“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.”
“Before we filmed it, I just assumed there was something about it being a one night-only event in a closed room that made it work. Doing it that way made it so you were complicit in these awful men’s world, and it almost made me not want to film it. Later watching the film, however, I was happy that we were able to translate that sense to the screen,” adds Mulaney. “Especially those things I previously wasn’t aware of that, because of the angles and the coverage, we were able to capture here. Moments where I’d be talking and there’d be this organic laughter from the audience, which made me think everyone loved me. Then I realized, ‘Oh right, snow just started falling and it looks funny.’ I always assumed people liked my cadence.”
Excellent designs and unexpected camera angles notwithstanding, viewers do enjoy Mulaney and Kroll’s cadences as George and Gil. That, and just about every other unique and horrible thing these long-evolving characters do — be it the result of years of planning, or an impromptu holding of hands. “When he put his finger in between my finger and fingernail, I hated that,” Mulaney exclaims. “It was so, what’s the word, ‘invasive.’ I hated it. We’d hold hands and mine would be icy cold sometimes, and he’d comment on it. But that night, he went fucking right into my nail. It made me sick to my stomach.”
The look on Mulaney’s face as he says this is telling, as the comedian is no longer making banter with Kroll while answering my questions. The Saturday Night Live alum is genuinely disgusted by his memory of the improvisation, and his partner in crime can’t stop laughing about it. “You’re welcome,” he giggles, “but what do you do?” The brief moment is, after all, forever committed to film in Oh, Hello On Broadway — as other many other seemingly minor exchanges between Gil and George, the live audience, and Too Much Tuna guest Steve Martin. For as planned out as the comedy special is, it also boasts a healthy dose of surprise.
These include Gil violating George’s “fingie” and causing Mulaney to break character momentarily, and surprises for the actors themselves. For as the pair explains it, ultimately doing Oh, Hello the way they wanted to, and achieving both critical acclaim and success as a result, was never a consideration. As for the show-within-a-show’s stars, they’ve always known they were good. “George and Gil so expected it to be a hit,” Mulaney jokes, “that for me, I sometimes daydreamed in character, ‘Everyone loves Oh, Hello.’ At the same time, if Oh, Hello had been terrible and ultimately become one of the great disasters, that still would had made complete sense. Either way, I just needed a strong reaction to it.”
“Truly, it’s been the same thing for me and John, which is that it’s the most fun thing to do. So I at least was always fine with whatever happened,” says Kroll. “If you’re going to go down, go down having and doing the most fun thing possible. And besides, George and Gil function from such a place of victimhood rather than success that, if that had happened, it would have made complete sense.” Not one to miss the joke, Mulaney jumps right back in: “I was sick of trying to figure out what works, so I thought we should just have fun and do Oh, Hello. As if to say, ‘Let’s just do our favorite thing and maybe someone will like it.’ That it actually worked out in the end kind of taints it, because now it can only go downhill.”
Whether or not Oh, Hello On Broadway will perform well on Netflix remains to be seen, as the streaming giant hardly ever releases its internal viewing numbers. Judging by the decade’s worth of work Mulaney and Kroll have put into George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon, however, they won’t be leaving these characters behind soon. “We’re trying to figure out what the followup will be. We’re thinking of doing a Yiddish musical of The Godfather. Do you have any music from that?” Mulaney asks Kroll. “We have one song written,” he jokes. “That’s the show. That’s the first act, but honestly George and Gil are either going to do followups for Broadway, or just a followup appointment, like at a doctor’s office.”
Laughing at himself, Mulaney adds, “Yes, because one of their moles has tentacles now.”
Oh, Hello On Broadway is now available to stream exclusively on Netflix.