Have you seen Nick Kroll’s face? If you haven’t, then you’re missing something kinda/sorta special.
That’s not a swipe. He isn’t ugly. His is a unique twist on the ‘everyman’ appeal. He’s got eyes that can balance dramatic subtlety or pop out of his head (figuratively) should the scene require it. He’s got these low-hanging eyelids and a generally lazy veneer that practically screams “loon” or “doofus” or maybe even “slacker.” The corners of his mouth appear crooked perpetually in some secret, sly grin, almost as if he’s trying to hide something from you, me, or all of us. It’s the face of a court jester, a prankster, but with an air of familiarity to make one wonder if you just passed him on the street or had a beer with him last Saturday night.
So if you haven’t seen it, Nick Kroll’s face is picture-perfect-made for comedy.
Fortunately, he’s good at.
Last January (2013), the Kroll Show’s first season premiered on Comedy Central with absolutely no pomp and circumstance. But who can blame the network suits? While most shows on Comedy Central barely register a pulse so far as ratings are concerned, I think they’ve been a fairly respectable barometer on what the mainstream finds either (A) funny or (B) entirely objectionable – depending upon your particular taste for laughter. Granted, that’s a wide range, but comedy remains fairly elusive to quantify or formulate except that it’s something which generates laughs.
Also, the network in particular has suffered an astoundingly awful roster of programs ripe with the “one-and-done” curse, meaning one season and that’s all she wrote … and that’s if they’re lucky enough to see the broadcast light of day. For every South Park, Comedy Central probably had two if not three stinkers that probably should have gone right from the drawing board to the cutting board. In their desperate bid to find the next South Park or Tosh.O, the management has made some curious decisions along the way.
Rather than put himself – meaning his real-life persona – through the comic paces, Kroll has chosen to use his gift to create some larger-than-life knuckleheads to hide behind. The beauty of this approach is it allows the comedian to poke fun playfully at stereotypes too painfully close to reality. These are characters who are absolutely clueless about their cluelessness; thus, they’re a delight for us to study, always safe in the knowledge: “he’s poking fun at somebody other than me.”
Or is he?
This is the same approach Christopher Guest has used in his delightful mockumentaries, starting with This is Spinal Tap (1984) and running up through his last go-round on HBO with Family Tree. Because we’re seated safely in the audience, it’s as if we’re in on the joke. Besides, the enjoyment we get from watching these characters is far more benign than hurtful precisely because they’re completely unaware that we’re watching.
Where Kroll has added his own unique spin to this by placing his clueless characters in their own reality television program, and each one is a bit zanier than the last.
There’s Liz and Liz – that’s right, two young urban socialites both with the same name – working together in their dream profession as publicists for a firm they’ve called “PubLizity.”
There’s two old Jewish men trying to manage what their generation would accept as a version of the modern ‘prank’ show, and it’s all brilliantly staged as if it’s a cable access show in New York. The prank? It’s always the same: they serve their guest a sandwich of too much tuna. Seriously, it’s WAY too much tuna to be a sandwich.
Then, there’s Dr. Armond, the ultimate is self-absorbed plastic surgeons, who splits his time between his narcissist clients and his equally narcissistic family. (Armond was a first season character who hasn’t yet turned up in the second season, which just opened on January 14.)
And – last but not least – there’s C-Czar (though I thought it was just Czar), the ultimate white homeboy with a penchant for face piercing that sadly keep getting infected. In the second season, C-Czar’s about to become a dad, so for his reality show he’s getting helpful advice from six (count ‘em!) fathers, each representing a different aspect of parenthood. All this for a punk also can’t seem to buy a pair of pants that’ll stay up to cover his backside!
What’s clear to me is that Kroll takes particular pride in upending our expectations, and that’s probably why he’s honed in on the current trend toward reality programming. He’s trying to say something about how it all looks, maybe not today, but how it might look tomorrow or the day after or even to the next generation glancing back at us to study.
How can I be so sure he’s obsessed with images?
Check no further than his opening credits. It’s a free-for-all blink-and-you’ll-miss-it assortment of ad slicks – ones you think you’ll recognize but have been altered to put his name or the name of his show in them. Kroll’s reminding us of how things look but tweaking them just so they fit within the construct that is his reality-programmed world.
And it’s definitely worth a look.