Big Mouth's Nick Kroll Talks Netflix, Sex Ed, and Growing Up in Westchester
We got to chat with the Rye native ahead of his visit to New York Comic Con and the release of Season 2 on Netflix.
Photos courtesy of Netflix
There aren’t many people who can say that they thoroughly enjoyed their time in puberty. Fewer still that they somehow parlayed those awkward adolescent experiences into a lucrative animated series on Netflix, but, surprisingly, that’s precisely what comedian Nick Kroll and childhood friend Andrew Goldberg did.
Big Mouth follows fictionalized versions of Kroll and Goldberg, Nick Birch and Andrew Glouberman, growing up in Westchester along with friends Jessi (Jessi Glaser) and Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) as they cope with the physiological and sociological fallout from growing adult parts, all the while haunted by their own desires, questions, and occasional personifications of raging hormones (Maurice and Connie, the Hormone Monsters; obviously). It’s as funny and poignant as you’d expect from writers of Chappelle’s Show, Family Guy, and Kroll’s own Kroll Show.
Big Mouth’s second season just premiered on Netflix (literally today, Friday, October 5 at midnight PST/3 a.m. Eastern), which means fans will have just enough time to binge it all before Kroll, Goldberg, and co. take to the Javits Center later today at New York Comic Con for a panel discussing all things Big Mouth. Being a local boy, however, Kroll was kind enough to chat with us before the big event.
You and co-creator Andrew Goldberg met while attending the Solomon Schecter School of Westchester in White Plains, and you attended Rye County Day School. Having grown up in Westchester, is there anywhere local you hit while you’re in the area?
We actually went to our elementary school and walked around; went to the Rosedale Deli; walked where Bob Hyland’s Sports Page used to be — I guess it’s Lombardo’s Pizza — and then walked back to Andrew’s place. Then both of us went to our respective parents’ house; I went to Rye and Andrew White Plains.
So far we’ve seen shout-outs to Westchester in dialogue, the use of White Plains’ Francesco’s as a setting, and a whole plot about lying to your parents to sneak into the City for a day only to get lost. Can you give us any hints for other Westchester Easter eggs or locations to watch for in Season 2?
In the first episode of Season 2 the boys are playing a basketball game for their school and they’re playing a team from Rye. The only lack of truth was that the basketball team from Rye was good, so we took some artistic liberty there. There are definitely a few Easter eggs for sure.
Season 1 was equal parts raunchy and painfully on-the-nose in terms of accurately depicting puberty, and early reviews are painting Season 2 as an even more pointed discussion of personal identity and sexual/romantic relationships. Can you tell us a little about that tonal shift?
I think our goal was to continue doing what we enjoyed about Season 1 and just continue to tell different stories of puberty and sexuality, and then continue to broaden the world and fill it in. In Season 1 we really focused on people having Hormone Monsters. Season 2 we’ve added a new character, the Shame Wizard, voiced by David Thewlis. Shame goes along with having all these new desires and feelings, as associated with puberty.
We’ve also continued big, hard, crazy jokes. There’s another new character voiced by Gina Rodriguez, Gina, who is a girl who seemingly overnight grows boobs and how that affects the boys, but also the girls and how they feel about themselves. It’s such an interesting part of puberty that you can begin the year the same height as someone and by the end of the year someone’s six inches taller, or their voice has changed or are growing hair on their face or elsewhere or they have boobs or get their period. These are all such monumental shifts and it just felt like we really had a lot more stories to tell.
Have movements like #MeToo and the outing of predatory public figures affected the way Big Mouth talks about sex?
We really wrote and voiced the bulk of Season 2 before the #MeToo movement took hold, just because of the amount of time it takes to voice a show. We were able to go back and look at the stuff we had written and see how it held up and responded to what’s happened in our culture in the last year, and we felt pretty good about what we said and how we were saying it.
I think it’s Episode 207, called “Guytown,” where the boys go to help Jesse’s dad Greg move into a new apartment in Guy Bilzerian’s complex of all dudes, and it’s really an episode that ends up being about different versions of masculinity and the trickiness of toxic masculinity, which we had written before all this. Through the lens of what’s gone on in the last year, we sort of brought that more into focus.
The Season 1 writers’ room was evenly split between men and women. Was that a conscious effort or more a natural outgrowth of the comedians and writers you work with?
You know, both. I think I’m just trying to find the smartest and funniest people to work with, and that is often equal: men and women. We also were and are conscious that we’re trying to tell all different stories about puberty and sexuality and that means having different voices represented. Not just for the object of it, but to get the most honest viewpoint and realistic experiences to draw from to tell the stories.
What do you remember from sex ed classes here in Westchester?
I remember very little from sex ed classes at that time in life. There was some film I remember watching with Andrew called Am I Normal? And I believe it was like a video of — and it sounds really creepy now, looking back — some guy working at a school showing kids animals having sex.
There was a book my parents had at our house called What’s Happening to Me?, which was a somewhat humorous but straight-forward book about our changing bodies and literally what was happening to us. That’s kind of what I remember best.
Our show is an extension of that kind of stuff, a kind of frank, honest, discussion about what’s happening and not really trying to sugarcoat it too much.
Big Mouth received a primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics — for Andrew (the character)’s Freddie-Mercury-infused “Totally Gay.” Can we expect this season to continue his character’s arc of exploring queer identity?
Kids, as they hit puberty, are starting to figure out who and what they like, and Andrew dealt with that a bit in Season 1, but as you watch Season 2 you’ll see different versions of that. I think what Andrew’s dealing with more in Season 2 is not about his sexual preference, but the shame he feels for what his desires are. Andrew’s trying to figure out if he can be horny and still be a good guy. But there will definitely be other stories of kids and people figuring out what their preferences and identities are.
We’re going to channel James Lipton here: What is your favorite sex ed anatomy term?
… I mean I do like the word “fallopian tube.” We talked about it in I think the first episode of Season 1, Maurice just says “…Fallopian….” I just think it’s a great word. And an incredibly important part of human anatomy!
… Umm, I think “testicle”? It’s not a pleasant word. And even beyond that, “scrotum.” Neither of those are very appetizing words.
Lastly, if heaven exists, when you get to the pearly gates who do you want God to tell you found your browser history?
…I don’t know.
I hope if and when I get to heaven I find out, like, that there is no browser history, there is no Internet, there is no social media, that that was all a simulation.
Catch Big Mouth Season 2, now streaming on Netflix.