No one creates as many bizarre characters in one show. Now the real Kroll explains how he does it.
PLAYBOY: On Comedy Central’s Kroll Show, you’ve created a vast universe of characters, like Fabrice Fabrice, Bobby Bottleservice, and Aspen Bruckheimer. Do they just pop magically into your brain, or is it a slow, arduous process involving math equations and dry-erase boards?
NICK KROLL: It’s a combination of things. In general, usually there’s a voice that will pop into my head. Sometimes I’ll start playing around with it in the writers’ room, doing the voice and seeing if it lands. When I lived in New York, I got a lot of inspiration on the subway. It was great for research. A lot of my early characters, like Fabrice and the “Oh, Hello” Guys, came from watching people and how they talk to each other. It’s tough in L.A., cause it’s a very solitary existence. You end up having to do a lot of research on YouTube.
PLAYBOY: Which of your characters are you most likely to slip into during sex?
NICK KROLL: I developed Bobby Bottleservice by talking to girls—my friends mostly—and pretending to hit on them. Their responses were a combination of “Ugh” and “Oh, that’s funny because that’s the kind of douchebag that hits on me all the time.” But also, there was a weird part of them that liked it—that likes a guy who’s passionate and loves women, even though he’s, y’know…. kind of a juice monster. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Laughs.] Bobby, in the right context, isn’t a bad one to channel. He’s young and wild and full of life and passion. You could do worse.
PLAYBOY: When making people laugh is part of your job, do you lose your sense of humor when you’re not at work?
NICK KROLL: Sometimes I have trouble watching comedy, like on TV or whatever. Because you’re so accustomed to looking at the mathematics of how comedy works. I think if you talk to a lot of comedians, if you ask them what shows they watch, most of them will tell you they can only watch dramas. It’s just not relaxing to watch a comedy. It’s relaxing to watch a football game or House of Cards or something that feels so different from what you do. You need that release.
PLAYBOY: What’s your release? Is there a certain genre of entertainment that lets you unwind?
NICK KROLL: Honestly, my release is flipping through channels. At the moment, I’m binge-watching The Wire. [Laughs.] That’s right, I’m on the cultural forefront… from 10 years ago. I also like watching football. I like any playoff sports, generally. I like it when there are real stakes. I’m not interested in watching a mid-season baseball game. But I’ll watch just about any playoff game in just about any sport.
PLAYBOY: You’re in an FX show called The League, about a bunch of friends in a fantasy football league. Prior to joining the show, had you ever been involved in any fantasy sport?
NICK KROLL: Not at all. But the entire cast (of The League) is in a fantasy league together, which is kind of awesome. I’m not having the best season thus far. But historically, I’m one of the top guys in our league. I’m a tinkerer; a drunk tinkerer. I’ll come home late at night and fuss with the line-up. On the show, we call it “stinker tinker time”, which is the morning bathroom time on Sunday, before a game. You know, your morning dump, and it’s your last opportunity to tinker with your line-up and really make it happen. I’m a master of the stinker tinker.
PLAYBOY: A few years ago, your League co-star Ken Marino allegedly got arrested after punching you on the set. “I had my reasons,” he tweeted. Let’s assume for a moment that it actually happened and was not a big joke. What’s your side of the story?
NICK KROLL: Ken Marino is a bully. [Laughs.] No, no, actually, I’m fascinated that people took any of that seriously. What happened was, Ken came into the trailer and was like, “Hey, I just tweeted that I punched you.” And I responded by tweeting a Martin Luther King quote, something about “I have decided to stick with love.” And people thought the whole thing was real! I couldn’t believe it. It was so bizarre to me. And then people were mad when they found out it was just a joke, cause I guess they felt lied to or something. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever been involved in.
PLAYBOY: We should also discuss the Bono incident. When the U2 frontman kissed your girlfriend Amy Poehler at the 2014 Golden Globe Awards, you tweeted later, “Hey Bono, watch your back.” Is there still bad blood between you guys?
