It’s often said that comedians make great actors; it’s not so unbelievable – stand-up and comedic acting require the same beats that non-comedic actors use all the time: pacing, body language, timing, charisma. The craft is essentially the same breed, with different stripes.
I know: this doesn’t seem like a movie review. It’s technically a review of a Broadway show, but since I couldn’t catch it live, I settled for Netflix.
I’ve been a fan of John Mulaney’s since I learned he was the writer of Stefan the Club Promoter on Saturday Night Live; I even loved his brief Weekend Update appearances, where he’s so young he looks like Lorne Michaels busted him out of a middle school pep rally he was keynote speaker at. Then “New In Town” came out, to appropriately-earned praise; I saw him in Atlanta during his “Comeback Kid” tour, and I’m going to see him in Montreal for his “Kid Gorgeous” show. So, needless to say (even though I’ve already said it), I sign on for anything he does, and by default, Nick Kroll as well, who I’ve been watching since he appeared on Reno 911! as Chupacabra, the disc jockey for a Hispanic radio show.
Together, their humor is just as brilliant as it is…to say stupid is not the right word. It’s silly, goofy, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s never dumb; they are too smart for that, and play off each other too well so as to err more on the side of playful, winking references than outright idiocy. I once heard someone describe Arrested Development as a ‘smart show about dumb people’, and I think the same criteria should be applied to Oh, Hello: On Broadway.
Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, the show follows characters well-known to any fan of Mulaney or Kroll: George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon. I must admit, I haven’t watched a majority of its “Too Much Tuna” predecessor, which seems bizarre because I know I’ve loved what I have seen and would enjoy the rest of Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland’s oeuvre (which, as George states, ‘means egg’). The duo was popularized on The Kroll Show, and have been featured on Conan, Late Night with Seth Meyers and Comedy Bang! Bang!, which is where I first learned of them.
We begin with a short brief on the two men, which serves almost like a warm-up to the actual show. George St. Geegland has an obsession with Steely Dan, and has had three wives, all of whom died on the same staircase, “each death learning from and approving upon the death before it,” as well as a long-running history of being ‘on competing medications’. Gil Faizon, on the other hand, has been in a lifelong battle with Richard Dreyfus, molests olives at the supermarket, and looks ‘like if Steven Spielberg hadn’t made a lot of money’. The former is a writer, and the other an actor, and have been roommates after a chance Columbia meeting for 40 years. George dresses like a middle-school librarian collided with a bathroom rug in a fusion chamber, and Gil probably got that bomber jacket off a homeless man sleeping in a park while they fought over a raccoon.
They really are the only ones for each other, sharing a love of cocaine and seeing Steely Dan perform nine nights in a row. While the show may be a bit too New York-heavy for those of us that don’t live there, it’s about two perverse, run-down geriatrics you might find peeping out at you as they urinate not-quite-hidden in the bushes in in Central Park at one in the morning, or, from one of my favorite jokes from the show, sitting at ‘any table they want in La Famiglia Pizza at Port Authority’. They’re as much a product of the city as they are a parody, and since New York can never get Too Weird it works, because everybody has run into someone on the street who acts a little off, just like them.
That is why, even though these two are abject creeps – banned from the YMCA on more than one occasion – we feel bad for them. When George admits to lying to Gil about calling him ‘the greatest actor in New York’, you can hear people in the audience react with sympathy. These characters are failures, and not even standout ones at that, because they are the kind of failures that wander around without being too lost. Their spectres haunt jewelry store bathrooms, hold up the line at Just Salad at rush hour, and pooch at diners with 18-page menus that offer items like lobster and chicken fricassee. They’re eccentric, they’re weirdos, they host a talk show on WOLO NYC and New York City 1, the ‘number one station chronologically’, where the only joy they get out of life is pranking their guests by presenting them with an absurd mountain of tuna.
The real heart of the show is the silly little things: Lisa the racoon; Gil wandering out into the audience for a misunderstood goodbye, which gives Kroll ample time to riff in-character on them; Tony Tuna’s lettuce moustache, “to show time has passed” (a great callback to Mulaney’s New In Town closer). Yet there’s much to be said about the big jokes, the ones that Mulaney and Kroll set up at the beginning, naming ample theater tropes before the ‘play’ opens, then going on to hit every single one of them during the production. Featuring such classics as: “the telephone call”, “modern theater loves yelling”, “coughing into a handkerchief to show you are dying”, and “the ambiguous last line”. The nature of Oh, Hello pokes and prods at the fourth wall, making fun of ridiculous things we don’t often think about, and then subverting it in a ridiculous show-within-a-show that exploits these same things.
And for a comedy about two schmucks who were only able to afford their apartment because of 40 years of $75 rent-control, the set is actually very impressive, especially during the ‘surreal’ choreography sequence, where George St. Geegland announces: “We hope to win the new Tony for Best Choreography in A Limited-Run Vanity Project”.
One of the features of the live show and the Broadway run were the frequent celebrity guests who show up to do an interview with these creepy, creepy creeps; past alumni include Leslie Jones, Chris Pratt, Paul Rudd, Aziz Ansari, John Oliver, and Stephen Colbert. This show proves to be no different, and features a revival of the talk show with guest Steve Martin, a genuinely charming interview that lets the trio’s improvisational talent shine.
Bref, I really don’t have anything bad to say about the show at all. I thoroughly enjoyed the tale of George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon, and this glimpse into two bizarre characters and their lives. Mulaney and Kroll can always be relied upon to deliver solid laughs and jokes that are just on the right side of meta self-awareness, as if the two kooks they play are just about to realize how absurd their lives are, but instead put in another order for a tuna sandwich.