John Mulaney, in my humble opinion, is a genius comedian. His stand-up leaves me on the floor. I have watched his ‘What’s New Pussycat’ routine so many times that I’m pretty sure I can recite it by heart (if you’ve never heard this bit, your life is not complete). He was a writer for Saturday Night Live for six years, and is the co-creator of one of their most memorable recurring characters, the flamboyantly weird Stefon, played by the hilarious Bill Hader. One of the best moments on Weekend Update was Mulaney addressing the demand for delicious Girl Scout Cookies. His comedic personality is a brilliant blend between personably relatable and oddly unique.
Nick Kroll, however, can be very hit-and-miss. I was a big fan of his obnoxiously crude guest-starring character The Douche on Parks And Recreation, as well as other mind-melding projects with the legendary Amy Poehler. I found Nick Kroll’s performance in Adult Beginners to be full of depth, allowing his acting chops to shine with still allowing his comedic talents to appear, albeit subdued within the dramatic genre. However, his role in the came-and-went television show Caveman, based off the (in)famous Geico commercial characters, was a failure. I had zero interest in even giving it a shot. His recurring stand-up character, ‘Billy Bottleservice,’ which regularly appeared on The Kroll Show, was so stereotypical that it was boring and The Kroll Show at large was eccentrically annoying.
I had hoped that John Mulaney would shine as I always have seen him do and I would be blessed with the hit Nick Kroll rather than the miss. As I was walking towards the theater, I promised to my friend that I would enter the show with an open mind. We would approach the show as a comedy show rather than a piece of theater—that was what the play was meant to be, and we should respect what we’re stepping into.
Even as a comedy show, it failed.
In “Oh Hello,” Kroll and Mulaney bring their popular ‘alter-egos’ to the stage. Mulaney steps into the orthopedic sneakers of George St. Geegland and Kroll slips on the socks and sandals of Gil Faizon. Mulaney describes his character as “neither Jewish nor a woman, but like many older men over 70, I have reached the age where I am somehow both,” while Kroll describes his character as “the kind of guy who brings beverages to the bathroom.” Kroll and Mulaney told Jimmy Fallon in an interview that they gained inspiration for these characters after seeing two old men at The Strand bookstore in New York, bickering back and forth with each other. In their trailer for the Broadway show, they even tipped their hat to this inspiration, with their trailer featuring their true selves seeing their alter-egos on a park bench. After Nick brings attention to his friend John about the two old men nearby, Mulaney smiles and says, “Oh, that’s sweet. I bet they’ve been friends for, like, forty years…I hope you and me are like that when we’re older.” We then turn to see the two old geezers bickering about Chicken Charmaine.
These two geezers were first featured on The Kroll Show in their ‘talk-show’ “Too Much Tuna,” in which they prank and utterly humiliate their guests by providing them with sandwiches piled high with tuna, in which the contestants declare, “That’s too much tuna!” Mulaney and Kroll decided to bring their ‘beloved’ characters to Broadway and the rest is history.
The show began with a stand-up bit between Geegland and Faizon. While the audience was going crazy with laughter, I was sitting there wondering if there was laughing-gas emitted through the crowd that just didn’t affect me. Am I just a far too critical like Geegland and Faizon, or is it just simply not funny? Perhaps Mulaney is better at writing jokes under a week deadline like he did at Saturday Night Live—too much time and the jokes grow sour and lame.
I once heard that if you laugh once during a stand-up set, then that means the comedian is good. So perhaps I’m being too harsh on “Oh, Hello.” It wasn’t as if there was nothing funny about the show: I didn’t sit there stony-faced the entire hour and a half.
The show constantly made fun of habits within theater. “Theater is the hottest new thing now,” Gil stated at the top of the show. “There’s Hamilton…and no other examples.” Gil showed the audience how to have a dramatic “one-sided phone call,” George made fun of the spotlight, and at the near-end of the show the two performed an interpretive dance even though these old men have trouble opening a bottle of Muscle Milk.
Their set is a collection of random pieces, leaving the audience to imagine Gil and George as cheap fogies, picking up this free junk off the curb. They claim that the stoop and door was a prop from The Cosby Show set and they were literally begged to take it due to bad-juju that corrupted The Cosby Show. There was also a mezuzah on the door, noticeably on the wrong side. Geegland pointed to it and said, “If you noticed the mezuzah on the wrong side of the door, you’ve come to the right show.”
The strongest part of the play was a running gag between Geegland and the poor lighting operator, who happens to be an intern doing the show for free and without even a credit, as the cheap geezers inform him halfway through his already completed work on the show. The lighting operator continuously messes up his cue and Geegland throws a fit, practically screaming at the poor kid like a mix between a soccer coach and a Sharpay Evans-like diva.
At the end of the day, was “Oh, Hello” enjoyable? Yes. Would I rather have saved my money and stayed at home watching John Mulaney’s stand-up? Yes, and it probably would have made me laugh far more. “It was funny, but it was basically stand-up in costume, in character and with a thin plot,” said Binyamin Bixon, after seeing the show with me Sunday night.
“Oh, Hello” made us both laugh, it did. It was funny—well, half of it was. And if the rule stands that if you laugh at least once during a comedy show then the show was a success, then fine, it was a success…if the standards are that low.
But I have seen a John Mulaney stand-up routine and laughed so hard my ribs hurt the entire way through. Furthermore, I watched George St Geegland and Gil Faizon being interviewed by Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers and others for promotion of the Broadway play, and those interviews were even funnier than the show itself. I shouldn’t have to lower my standards for hilarity when I’m dealing with Nick Kroll and especially John Mulaney.
So ultimately, no, this was not a good show, and no, I do not suggest spending money to see it. Mulaney and Kroll may shine in other areas, but they can keep their orthopedic feet out of theater.