NICK KROLL: I am conflict averse, but I have my limits. My thing with Bono isn’t just about what happened at the Globes. We have a long-standing conflict. It goes way, way into the past. It’s just… [sighs deeply] this is still really painful to talk about…. I was supposed to be The Edge. But Bono fired me because I don’t know how to play guitar. Just like that, boom—I’m out of U2. I have not forgiven Bono since.
PLAYBOY: Does it upset you when you and Amy go to a Mexican beach, and the tabloids publish your vacation photos, and all they talk about is her bikini and don’t once mention your beach body?
NICK KROLL: It’s a total bummer. It’s a bummer that anyone would want to see a picture of me on vacation. Like, where are we as a society, that it’s considered news that I went on vacation? Doesn’t the world have bigger issues to deal with than looking at photos of me in short-shorts and a weird camo hat?
PLAYBOY: You once bragged that your career has been “about as easy a ride as you can have.” What’s your secret?
NICK KROLL: I think it helps that I grew up financially comfortable. A lot of artists throughout the history of time came from the leisure class. They had the time to ponder things, to think about things. They didn’t have to spend every waking moment worrying about where rent was coming from, or finding a shitty job they didn’t want because they needed the money to survive. I mean, there are many, many artists who grew up with nothing, and had something deep inside that they wanted to express. But it makes a big difference if you don’t have those financial burdens, and you can decide without worrying about bills if you want to tell dick jokes professionally.
PLAYBOY: Were you a funny kid?
NICK KROLL: I thought I was, but I don’t think my family would agree. When I was a kid, if you asked them, “Do you think Nick could be a professional comedian or actor?,” I’m pretty sure they would say, “He’s a sweet kid, but let’s be honest…” When I decided I was going into comedy, I would describe their reaction as skeptically supportive.
PLAYBOY: Were you telling your own original jokes, or just imitating what you saw on TV?
NICK KROLL: Me and my friend Andrew Goldberg—who now writes for Family Guy—we were best buddies in elementary school, and we’d recreate “Wayne’s World” sketches. I think a lot of comedians start out that way, just re-enacting their favorite Saturday Night Live bits, or their favorite scenes from Trading Places or whatever. But to me, as a kid, it never felt like it was leading somewhere. I never thought, “I’m going to be a comedian when I grow up.” I never thought too far into the future. I guess that goes back to growing up comfortably—I had that leisure to relax and not think about what I was going to do with my life and how I was going to do it.
PLAYBOY: Your first time onstage was as a freshman in college, during a standup comedy competition. You lost. What happened?
NICK KROLL: I had never done comedy before, but I had this idea that I would get on stage and say, “God, I thought I was going to be so nervous, but I’m actually totally relaxed,” and then pee my pants. I’d have a water balloon in my pants, and I’d pop it with a pin during my set, and it’d look like I’d peed myself. But I forgot to bring the water balloon. So I grabbed, like, a sandwich bag or something and filled it with water. But it didn’t work out like I’d hoped. When I tried to jab it with the pin, it didn’t burst, and I kept trying, which ended up looking like I was furiously masturbating on stage. And then I spent the next five or ten minutes explaining what I had tried to do unsuccessfully. It did not go well.
PLAYBOY: Your father was a private investigator. Was that as cool as it sounds?
NICK KROLL: From a very early age, I would say, “My dad is a private investigator, but he doesn’t carry a gun and he doesn’t wear a trench coat.” He was working on a corporate level. I guess some of it was a little dangerous. The Kuwaiti government hired him to find Saddam Hussein’s money, and the Filipino government hired him to find Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’ money. During the Hussein thing, we had a cop outside of our house for a while, and I guess that was cool. It felt more cool than scary.
PLAYBOY: You never wanted to follow in your dad’s footsteps?
NICK KROLL: Not really. Obviously I went into a different field, but I learned a lot from him, especially the way he treats people. Anyone from heads of state to kids I played with at little league baseball, he was kind to all of them. He treated everybody the same. It’s really helped me as I tried to navigate my career. You can go a long way in this world by just being a decent person.
PLAYBOY: You went to school on a farm in Vermont. That sounds almost ridiculously idyllic. Were you milking more cows than reading books?
