A decade before Oh, Hello became a Broadway show that could fill a rehearsal space with TV crews awaiting their press conference in character as Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, Nick Kroll and John Mulaney were just two young Georgetown grads fooling around as Gil and George in the old East Village indie room, Rififi.
“We did not wear wigs that first time at Rififi,” Mulaney told me today. “We had glasses. I have a couple of photos from it.”
“Gil still has his shirt coming through his fly,” Kroll said. “It’s shockingly similar.”
They share a laugh about that.
Mulaney: “And yet we feel we’ve stepped it up to the Broadway level. It’s not not those guys.”
They developed the characters of Gil and George after happening upon a pair of elderly men at Strand Book Store who appeared to be “attached to the hip” roommates, each clutching his own hardcover copy of Alan Alda’s 2005 memoir to purchase.
Kroll: “Inherently, who those guys are, are still – the essence of who they are is there – but I think we’ve continued to build their backstory. Who they are. Where they’re from. And I think honestly, the added idea of the theater element to the show, it became very clear once we decided to write a play that it was like, oh, right, Gil and George are theater guys. They’re writers. They’re actors. They love New York theater. And that really opened up the show, I think, to make it something that was worthwhile, versus just us in Rififi.”
Here they were discussing the backstory of Gil and George last week on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon:
What did taking the show on tour this past year teach you?
Mulaney: “This version of the show we were doing at Cherry Lane, which was an awesome, beautiful theater, but a small house. And then we started going from San Diego to D.C. to Chicago…”
Kroll: “Boston, San Francisco.”
Mulaney: “Boston, San Francisco, Montreal. And we were playing to 1,000-seaters. We just went, ‘Oh! Yeah.’ These guys work on a larger scale because they’re so grandiose. They so feel they’re entitled to be in front of lots of people, that the show works better, the bigger the house is, the better the production.”
Kroll: “And also, knowing what jokes work in New York, and then taking it on the road and seeing what still translated about the specificity of New York, but in a national space. Because, obviously, coming back to Broadway, you’re going to have hopefully a lot of New Yorkers coming, but also, theoretically some out-of-towners coming. That they could still get and enjoy the show because the jokes are hopefully specific but also still universal.”
How many people do you think recognized Gil and George from Kroll Show?
Mulaney: “A lot. Too Much Tuna caught on a lot from that.”
Kroll: “You know, that was the crazy thing. When we used to do the show in New York, we couldn’t get into the Aspen (HBO) Comedy Festival. They told us it was too New York.”
Mulaney: “Too old.”
Kroll: “And too old. By the way, to go to Aspen, where it’s a bunch of Jewish cowboys from New York. But what we found in doing Kroll Show was, on Halloween, I would get hundreds of people sending pictures of themselves dressed up as Gil and George – including like 15-year-old girls from Phoenix, who have no business understanding.”
Mulaney: “They don’t know Upper West Side but they know tuna salad, and they know Gils and Georges.”
Kroll: “That’s the thing. Gils and Georges are all over the country. Old, white, liberal men who are actually sort of racist are all over this great nation.”
Mulaney: “As we can all see.”