TV

Nick Kroll On The Creation Of The ‘Big Mouth’ Valentine’s Special, And The Origins Of Rick The Hormone Monster

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When I was in the eighth grade I worked up the confidence to ask a girl to be my Valentine. She said yes and I had a spring in my step for the rest of English class. That faded about 45 minutes later when, at lunch, I asked her if she wanted to go to a movie and she turned me down flat and, if memory serves correct, reversed her Valentine decision. The point of this is to say that I super-duper recall the adolescent Valentine’s Day angst and psychological trauma that Nick Kroll and company are trying to convey in the Big Mouth Valentine’s Day special (double) episode that just hit Netflix.

If you’re in a love stinks (yeah, yeah) kind of place or similarly recall clumsy attempts at living up to what we’ve been brainwashed to believe that Valentine’s Day is supposed to be, then this episode is for you. And our interview with Big Mouth co-creator and star Nick Kroll is for you if you want to learn a little bit more about the special (and its amazing musical numbers), the origins of Rick The Hormone Monster’s voice (and how he was saved from the trash heap), and why it’s important that the show gets created in a bubble.

When did you know you were going to do a special episode?

Good question. I think it was after season two, we… After season one came out and people were pretty quickly, like “when is season two coming count?” Which felt like it took forever and audiences were really kind of clamoring for more, that we thought about, is there something that we could do that would give the audience something where they weren’t having to wait so long before they caught more of the show? And it then became very clear very quickly that Valentine’s Day was kind of perfect because it felt like it was between the two seasons. And also, just Valentine’s Day is such a rich area for middle school and for the kids because it deals with so many of the issues that kids are dealing with. You know, who’s your crush? Are you heartbroken? Are you alone? All those things that you really, all of a sudden in middle school, start to think about. And it felt like the perfect area for a special.

Do you want to do more specials like this in between future seasons?

Um, you know, I think we’re always going to be interested in doing different things and breaking form, et cetera. You know, it’s partly a workflow thing. There are a lot of things at hand to make it work and this just happened to come together perfectly for us.

Is season three far, far away?

Season three will come out in the fall. For technical reasons, like how the mechanics of the Netflix site works, this is considered the beginning of season three. And the truth is, it was the beginning of season three. We wrote it and then rolled right into writing season three. Which, people don’t quite understand the timeline, so it’s fine. I think we treated this as the beginning of season three, so we start to pay off some of the stuff that was happening at the end of season two and set up what will become a lot of season three.

So there are definitely takeaways from this that people can think about as far as what season three is going to mean?

It very much serves as a bridge between season two and three.

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The show has done some great original songs in the past, but this really seems like you’re doubling or tripling down on that. What was behind the decision to make this feel like, not like a full-on musical episode, but really close?

I think we felt like if we’re going to put out a special that it literally needed to feel special. You know, it’s something between seasons, it’s a double episode. It needed to feel different than just another episode of Big Mouth. And so we knew we wanted a big Valentine’s Day song to start the show to just set up what was happening and what Valentine’s Day felt like to all of us as writers growing up. The dread of it all. That it’s not this wonderful thing. That it’s generally, I think for a lot of people, this thing that’s filled with stress and a lot of anxiety. And then the song with Matthew and Jessie, “Who Needs A Boy” that Mark Rivers wrote. We gave him the idea and told him what we want and it just felt almost like a standard right away, you know what I mean?

Yeah, definitely.

It just feels like a song that should be part of… I take no credit for it. I mean, beyond like conceiving of what we wanted, but it just feels like a standard song that, that I think and hope will really resonate with everybody. But specifically, girls and their gay best friends and for everyone who feels like Valentine’s Day isn’t about, like, your crush or someone you’re in love with. But really like, who’s your friend? Who’s your friend Valentine, and how important those relationships are. And then the “Changes” song is obviously the song in the credits on our show, the theme song. And we wrote new lyrics for it. When you’ve got Andrew Rannells and Maya Rudolph … we’ve got these unbelievably talented singers, so it feels like such a great opportunity to showcase what they do. Mark Rivers who writes our songs, just did such a beautiful job with the music in this episode.

Doesn’t he have a background as a comedy writer too?

Yeah. We’ve been working together for awhile. He did a bunch of the music on Kroll Show. He goes back to writing on Mr. Show and he’s really found a niche making music for comedies. He did the music for [Chris] Pratt’s band, Mouse Rat on Parks and Rec. His fingerprints are all over so much music comedy.

Is it a little imposing to be on a song with Andrew and Maya? Not saying that you’re not a good singer, but maybe not in their league.

I am clearly not a good singer.