NICK KROLL: Well, if you want to get specific, there were not dairy cows. They were beef cows. So I didn’t have a lot of contact with them. You don’t befriend animals that are heading to slaughter. But otherwise, it was an amazing experience. It’s this place called the Mountain School in Vermont, and that’s really where I got my first bug for performing. It was a bunch of smart, individualistic kids who were okay being weird. In high school, it can be scary to be weird. But going up there and meeting all of these eccentric kids, I was like, “Oh, it’s okay to dress up in an orange jumpsuit and lip sync James Brown songs wearing kitchen clogs.” You know what I mean? It was a watershed for me. I was given permission to be a weirdo.
PLAYBOY: One of your first big TV roles was on the ABC sitcom Cavemen, based on a GEICO commercial. At the time, you were probably just happy to be working. But in hindsight, do you wish you could expunge it from your permanent record?
NICK KROLL: I still think back on it fondly. I’d never had a TV show before. Just being able to act for a living was such an amazing opportunity, even though I was hidden under about a foot of silicone make-up. It was four hours every morning to get the make-up on, and an hour to get it off. If I got that job today, I’d be like, “Holy shit. Are you kidding me with this?” But because I didn’t have anything to reference it against, I was like, “Oh, great. I guess this is what being on a TV show is like. You’re covered in silicone and glued hair to your body.”
PLAYBOY: What’s your ten year plan? Are you fine with being a comic till the bitter end? Or do you want to make the leap to drama?
NICK KROLL: I’d love to be able to do more dramatic stuff. There’s so much good drama happening on TV right now. Like True Detective, which I think is just amazing. I’ve got such a dark, dark side that I haven’t been able to show yet. But I don’t know, maybe it wouldn’t be worth it. Doing a show like True Detective might be too much of a bummer. Dealing with dead people every day? That’s a tough one. Can you imagine being on Law & Order, and your storyline is all about discovering a decomposed rape victim? That would be a real bummer to deal with every day.
PLAYBOY: Do comedians have groupies?
NICK KROLL: Oh, sure. And 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.
PLAYBOY: When you do stand-up, are you annoyed by people in the audience who yell out requests?
NICK KROLL: 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.). 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.
PLAYBOY: You’re a big fan of hiking. Are we talking a casual hour-long hike, or something that might involve a sherpa?
NICK KROLL: Everything and in between. Living in LA, there’s a lot of good hiking right around where I live. I like a nice short hike as an escape, because there are no screens or other people; it’s just you and your thoughts, alone in a really beautiful place, with a panoramic view of the gorgeous smog that covers Los Angeles. I also enjoy the longer, harder hikes, where you’re gone for days and your cellphone starts to feel like a tumor. Plus, once you’re up on the mountain, you can fuck sheep and nobody minds.
PLAYBOY: If you ever encountered a bear during one of your hikes, would you know what to do to avoid being mauled?
NICK KROLL: We just dealt with a bear on The League, and we kept it away by feeding him cookies. So I think I’d try that. I’ll only go hiking with a sleeve of Oreos in my backpack. I feel like if I have enough Oreos, any bears I might encounter will leave me alone. The only problem is, I prefer to hike while covered in used tampons.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever met a comedy idol who turned out to be a jackass?
NICK KROLL: That almost never happens. Usually, it’s just about me being starstruck. I had a small thing with Chevy Chase when I was on (the NBC sitcom) Community. He wasn’t a huge fan of anyone getting a laugh besides him. But even then, I was like, “Oh shit, I’m threatening to Fletch?” That’s not too bad. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if the people you love and respect aren’t as cool as you want them to be. Whether Chevy Chase and I are best friends is irrelevant, and it pales in comparison to how he inspired me in Fletch or those Vacation movies or on SNL. I don’t need him to like me.
PLAYBOY: You’re playing Professor Poopypants in the upcoming Captain Underpants movie, with Ed Helms. Do you anticipate a lot of outtakes that are not suitable for children?
NICK KROLL: Oh, absolutely. I wanted to do a project that my scat fan base would finally be able to relate to.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the January/February 2015 issue of Playboy magazine.)