Oh, Hello has a simple premise. It’s a play about a play-within-play, starring two 30-something comedians who are pretending to be 70-year-old men. One of the characters is a writer who might have murdered three of his wives. Another is a struggling actor who is carrying on an affair with a raccoon. They both address the audience directly, a lot, often to comment on things that just happened. There are many tuna sandwiches and they get progressively bigger and more demonic as the show goes on. Someone poops his pants.
Hmm. Maybe the premise isn’t that simple. We’ll come back to it later. For now, let’s just start with “it is very strange and very, very funny and you can watch it on Netflix now.” We can build from there.
The two characters in the show are played by comedians John Mulaney and Nick Kroll. You probably know Mulaney from his work as a stand-up or as a writer on SNL (he and Bill Hader created Stefon together), and Kroll is best known for his role on The League or for his Comedy Central series Kroll Show, which ran for three fabulously weird seasons and occasionally featured the two characters from Oh, Hello. They had a recurring sketch about a public access prank show called “Too Much Tuna.” It was surprisingly self-explanatory.
But even though these characters — Mulaney as writer George St. Geegland and Kroll as actor Gil Faizon — just kind of leapt into the public sphere a few years ago, the comedians have been perfecting them for over a decade. Here they are explaining the origin of the characters to The Hollywood Reporter:
“We saw these two guys buying individual copies of Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, Alan Alda’s autobiography, at the Strand [bookstore] back in 2005,” says Kroll, 37, explaining the origins of would-be cosmopolitans George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon — the hosts and stars of Oh, Hello. “We followed them around for a bit and just fell in love. They typify a very specific kind of New York personality.” Adds Mulaney, 33, who dons a gray mop, oversize corduroys and Velcro sneakers for each show: “It’s like guys from Hannah and Her Sisters who wore turtlenecks with blazers. You know, bachelors.”
Since that magical day in that bookstore, the two have taken the characters from small indie comedy shows to television to Broadway and, now, to Netflix. You can see how that history adds depth to the play. They’re both so familiar with these characters that their interactions feel natural. George becomes more and more of a manipulative tyrant as the play goes on, while Gil basically reverts to being an infant, and even though it’s all very silly, you find yourself playing along. Mulaney almost seems more comfortable as an angry old man than he does as himself, even if Kroll is probably the better “actor.” They look like they could do these characters forever.
(There’s a decent chance you’ve seen these two in character before, even if you didn’t watch Kroll Show. When the Broadway play was ramping up production, they did a slew of publicity as George and Gil, appearing on Conan and Seth Meyers and a bunch of other talk shows and panels. My favorite appearance, though, was the time they showed up on the live post-show of The Bachelor. It was the goofiest thing ever — lots of crossover between fans of hyper-specific alternative comedy and reality shows about making out in swimming pools, one imagines — and they had a blast. Mulaney called the contestants “white devils.” Kroll proposed to one with a Werther’s Original. Everyone was so confused. The fact that I can’t find video of this makes me furious.)
Which brings us back to the show. The plot, to the extent there is one, and I mean that as a compliment, goes like this: George and Gil are putting on a play about two characters, also named George and Gil, who are very much like our George and Gil, that are getting kicked out of their rent-controlled Manhattan apartment. Chaos ensues. And I do mean chaos. The plot itself is more of a loose thread that ties together largely unrelated bits, from a riff about Steely Dan to meta jokes about theater to many, many ultra-specific New York references that are somehow even funnier if you don’t get them.
Around the midpoint of the show, they invite a celebrity guest up to the stage for an unscripted segment that ends with the guest getting pranked with a giant tuna sandwich. When the show was running on Broadway, the guest was different for each production. Examples included Alan Alda, Stephen Colbert, Aziz Ansari, Olivia Wilde, and Amy Schumer. (A bunch of these segments are on YouTube. You can lose most of an afternoon watching them.) In an earlier, off-Broadway production of the show, they had O.J. prosecutor Marcia Clark on, and Mulaney’s character said of the soon-to-be deployed sandwich, “You’re about to get the second biggest surprise of your life.” I think about this often.
The guest for the version on Netflix is Steve Martin. It is, as you probably imagine, a lot of fun. Kroll is so great in these improv moments (there are a few others in the show, which you can pick out because Mulaney is usually fighting back laughter), in large part because of years of practice. Fans of Comedy Bang Bang will remember his many podcast appearances in character as El Chupacabra and Bobby Bottleservice, among others. It’s that kind of commitment to a craft that allows you to calmly look at Steve Martin and ask an interview question like, “So, what’s your address?” It’s a good bit, always. That’s what I’m getting at.
(I was lucky enough to catch the play live on Broadway. The guest for our show was Seth Rogen. He was just sitting in the crowd when they called him up on stage. He appeared to be very high. It was a matinee. Seth Rogen is always on brand.)
As you’re probably starting to realize, it’s not easy to describe Oh, Hello without sounding like a crazy person. The simplest way to do it would be to list off 10-15 of the best jokes and bits from the show, but that’s a terrible idea because a) it will spoil them for you, and b) it wouldn’t do them justice. It’s hard to even compare it to another work of comedy because it is very much its own thing. There’s a chance you’ll watch it and hate it, because the specificity and oddness of it all might be too much for you. That’s fine. Not everything is for everyone. But man oh man, do I ever love it. What can I say? I’m a sucker for demonic tuna fish sandwiches.