Nick Kroll is the co-creator and star of Netflix’s “Big Mouth,” and now he’s nominated for his first Emmy Award. The series is nominated for Best Animated Program at this year’s Emmys, for its second season.
Kroll recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Charles Bright about the Planned Parenthood episode of Season 2, the real-life experiences he brought to the series and what’s ahead in Season 3 of “Big Mouth.” Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: The first thing I wanna ask is, what was the biggest lesson you learned going from Season 1 to Season 2?
Nick Kroll: We had the interesting experience of writing Season 1 and really putting it out… We literally wrote Season 1 and Season 2 before Season 1 came out. It was an advantage on some level because we could just follow what our natural instincts were with Season 1 before getting the feedback from the public. We were overall very, very lucky that the things the viewers were enjoying were the things that we were interested in exploring more and the things that didn’t feel quite right didn’t seem to resonate with the audience. I just didn’t answer your question but now I will, ‘cause I was trying to figure out what the lessons were, and now I’ve stalled my way to having an answer. The lessons were continuing to explore all the different kids and their characters more. Obviously, it was always our plan to do a show based on me and Andrew Goldberg’s life, what it’s like for two boys who are going through puberty at different ages. We were always sure that we wanted to explore the girls’ stories equally. Season 1, we were only able to do that to a certain extent ‘cause we wanted to establish the show, that it was coming from these boys’ point of view but we immediately jumped in with Jessi’s story and saw how fun and interesting it was to explore what it’s like for girls to be going through puberty as well. I think in Season 2 we took some more swings like, for example, doing the Planned Parenthood episode, which was the first episode that broke form for us in a real way in that it was more vignettes, one-off sketches of sorts than one narrative story like your typical sitcom structure. Then within that, it was to also tell a variety of kinds of stories because it’s about Planned Parenthood and all the different services that Planned Parenthood offers. I think we learned that we just wanted to keep digging more into the kids’ actual emotional states as a way of mining them for stories and humor, the differentiation between the joke stuff and the really vulnerable, sweet stuff. We found that both of them complemented the other, that it was okay and encouraged for us to keep leaning into what is the emotional story for these kids to inform the show itself.
GD: You brought up the Planned Parenthood episode, which is the episode you’re nominated for. What made you and the team come up with this idea of doing a series of vignettes about Planned Parenthood?
NK: My partners, Mark Levin and Jen Flackett, went to a meeting with Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles and had a lengthy conversation with them. There was a bunch of writers and producers there and basically Planned Parenthood was like, “Look, of course we’d love to get your money to help fund us but also, we really want and need you guys to tell stories that involve Planned Parenthood.” So we took that as a mission to figure out what would be the story that we would tell involving Planned Parenthood and we went and did a visit of one of their L.A. facilities and Emily Altman, who wrote the episode, had been a volunteer of Planned Parenthood when she was younger and we saw the myriad of services that they offered and then slowly came to the idea of doing it as the vignettes in very different genre styles for STDs being a black and white horror movie or a girl choosing contraception being in the style of “The Bachelorette,” a woman deciding to get an abortion in the style of a Deee-Lite music video set to “Groove is in the Heart” that would have no words, a vasectomy story told from Elliot, the dad’s point of view, as a Woody Allen film, Missy, voiced by Jenny Slate, has a Star Wars-like space show called The Vagilantes about doing checks on women’s cancer screenings. All of these are services that Planned Parenthood offers and we thought we would talk about all these different services and have the casing of it be the kids in class with Coach Steve, who is their sex ed teacher and seems to know less than all the kids. It was a good way for the kids to teach and give us a framing device for it all.
GD: I think it was right after the Season 2 premiere, Netflix announced that you had been picked up for a third season. What sort of themes or possibly guest stars can we expect from Season 3?
NK: Season 3 we continue to expand out our universe. We started with a Valentine’s Day episode which aired in February and it set up a lot of the stuff that we continued talking about in Season 3. Matthew, voiced by Andrew Rannells, finally meets a boy. We were excited to tell what it’s like for a gay kid to have a boyfriend and what would that look like. We go to Florida for a very special episode in Florida that I think will be a real crazy one for people to watch and Judd Hirsch plays Andrew’s grandfather. There is an episode that I won’t spoil yet but all of our episodes have music, or a bunch of them do, but we do an episode centered around a musical, the class musical that they’re doing that I don’t wanna tease yet. I’m very excited we’re gonna go back to hear Duke Ellington, talks to the boys about how he lost his virginity and discovered ragtime, which is based on Duke Ellington’s real life when he was 13 years old. He said he lost his virginity right around there and went to Atlantic City and saw this guy, Harvey Brooks, play ragtime for the first time and it became super important to Duke’s musical evolution. So we go back in time to that and in that episode, we see that Duke has a ghost that is haunting his house and it’s the ghost of Harriet Tubman, voiced by Wanda Sykes, which couldn’t be more perfect. Ali Wong is on the show as a pan girl. There’s a girl who comes to school who’s pan. But in general, Season 3 is also a real dissection of what it’s like to be a kid right now. The first couple seasons, while current day, were a bit of a nostalgic look back at our childhood based on a lot of stories. We still have stories that are based on us but it’s really about kids now. Nick has a thing with his phone. He becomes obsessed with his cellphone, voiced by Chelsea Peretti, and the phone’s name is Cellsea, and they have a real tumultuous relationship. There’s a lot of stuff about kids now, what it’s like to be a kid right now in America. Season 3 was the first season that we really wrote after MeToo came to pass so there’s a lot more about toxic masculinity, about girls who are angry too and starting to explore those stories.
