laugh at ourselves while also acknowledging the darker side of reality. In another sketch, “Beats and Rice” we follow a young socially conscious rapper as he signs with a label, has his band replaced with a hot girl singer and an Asian drummer, starts doing cell phone commercials, and when that falls through, eventually he is left with nothing. This sketch teeters more towards sad than funny, but it is this proximity to tonal dissonance that make the successes so triumphant.
Kroll acknowledges the difficult balance the show works to achieve, “Our editors are amazing…a lot of the scenes come together in the edits. We’re always looking for common themes and things that seemingly will feel and play well and contrast one another. So, if you’ve got a super dark male driven piece then it’s good to have sort of a lighter PubLIZity piece.” (Referencing particularly enjoyable recurring characters, event planners Liz & Liz, played by himself and Jenny Slate). The show takes a lot of emotional risks but always catches itself it seems.
Kroll seems to be trying to lovingly point out our own fallacies to us, but because they’re important. In an episode of Speakeasy with Paul F. Tompkins he contends, “What I make fun of in other people is what I try to maintain in myself, which is self-awareness.”