Nick Kroll

Describe your comedy in a single sentence or less.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t have a terribly strong point of view as a comedian. It’s sort of… whatever. It’s a catch-as-catch-can of stories and character moments and observations that I think are funny at the time.

nick-kroll

 

Describe the moment that you first knew you had earned the right to call yourself a comic.

The first set I did on Jimmy Kimmel’s show. I’d done a lot of standup and improv shows leading up to that, but when you are finally on TV, it feels very familiar. You know what I mean? Growing up, I watched other people do this on TV, and that’s what it looked like to be a comedian. So doing the same thing, it was like, “Oh, okay. I guess I’m actually a comedian now.”

How often do you refresh your act?

If I’m on the road, doing an hour, those jokes have been accumulated over a period of time, and some of them will stick around or fall out as they become less interesting to me. But when I’m doing sets around town, I’m usually trying out new stuff and building an act. The life span of a joke really varies. In general my rule of thumb is, if I’ve done it on an album or a special, it’s time to put that joke to bed.

Who are your comedy idols?

I grew up watching Mel Brooks movies. Mel Brooks was very important to me. Less as a stand-up, but I also listened a lot to the 2000 Year Old Man as a kid. I guess I listened to the same comedy albums that all the guys my age were listening to. Like Eddie Murphy’s Delirious. In my circle of friends, if you didn’t know that album by heart, there was something wrong with you. I watched Carlin at Carnegie a bunch of times. And there was a Robin Williams special that I was really into. I forget the name. I think it was Live at the Met? When I was a kid, those specific hours stood out as somehow significant.

What’s your favorite bit by another comic?

There are so many jokes by some of my friends that I think are just beautiful and funny and I’m amazed that they were even able to come up with them. One of my favorites is a bit John Mulaney does about his father taking his family to a McDonalds drive-through, and all he does is order black coffee. It just makes me laugh.

What’s the smallest audience you’ve performed for?

When I was doing open mic stuff in New York, back in the beginning, it wasn’t unusual to do a set with three or four people. But even at the time, I was like, “It’s not the size of the audience that matters. I’m a comedian and I’m going to take this opportunity to exist in the moment and enjoy it and have fun.” You can have an amazing set with an audience of four or an audience of 400. And you can have a miserable time with both.

What’s the largest crowd you’ve performed for?

About four years ago I did a benefit at the Nokia Theatre that Will Ferrell put together, part of a charity he does in LA. There were probably 8000 people there. That was the biggest crowd I’d ever played for, and it was really kinda staggering. When an audience is that big, there’s a delay in the laughter. You know what I mean? It takes a few seconds before the sound of laughter gets to the stage. It’s a bit disconcerting.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you on stage?

Well, on one of those nights when there were three people in the audience, I asked Bill Murray to watch me do stand-up. I was performing at this place in New York called B3, and a waitress told me that Murray was in the restaurant part of the club. So I walked up to him, totally interrupted him having a drink with his son or whatever, and asked if he’d watch me perform. Now, I’d only been doing stand-up for like six months at this point. There was no reason he should’ve said yes, but he showed up. As I was onstage, I watched him walk into the audience and sit down. And I just froze. I totally bombed. I saw him after my set and thanked him for coming, and he nodded his head politely, didn’t even make eye contact, and went on with his evening.

Describe the worst heckling you’ve received and how you dealt with it.

A lot of hecklers don’t mean to heckle. They disrupt the show because they want to be a part of it. But very rarely do I deal with people who are trying to work against me. I don’t really mind it, because when you’re performing live, you want people to feel like they’re watching something that’s happening on that particular night to that particular audience. I don’t necessarily want to encourage this, but when someone does disrupt me or tries to get involved, it brings some nice spontaneity to a show. You’re able to be funny with something that’s very specific to that time and place. And that’s great. But then you want them to shut up so you can get back into the rhythm of your act.

What do you think of audience members who yell out requests?

I just let them get it out of their system. I’m like, “Everybody, let’s all scream things that we want and think that we like. Let it all out. Let the poison out.” I let them have that moment. And then they tend to settle down. If that doesn’t work, there’s the thing that I learned from Aziz (Ansari), who I think learned it from Louis (C.K.). Or maybe I’ve mixed that up, I don’t remember the exact origin. Once you finish your set, you come out for an encore and it’s all about answering questions or taking requests. Because some people really want to hear certain jokes. They want to hear it live like they heard it on an album or a special or a TV show. But I don’t want to be presumptuous. Some crowds want something they’ve never heard before. So I leave it up to them.

Describe the worst dressing room you’ve ever used. Where was it?

I didn’t deal with too many of those. When I was first coming up, doing shows in New York, you didn’t really have a dressing room. You’d just show up and get onstage. As far as touring, I’ve been lucky. I didn’t really go on the road until people had some sense of who I was. So I don’t have any horror stories of doing my act at shoebox comedy clubs and getting pelted with ice by surly crowds and then sleeping in a car at a rest-stop off the highway in Wisconsin. I was very, very fortunate to skip that step.

Describe your best or worst experience with a groupie.

That’s the whole reason anybody becomes an artist, I’m pretty sure. Whether it’s music or comedy or filmmaking, it’s all done in the hope that random strangers will want to sleep with you. I haven’t had too many of those experiences, or even the possibility of those experiences. When I got to the point in my career when women might actually want to sleep with me because of whatever fame they thought I had, I wasn’t interested anymore. I was like “Do I actually want to be with somebody who’s just into me because I’m on television?” But the biggest reason to say no to a groupie is because you’ve done two shows and you’re exhausted and you want to go back to the hotel and sleep because you’re leaving early in the morning.

* * *

Chris D’Elia

Describe your comedy in a single sentence or less.

