Nick Kroll has said that he pitched his first one-hour special to Comedy Central as his "one-man Muppet Show." But he gets a lot of help from his friends in Thank You Very Cool, which aired Saturday night on the network. And speaking of Saturday night, what's remarkable about Kroll's comedy is just how much he is an Saturday Night Live kind of star without being on SNL.
Kroll doesn't even tell jokes onstage as himself until after the first commercial break.
Before then, we get introduced through taped pieces not only to each of Nick Kroll's characters, three of whom — Fabrice Fabrice, Bobby Bottleservice and El Chupacabra — are as popular as any recurring character on SNL, except Kroll has honed and refined his alter-egos live on smaller club stages and online through Funny or Die and podcasts. We also get to meet Gil Faizon (Kroll) and George St. Geegland (John Mulaney, who writes for SNL), the duo's "Oh, Hello" caricature of Upper West Siders who in this special, play the Muppet version of Statler and Waldorf.
The opening scenes also feature fellow comedian Chelsea Peretti in the green room, and Lake Bell getting the TSA treatment outside from bouncer Bobby Bottleservice. Mindy Kaling (The Office) gets surprised later when she finds Bottleservice working in the women's restroom.
Bobby B. also gets to be the first performer shown onstage in front of the crowd at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, where the special was filmed in November. Very Cool, indeed. In giving the announcements to the audience, Bottleservice spouts off such wisdom as "Safety first! But also, be dangerous." He lays down the ground rules and reveals more than a bit about "himself." For one thing, his DJ name — DJ Oriental Immigrant — isn't racist. For another, although he has gone online and made his case to join the Jersey Shore cast, he's not about the GTL. For him, it's VJR. "Vodka. Jesus. Revenge."
As for Kroll's stand-up as himself, it's not breaking new ground, exactly, to describe the woes of visiting the DMV, comedians going on job interviews, or the differences between dogs and cats.
But his ability to act out the premises, either as himself or in character, overcomes the banality of the premise, when you see him twirling his body around as a kitty cat, or watch him figuring out how to pack for a trip to Jamaica while he's extremely drunk. Even when he's just being himself, he manages to get away with a Michael Jackson joke by imagining having to explain the late singer to his future child.
Roll the clip:
Remember, though, that Kroll is trying to pull off something that's more than just stand-up and actually lives up to the special part of the comedy special. As he told The AV Club in a recent interview:
"I feel like we have so many different ways to express ourselves now, and I relish, I feel very lucky to be doing comedy at this time. It‚Äôs a real democratic time for comedy, and I think my special is a sign for that. You don‚Äôt have to just be a classic stand-up to get a special, or you don‚Äôt just have to be on Saturday Night Live to do characters and sketch on TV. The web has allowed me to show that there are different ways to make people laugh, and the special is a combination of those things. For me, the goal wasn‚Äôt to turn the stand-up special on its head, but to do what I do specifically, and hopefully that reads as something new."
So we get just as much time away from the stage as we do with Kroll as himself telling jokes.
Brandon Johnson (last seen by many as the DJ for Aziz Ansari's alter-ego, Raaaaaandy) has to put up with the "Oh, Hello" guys when they make a break for the bar and prepare their own custom cocktail, the Martuna. Yes. Tuna. Notice how Kroll remains committed to the bit.
We also get to see El Chupacabra — a Mexican radio DJ who pops up in podcasts (relive my encounter with Kroll as El Chupacabra interviewed for WTF with Marc Maron) — realize his full potential in his own scenes. Hello, baby! Dumb baby. Oh. When you see a website address flash on the screen, if you do visit www.911punto9.com, you'll head to an El Chupacabra site with plenty of videos from this special.
Fabrice Fabrice also gets to saunter away from the crafts services table and onto the stage. Kroll has brought Fabrice Fabrice out in public before (see last year's John Oliver New York Stand-Up Show, for example), but here, he let hims improvise slam poetry based on audience suggestions. In an unaired bit, which will show up later on the extended DVD version of the special, Fabrice Fabrice also took questions from the audience.
While Fabrice Fabrice is onstage, the camera cuts back to Kroll, shown backstage muttering, "This is eating time out of my special."
More like chewing up the scenery. Which when Kroll does it, is very cool thank you.