Some people just won’t act their age. Take comedians Nick Kroll, 38, and John Mulaney, 34, who make their Main Stem debuts as their septuagenarian alter egos, Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, in Oh, Hello on Broadway. Following a national tour and brief run Off-Broadway last fall, the Alex Timbers-directed two-man play begins previews September 23, and opens October 10, at the Lyceum Theatre. Could Kroll and Mulaney be one tuna sandwich away from turning into the crusty characters they created?
How did you come up with Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland?
John Mulaney: The inspiration was a real-life Gil and George, but we don’t know their real names. We were walking around Strand Bookstore one afternoon about ten years ago, and there were these two old fusspots with the same amount of warmth and static between them. They were each buying a copy of Alan Alda’s memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed.
Nick Kroll: So we followed them around the store. There’s a specific kind of person who’s lived in Manhattan forever, and you can always spot them.
JM: They’re non-threatening but always have a little something negative to say. Nick and I were about to host a stand-up show at Rififi in the East Village, so we decided to host it as these two guys.
NK: Certain aspects of these guys are obviously very funny to us, but we also have a genuine love and affection for them.
Gil and George later became fan favorites on Comedy Central’s sketch series Kroll Show. Why have these characters struck a nerve?
NK: They’re the most unhip guys you can imagine, and yet, because of that, they’ve become the hippest thing we’ve ever done.
JM: As a generation, these guys keep hanging on. Look at Bernie Sanders! Gil and George go way back with Bernard.
NK: “Gils” and “Georges” are having a moment.
JM: It’s also clear that these two freaks need each other, and that vulnerability comes across.
How did you adapt your shtick for Broadway?
NK: We knew we couldn’t just do a stand-up routine. We wanted to build a play with a proper structure that could stand on its own, and it became a love letter to Broadway. But we grew up listening to Nichols and May albums and The 2000 Year Old Man with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, so those were huge influences.
JM: Mel Brooks actually saw our show in L.A. and said, “I like your rhythms.” We were like, “They’re stolen from you.”
NK: We hoped that the same people who’d see Jackie Mason on Broadway would bring their kids to our show, and they’d all get it.
JM: Our main goal is for everyone to walk away saying, “Oh, that was a lot more than we thought it would be!”
How much do you have in common with your characters?
NK: We’re playing guys who’ve been best friends for 50 years, and we’ve been best friends since college, so there’s a lot of Nick and John in Gil and George.
JM: The worst parts of us!
NK: There’s also a lot of Gil and George in Nick and John, unfortunately. Gil has the old man-baby qualities that only certain Jewish men possess, including myself.
JM: And George and I both have sharp gentile tempers.
Can the characters be difficult to shake off?
NK: When we’re alone we talk like them all day long. We’re more comfortable as Gil and George than we are as ourselves.
JM: It’s unhealthy, really, but also very cathartic, because they’re at that point late in life where they can openly bitch and complain and say whatever they want.
NK: The goal is to play these characters until we just become them and don’t have to wear the wigs anymore.
Is it safe to say that Oh, Hello isn’t your typical Broadway comedy?
NK: We have such respect for Broadway, but coming from the stand-up and improv world, we want to make each night a unique experience. We often have celebrity guests that we prank in a segment called “Too Much Tuna,” so you never know who’ll show up.
JM: Changing things every night gives the show an electricity. We delight in surprising each other.
NK: Much like Hamilton, we wanted to create something new and fresh and different.
JM: Think Waiting for Godot meets Love Letters meets a pile of tuna fish.
Is Oh, Hello the perfect show for those who can’t score tickets to Hamilton?
NK: Yes! We were originally going to name our show Oh, Hello-milton. We’re the Aaron Burr of Broadway, because we’re going to kill Hamilton.
JM: We’ll be an annoying footnote in history that destroyed something great.
NK: [They] would actually see themselves as Aaron Burr. They’ve been misunderstood, but they’re finally in the room where it happens.
JM: And they have a gun.