Wow. That’s a tricky one. Let’s see…. um…. In a sentence? What could I even say? I guess my comedy is about trying to figure out what’s funny on stage, as it happens. I’ll just go up with an idea, and then figure it out from there. Other than that, it’s just about being silly. I like being silly. I’ve always liked being silly. I just feel like, in a way, that’s who I am. I’ll own that shit.

Describe the moment that you first knew you had earned the right to call yourself a comic.

When I got my name on the wall of the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. That took awhile. Just getting on the stage can take some guys six, seven years. For me, it took about a year. And then when your name goes on the wall, and you’re up there with guys like Richard Pryor and Sam Kinison, that’s when I felt like I could actually call myself a comedian. It was proof. I could point to the wall and say, “See? I’m right there.”

How often do you refresh your act?

When I’m on the road, I’ve got an hour of pretty solid material. But I’m constantly working on it, cycling out material that doesn’t work and trying new stuff. When I’m in LA, I’m only doing 15 minute spots at the local clubs, so it’s always new stuff. That where you try it out, see what works. But on tour, it really depends. I never really know. I would say if you see me once every year, I’d have new stuff.

Who are your comedy idols?

My idols were always Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy. The way they would do characters was just astonishing to me. They’d just throw themselves into it 100%. They inhabited every inch of those characters. I always thought that was so hilarious.

What’s your favorite bit by another comic?

The one where Eddie Murphy talks about his aunt falling down the stairs. There’s just something about how much time he takes with it. She doesn’t just fall down, it’s like this epic, ridiculous freefall, like she’s tumbling down Mt. Kilimanjaro. And she’s screaming “Oh Lord Jesus help me!” You’re laughing the whole time it’s happening, and how it never seems to end. The longer it takes for his aunt to fall down the stairs, the funnier it gets.

What’s the smallest audience you’ve performed for?

I’ve performed for one person before. I was at the Comedy Store. It’s when I was earning my stripes, coming up. They put me on late at night, and right before I went on, everybody left. There was one girl way in the back, and I just had a conversation with her. They say the goal is to connect with your audience. Well, that’s pretty hard to screw up if there’s only one person out there.

What’s the largest crowd you’ve performed for?

I would say around 20,000. I did a tour last year, the Oddball Tour, with comics like Dave Chappelle and Flight of the Conchords and a bunch of other guys. We toured around different amphitheaters, and it was just…. it was insane. When you’re performing for 20,000 people, you might as well be doing it in your bedroom alone. You don’t even know if you’re doing well. When 20,000 people are laughing, you’re like, “Is this how it sounds? Or is this killing, or am I bombing? I don’t know.” It could’ve been the littlest amount of laughter that 20,000 could do, I didn’t know. I had no perspective.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you on stage?

I was opening for Jo Koy, a comedian, in San Diego once. I have this bit where I talk about my buddy who bought me some pants for my birthday. I did this move where I stretched a little, to show off the pants, and the crotch area just completely ripped open. Sometimes I don’t wear underwear, and if I wasn’t wearing them that night, my balls and dick would have completely just come out. Thank God I’d remembered to put on underwear. Not that it helped. I couldn’t get back into my act. And it happened during the first joke, so for the rest of my 20 minutes, I was doing my act with a huge rip in my pants.

Describe the worst heckling you’ve received and how you dealt with it.

Just one? I get heckled so much, man. I’ve had people threaten to fight me. And I constantly throw people out. One time in Florida, this guy was being really threatening towards me, and I was finally like, “Get this guy outta here!” It was at that moment I realized, this club doesn’t have security. I saw the waiters roll their eyes and kind of let out a sigh, like “Here we go.” And they put their trays down and had to escort this guy out. He was on the opposite side of the room from the exit, so as they were taking him out, he was talking shit to me the whole time. It took about five minutes before they finally got him out of there.

What do you think of audience members who yell out requests?

That’s a surefire way for me to never do the bit. I don’t like being treated like a jukebox. Ultimately it’s great to have an audience and having people pay to see you, but I do standup for me. If there’s an audience there, great. But I’ll perform for one person. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’ll do shit that I think is funny for nobody in my own house. If somebody thinks that they know what I should do, it completely turns me off. I have a bit, a drunk girl bit, and people want me to do it. It’s an old bit, and I’ll sometimes bring it out again. But sometimes it gets annoying. A few weeks ago in San Diego, a girl walked up on stage during my act and said, “Will you do your drunk girl bit?” I was like, “Get the fuck out of here!”

Describe the worst dressing room you’ve ever used. Where was it?

There was one club in Jacksonville that was off a hotel, so the dressing room was just one of the hotel rooms, which felt kind of weird and hookery. But otherwise, it’s been pretty okay. I never did much stuff on the road until I started selling tickets. I never did shitty tour gigs. I stayed in LA and did my seedy gigs there, and by the time I hit the road I was being booked in better clubs.

Describe your best or worst experience with a groupie.

I guess in a way it’s an ego boost when girls want to throw themselves at you. But I kinda like to be the aggressive. I feel like that’s the dude’s job. So any time a girl’s been too obvious, it’s a little bit of a turnoff to me. I did have one weird thing that happened when I was in Chicago. I was taking pictures after the show, and this girl walks up to me and she’s like, “You’re my favorite comedian.” And then another guy comes up to me, while she’s there, and says, “Hey, I’m this lady’s driver. I just want you to know that her husband”—and he points to this guy standing a few yards away—”he said that she’s totally allowed to sleep with you if she wants, and you’re allowed.” And the driver looked at me like I was supposed to answer right there. I was like, “Yeah, I can’t do that.” I came up with this lame excuse, like “I’ve gotta take all these pictures.” I don’t know. It was too weird for me. I couldn’t get down with that.

(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the May 16, 2014 issue of Billboard Magazine..)