I know, but I’m trying to be nice.

I am quite comfortable saying I am not a good singer. It’s just one of those things where, if you had the chance to like, shoot around with like Steph Curry, like, who cares if you’re not great? You want to shoot the Steph Curry. I wanna shoot around with Maya Rudolph and Andrew Rannells.

Does it shred your voice to sing as Maury? It sounds painful.

It’s… you know, doing the Maury [the Hormone Monster] voice, in general, takes a bit of a toll. The singing is not as bad as when I have to scream [as Maury]. I really suffer for my art.

[Laughs]

I mean honestly, all of it is such a joy. It’s really doing Rick [the Hormone Monster], and then Maury and vice versa that my voice can start to get a little angry with me.

Do people still assume that that’s Will Arnett? I’ve heard that so many times.

I don’t know if people assume it at this point. I think people still say it, and it’s so funny because I know Will and I’ve known Will for a long time. I’m a huge fan of his work. To me, it’s very funny because the voice is based, for me, on this character, Nash Rickey I did on Kroll Show [Ed. Note: Here’s a clip from Kroll Show with the Rickey character and also Jenny Slate doing a voice that sounds like a precursor to her work on Big Mouth as Missy]. He’s like an old hair metal rocker, over the hill, kinda Brett Michaels character. And that was the first thing out of my mouth and I was like, “That’s crazy.” And then I think I watched a promo or something for The Lego Movie where Will is Batman. And I was like, “Oh, I see. Okay, I see why people are saying that now.” [Laughs] But it truly never crossed my mind. At this point, I think people know it’s me. But it’s just funny to me to think like, that to me I’m like, “how crazy would it be for me to be doing an impression of Will Arnett on another Netflix adult animated show?” Do you know what I mean?

Yeah.

It truly just never even crossed my mind.

And also, you’re suffering for the art, so you deserve that credit.

Thank you. I appreciate that.

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What are the origins of Rick’s voice? It almost feels childlike, or like a Muppet voice.

Almost every voice that I do on the show is almost like a first instinct. Like Rick kind of came out of me basically right away. And then it starts to evolve as I find it, and he’s gotten cuter as time has gone on. But I think the actual core of the voice… you know, it’s something that people can do. It’s like a weird throat thing. I think the first time I heard some version… Howie Mandel had a show called Bobby’s World. Do you remember Bobby’s World?

Yes! Yeah, I do and I totally get that.

I think that was sorta the base of it. I mean that was the first time I probably tried to do it.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It’s definitely a fan favorite. It’s one of my favorite characters on the show. Are there any characters where you’re kind of surprised that they have taken off and been popular? Like Coach Steve or Rick?

Um… I don’t know. It was really interesting having season two come out and seeing how much Depression Kitty resonated with people. And that’s Jean Smart, who is an amazing actor. But Featuring Ludacris, people really seem to enjoy. It’s funny, because in the writer’s room, we sometimes fall in love with characters. And I don’t think the audience loved Coach Steve as much in season one as we did and then it was really in season two that people started to understand him more. Or we had more opportunity to get into it. But Rick had a thing where we brought him out as Coach Steve’s Hormone Monster and everyone was kind of disgusted by him in the room. And by the time we decided to kill him off or send him away because we didn’t think Nick needed to stick with Rick as his Hormone Monster, I had started to do the voice, I made him a little cuter. And then, all of a sudden, we were like, “Oh no, we don’t want him to go away.” And I think audiences had a similar experience.

Oh no, definitely. Yeah, please don’t do that. Is Depression Kitty a character that might return in season three?

As we build this cast of characters, we’re just constantly finding places for people. But it really, more than anything, depends on what’s happening to our kids on the show. The most important thing is what serves our kids and their arcs, and what do we need to get from them for what they’re going through.

Still, that strong response to that character, does that weigh in on it too? Are you listening to that audience response in terms of where you’re going with the story? How much does that factor in?

I mean, we are. What’s interesting is, because of how animation works, we are so far ahead [time-wise] with what we’re writing and mapping out from when an audience actually watches it, that we almost, in a way, can’t quite directly respond to audiences and what they’re gravitating to.

Is that a good thing to be insulated from that?

Ultimately, I think it means we are really just following the path of the stories that we want to tell. But the nice thing is … what we’re interested in has proven to be what audiences have responded to. But I think it also allows us to continue to make the show in a bubble and not be too reactive, because I don’t think it’s always best to be reactive to what audiences verbally respond to. Just because, I think it just kind of maintains the integrity of the show.

The Big Mouth Valentine’s Day Special’ is available to stream on Netflix right now.

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