GD: I meant to ask this question second but I got lost in my list, what stories this past season, Season 2, came from real-life experiences? Last time we talked, you talked about some of the real-life experiences that were in Season 1. What were some of the ones that came into Season 2?
NK: I’m looking now at the list. A lot of us had dealt with, at certain points, dress code stuff… I’m sorry. I’m all over the map here about what is when and what’s what season. This is the Emmy show for Season 2, which is nominated this year, right? We’re all over the place and what stages work we’re at because of how long animation takes. Season 2, the Shame Wizard is very much based on what we all felt growing up and specifically, Andrew brought it up as a feeling he really dealt with. He said, “I want to do a Shame Monster,” and I said, “I think it should be a Shame Wizard,” because it’s much more haunting and enchanting. Shame is a little more enchanting and haunting than hormones, which feel more monstrous. The stuff with Gina, voiced by Gina Rodriguez, who’s this girl that grows boobs all of the sudden and Nick hooks up with her and tells his friends and everyone finds out, is unfortunately somewhat based on me around that age of not really knowing how to deal with anything. Coach Steve didn’t lose his virginity in real life when he was 40. Not a real human being. The drug stuff, I’m literally looking at the lineup and I’m sure inside of these episodes there’s stuff that definitely came out of our lives, but really, it’s this overarching feeling of the details that came out of our writers and our personal lives that start to permeate in general and then we get to create out of new all these kinds of stories. Be definitely used a few of them. Nick gets pantsed in… Does he get pantsed in Season 2 or Season 1?
NK: I got pantsed in real life in front of the girl I had a crush on. We used that on the show. We used another writer, who said he was at a birthday party on a zip-line and the birthday boy got pantsed on the zip-line so we took my story and this other story and used it in one. Andrew did get his upper lip waxed by his parents, which I now believe is part of Season 2 as well. His dad made his mom wax his upper lip and then for many years he couldn’t grow any facial hair right here and it looked like a reverse Hitler. And then, tons of gooey little bits throughout.
GD: A little bit earlier you brought up all the original music in the show, which is such an amazing part of it. Do you know what situations you want songs in in advance of writing an episode or do you write the whole season and then figure out, “Here’s where a song could go?”
NK: It definitely goes into the conceiving of each episode. We tend to have somewhere between four to six songs, ish, a season, if there’s 10 episodes. It’s dependent on the season. Certain things just make it very obvious that we want a song. “Guy Town,” where the boys help Greg move into a new apartment, we knew we wanted a song about Guy Town that was an exploration of the sad, really gross man’s bachelor pad. When Shame Wizard takes over, we knew we wanted a fun song there. I actually really love that song, the shame song, performed by David Thewlis, who voices the Shame Wizard. All of our songs are written by Mark Rivers, who’s unbelievably talented and he was nominated last year for “Am I Gay” and I believe got robbed here in Season 2 ‘cause he did some really amazing songs throughout the season. We know we want a song, this episode is feeling very Earth-bound, we wanna put a song in to break form, use animation but also use bigger ideas and things that felt like we really wanted to jump into like the boobs episode, which is the second episode. Missy and Jessi go to the Korean spa and they see all these different types of bodies and we knew we wanted a big song there and it ended up being “I Love My Body” performed by Maya Rudolph as the Hormone Monstress. It’s a real Donna Summer female body empowerment anthem and it’s just a monster song, in my opinion.
GD: As we said, you guys got nominated this year for Best Animated Program. What was your reaction when you found out that you guys had actually gotten in?
NK: I was so excited. I don’t know what you’re supposed to say, but I want to win an Emmy. I would love for our show to be recognized in that way. It’s incredible to be nominated because we just really work really, really hard on the show and we love it and we think it’s funny and we think it’s about something. So it’s really nice to be recognized by the academy, specifically because animation, the animation section of the academy, it really is a nomination from the other people who make animated TV and really understand what goes into making a show like this, so that, to me, is really cool.
GD: Thank you so much, Nick, for joining us.
NK: Thanks so much.