If you’ve watched SNL with any regularity, you know how difficult it can be for a sketch show to do a recurring character well. For every Stefon and Matt Foley, there are a greater number of Mangos and Gillys, figures that played well one or two times but quickly overstayed their welcome.
What made Kroll Show such a delight these past three seasons was that Nick Kroll and his team knew that they had some amazingly funny characters on their hands, but for the most part didn’t keep sticking them in the same situations over and over again. They evolved these personas by plucking them out of one scenario and plopping them in another.
Larry Bird became the star of a Cheers-like sitcom. Bobby Bottleservice and Peter Paparazzo were injected into a half-dozen different idiotic reality shows and even a pseudo-action film. Ref Jeff went from an obnoxious basketball court presence to convicted felon trying to direct games in The Yard. Even when the writing staff came up with stuff that didn’t really work, you had to applaud their efforts to keep things fresh and not get stuck in a rut.
In honor of Kroll Show concluding its three season run this week, we chose the best of the many recurring characters that Kroll and his team cooked up over their many years working together. If we’re lucky, they haven’t closed the door completely on these brilliant creations and we’ll get a chance to see some of them in even stranger situations in the future.
Having been around the world of movies and TV for as long as Kroll and Slate have, they surely have encountered plenty of PR reps like Liz G. and Liz B. Their performances are so spot on, capturing the vapid attitudes, eardrum torturing voices, and entitled attitudes of a certain sect of women. As fun as it was to watch Liz B. totter through her strange love story with C-Czar and Liz G.’s reality show odyssey looking for her true love, the two characters were never better than when they were together, slurping out of their plastic cups and squeaking through another shoddy publicity campaign.
Of all of the male pals that Kroll welcome aboard his titular TV show, his best foil was Jon Daly. The comic and actor always brought such a weird energy to each of his characters, a feeling that something was just a little bit off with them mentally. That spirit was utilized best when he played Gene Creemers, the Canadian actor and co-star of Wheels, Ontario. His jerky body movements and strange sputtering diction felt like the mirror image of every self-important older dramatic actor found in every part of the Commonwealth.
Farley seemed like a logical extension of Peretti’s character on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. You could absolutely see Gina slapping on some couture clothing, amping up the sass, and tossing around the most strangely infectious catchphrase this side of “By Mennen.” It is was Farley alone that made the show’s many appearances by Bobby Bottleservice and Peter Paparazzo tolerable, and it was Peretti’s bubbly spirit that gave Kroll Show that much-needed spark.
It almost feels like cheating to throw someone as self-parodying as Poison’s Bret Michaels under the proverbial bus. But it’s also a whole heck of a lot of fun. As Nash Rickey, Kroll speaks to all the delusional rockers that populate the Sunset Strip on the regular, all of them assured that they are just two steps away from making it. It almost became sad watching Rickey bend himself over backwards for a longer taste of the limelight, but Kroll always treated the character with a sense of empathy rather than the pure disdain he reserves for others.
Kroll and Mulaney have been putting on the grey wigs and baggy cardigans that mark these characters for a long time now, to the point that they really should’ve outstayed their welcome. Yet, every time the two shuffled onto the scene, their outlandish Jewish accents, love of cocaine, and strange need to torture people with oversized tuna sandwiches continued to delight. You suspected that Kroll and Mulaney loved playing these characters more than any other, as they gave them a chance to play off one another and urge each other to stranger and sillier territory.
Who knows why the writers of Kroll Show were so obsessed with Canadian culture. All that matters is that it allowed them to poke some good-natured fun at our northern neighbor’s teen melodramas and let Kroll play both the star of one such show. Even better was getting to see him act out both sides: the goody-two-shoes student trying to negotiate his teen years in a nearly all-quadriplegic high school and the actor playing that student who treats the world like it owed him everything. A perfect Jekyll and Hyde situation that Kroll never overplayed or overused on the show.
I don’t know Kroll’s working methods well, but after watching his work for three seasons, I suspect that many of his characters get created in the same way that Mike Myers hit upon Austin Powers: hitting upon a silly voice first and then building a persona around it. You can see that most readily with Armond, the perpetually bored sounding rich man on the run after being falsely accused of murder. It made for something perfectly absurd to have someone in such a tense situation treating it as if he watching a really dull film and just couldn’t be bothered.
Another great example of the voice serving a character is in the haughty, vowel mangling tones that Kroll and Daly perfected as they played the spoiled rich dicks with the ridiculous names Aspen and Wendy. As with so many of their deluded creations, these two bring together that nasty combination of entitled and dumb, unable to take care of themselves (witness them freak out when they realize they are out of toilet paper and the maid is away), and willing to waste money on larks like committing physician assisted suicide because it was so hilarious.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.