Thanks to two goofballs in gray wigs, everything old is new again on the Great White Way.
Making their Broadway debuts, thirtysomething actor-comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney star as fictional seventysomething fusspots Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, respectively, in Oh, Hello on Broadway. The two-man comedy begins previews September 23 and opens October 10 for a limited engagement at the Lyceum Theatre.
Kroll and Mulaney were inspired to create their elderly alter egos more than a decade ago at Manhattan’s venerable Strand Bookstore, where they spotted a couple of crotchety old men buying separate copies of Alan Alda’s memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. The longtime friends and collaborators soon began playing Gil and George to host a popular live stand-up comedy showcase in the East Village. The same cranky characters later became fan favorites on Kroll’s sketch series, Kroll Show, which ran for three seasons on Comedy Central.
“These guys are obviously very funny to us, but we also have a genuine love and affection for them,” says Kroll of the Upper East Side eccentrics. “We talk like them all day long. We’re more comfortable as Gil and George than we are as ourselves.”
“They’re sort of like those professors you looked up to for a semester,” says Mulaney, a former Saturday Night Live writer with a pair of stand-up specials on Netflix. “But then one night you see them covered in dandruff, maybe their briefcase just got stolen, and you realize that they’re not cool and that their life is kind of a bummer.”
“I think these characters have resonated with people because their friendship is very deep and important to both of them, and you can see that,” Kroll explains. “We’re lucky to have been doing these guys for about 10 years.”
“Well, 10 years of unfocused work, about a year of very specific goals,” Mulaney adds.
Shortly before Kroll Show ended in 2015, Kroll and Mulaney appeared live as Gil and George in an hourlong improvised Q&A at the 92nd Street Y. “It was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had on stage or otherwise, and the response was crazy,” Kroll recalls. “Afterward, everyone asked, ‘What’s next?’ We joked, ‘Oh, Hello on Broadway,’ but we were sort of serious. We realized that Gil and George really belong on Broadway.”
“At least, that’s where they think they belong,” Mulaney interjects.
Before adapting their senior citizen shtick into what they describe as a “proper play” for a brief run Off-Broadway last fall, Kroll and Mulaney teamed up with two-time Tony-nominated director Alex Timbers. They continued to workshop the show on a national tour, saying “Oh, hello” to cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. “Taking a show about these two old New Yorkers around the country let us figure out how to make it accessible to a broader audience that didn’t necessarily grow up in New York in the ’70s,” Kroll says.
Although there is a polished script that involves a play-within-a-play by Gil and George, Oh, Hello on Broadway allows for a lot of improvisation. “We have such reverence for Broadway, but this isn’t your typical Broadway comedy,” Kroll continues. “We want to make each night a unique experience. And we like screwing with each other.”
The duo’s expert improv skills come in particularly handy for a bit called “Too Much Tuna,” during which they prank special guests by serving them a comically overstuffed tuna salad sandwich. “You never know who’ll show up,” Kroll teases. “Around the country, we’ve already pranked people like Marcia Clark, Blake Griffin, Dick Cavett, and Lena Dunham. The bar’s been set.”
“Some nights it’ll be a huge movie star or news figure; some nights we’ll prank a regular person,” adds Mulaney about what fishy foolishness to expect on Broadway. “On tour, some of my favorite guests were a pregnant Australian journalist or an 11-year-old boy we pulled out of the audience.”
Oh, Hello on Broadway’s special guest list may also be influenced by the current election cycle. After all, Gil and George claim to go way back with former presidential candidate and fellow curmudgeon Bernie Sanders, who they somewhat affectionately call Bernard. “Gil and George have demanded to be part of the political conversation,” Mulaney explains. “They’re everything that’s frustrating about the voting populace. They’ve got a lot of opinions, but they’re lazy and might forget to vote.”
“It’s exciting to be on Broadway leading up to the big election,” Kroll says. “There’s an open-door policy for Donald, Hillary, and anyone else to stop by.”
“Sure,” Mulaney says, “but really just Bernie.”