“Are you nervous about tonight?” Gil Faizon (Nick Kroll) asks his partner in crime, George St. Geegland (John Mulaney) in the opening scene of Oh, Hello On Broadway. After all, he points out, they’re filming their hugely successful show “for the TV thing” otherwise known as Netflix. “I don’t care,” George answers him. “We’re going to get high before.” Along with a few other lines and jokes, the first two minutes’ worth of banter before the pair graces the Lyceum Theatre stage feels like the opening for any other comedy special. Except, of course, for the fact that — like Gil and George — nothing here is candid and everything is by design.
“We had a lot of considerations to make as we started to try and figure out how to shoot something like this,” Kroll tells Uproxx. “I think what ended up happening was, we wanted to create as many options as possible. Like which angles to shoot from.” Mulaney agrees, adding that a lot of this technically challenging work never would have happened without Oh, Hello‘s sizable crew — both those who worked on the Lyceum Theatre run, and those who joined later for the Netflix taping. “The show is beautiful and the comedy’s great,” he quips, “but we knew we wanted to have certain angles. Ways of showing viewers at home what we were seeing on stage, or what certain sections of the live audience were and weren’t seeing.”
These include the brief exchange Gil and George have backstage about the awful audience (possibly based on a real incident), or the horrific way Gil’s hair becomes silhouetted by a soft blue light, which only Mulaney can see from where he stands. “When I was sitting there and watching Nick as Gil from the stage, there’s this one scene where he’s lit by this blue light and his awful hair is in the silhouette,” he explains. “I was like, ‘That’s a beautiful look that only I can see. When we film this, we should get a camera over there to capture it.'” So they did, and sure enough, there’s a moment in which the seemingly fake-yet-still-unwashed gray hair atop Kroll’s head is presented in silhouette from George perspective. It’s really disgusting, and all the more hilarious for it.
“We talked to Billy Crystal about how he decided to shoot 700 Sundays for HBO,” Mulaney continues. “He was like, ‘I wanted the audience to see what I saw,’ so we tried to emulate that. We also put extra cameras in the audience to try and capture the shaky, phonetic energy of some of the more involved exchanges we sometimes have with whoever was sitting in the first few rows.” As a result, Oh, Hello as seen on Netflix looks and feels far more like the immersive experience someone seated in the Lyceum’s orchestra pit might have. That, or as Mulaney noted, the experience the two actors have onstage and off.
Of course, it’s difficult to state outright that not all comedy specials are designed, for even the absentminded use of a microphone, a mic stand and a bar stool are enough to signify what’s happening at the performance itself, and to the folks at home. But while recent Netflix contributions by The Daily Show‘s Hasan Minhaj and Saturday Night Live alum Norm MacDonald stick to this formula, others do not. Like Lady Dynamite‘s Maria Bamford, who stretches the format beyond recognition with Old Baby, or the oddball Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special, which takes the form of a variety show. Oh, Hello falls somewhere in between.
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My only note to our direct Alex was there wasn't enough tuna. But the design is exactly what it ended up being. #Repost @alextimbers ・・・ In honor of OH HELLO debuting on Netflix today, a shot of the napkin sketch our brilliant designer @scottpaskstudio dashed off in thirty seconds when we told him at the last minute we wanted a heavenly, theatrical, show-stopping entrance for a sandwich. @ohhelloshow @netflix @nickkroll @johnmulaney #broadway #theater #lyceumtheater #design
On the one hand, this is blatantly obvious since Oh, Hello isn’t stand-up (though George and Gil literally do stand for most of the 102 minute-long special). On the other hand, Kroll and Mulaney aren’t just delivering complementary lists of pre-written, audience-tested jokes. The live show, which they built around characters inspired by two elderly gentlemen, is a far more complex beast. Sure, it does involve plenty of pre-written, audience-tested jokes, albeit in the form of a scripted and designed play that, as Brian Grubb notes in his review, more or less possesses a plot. Oh, Hello also wields meta-commentary while telling a story within a story — thereby setting the bar up a few notches for future Netflix specials.
“As the show progresses, you get more inside it. So the more what’s happening in the show falls apart, the more inside the show everything becomes — right down to the camera angles we settled on with Timbers, film director Michael John Warren and the editor,” notes Kroll. “It’s so cool, and we ended up putting stuff into the show in places where, normally when you’re shooting something like this, you’d be like, ‘Well that’s a cut.’ But here, we realized that sometimes the particular lighting of certain parts — or some other random, unplanned thing that happens — make things happen without having to cut anything.”