A Broadway show based on a niche comedy sketch about tuna isn’t your textbook recipe for success, but hey, that’s not how Broadway works (rapping presidents felt like a stretch, too).
Oh, Hello stars John Mulaney and Nick Kroll as George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon, two doddering Manhattanites with an affinity for mispronouncing words and pranking people in diners (also, raccoons). The show opened off-Broadway in 2015 (at the same theater where Hasan Minhaj had just debuted another future Netflix special), eventually selling out its Broadway run, which concluded earlier this year.
Now, the twisted New York love letter goes worldwide streaming on Netflix, so its creators sat down with Mashable to discuss their Broadway dreams, honing jokes, and what’s next for George and Gil.
So, why Netflix?
John Mulaney: I think it’s one of the — I think it’s not yet the number one streaming service, but I think it’s on the rise.
Nick Kroll: I don’t know…
JM: They’ve transitioned well from DVD mailers and I think that —
NK: I think that was a big mistake, actually, to move off of DVDs and go into streaming. I think that was a mistake.
JM: When you do something well, you don’t abandon it for a fad.
NK: Right, and we’re hoping that…if anyone out there watching with a Netflix account, if they wouldn’t mind recording onto a VHS so that George and Gil, our characters, can watch, that would be helpful.
We know Gil and George from Kroll Show and stuff like that, but can you talk me through the genesis of these characters?
JM: We started performing those guys at a place called Rafifi in the East Village in 2005. So we did those characters to host a standup show where we would have comics on and then interview them after. We took a little break from them just cause Nick was in L.A. and I was in New York, got to do them on Kroll Show, got to do "Too Much Tuna," got to see how his fans and his show’s fans really responded to that, and people all over the country of all different ages — like girls in Arizona…
NK: …like were dressing up as Gil and George for Halloween. Like, wow, this is not at all who we thought would be fans of this. And it ended up being reflected on tour and on Broadway that our audience was quite different than your average Broadway audience. I think our median age was well lower…
JM: …one of the youngest Broadway audiences.
NK: And we had bigger bar sales than, like —
JM: Phantom of the Opera, which has an intermission.
NK: We had no intermission and we were still beating Phantom of the Opera.
JM: The Schubert company called our theater one day and said, ‘I thought the show [didn’t have] intermission,’ and they said, ‘We don’t,’ and they said, ‘Then it doesn’t check out. The bar sales are so big.’ What was happening was our fans were buying tumblers of — …Was it Maker’s Mark?
JM: You could buy tumblers with a lid, and they would buy them like three at a time, like $75 worth of alcohol and then go into the theater. Cause some of them were also doing cocaine and stuff so they needed to come down from that, where they were stoned and they wanted to mellow out.
That’s what I did when I went to the show.
JM: Our director actually said it was the first time he saw anyone on Broadway go to the bathroom two-at-a-time. It’s really something.
But [Gil and George] were based on real people, right?
JM: They were based on two guys we saw at the Strand bookstore, which is a used bookstore in Manhattan.
NK: 18 miles of books.
JM: And 12 miles of loneliness. Two guys that were really Oh, Hello-in’ it in sport coats with turtlenecks and travel shirts and they were buying a copy of Alan Alda’s autobiography, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. They were each buying a copy.
NK: And all the bee-ographies.
JM: All the bee-ographies.
NK: As we eventually called it. We can’t give them credit for that.
JM: We based it on them and a lot of other people that we have encountered or seen in movies.
NK: And what we found traveling the country doing the show and also just talking to people was that no matter where you’re from, you have like an older, racist uncle or aunt or grandparent or professor. They sort of exist all over the place and they’re…they’re very incredibly specific New York characters and archetypes, but also weirdly reflect all over the country.
Yeah, I was going to ask about that. The show is such a New York show, so how did you adapt that for traveling and for Netflix?
JM: Well Netflix is the Broadway show, New York and all. But like we said, I think there’s a lot of universals for everyone. On tour we liked to make fun of the cities we were in, and we would maybe drop the occasional, ultra-specific reference, like the grave of Ed Koch — which actually in real life had a typo on it ’til they fixed it. But it was still like these guys are on the Upper West side of Manhattan. The thing is, everyone knows New York, and everyone knows it from Woody Allen, Nancy Meyers, all movies forever.
NK: Nancy Meyers is your second reference?
JM: She’s the second-greatest director ever. Woody Allen being the first. Why, is he out of fashion now?
NK: No, he’s still hot.
JM: Fine, Martin Scor-sees.
NK: And then Nancy Meyers?
JM: No, Nancy Meyers first now.
Is Woody Allen third now?
JM: Woody Allen doesn’t count. He has an Amazon series that he’s doing.
Wow, he just dropped. He went from number one to out of the running.
NK: He’s out of the game.
JM: I guess. That Amazon series is so good, though.
What would your dream stage venture be?
NK: I think we did it. Like, truly — I don’t know if you had this feeling, but I was like, ‘This might be the height of it.’
JM: I had that. I was like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever done.’
NK: This might be the moment — John and I have been friends since college and we started doing these characters when we were just starting out in New York and we’ve gone off and done various things and came together for this show. And it was as much fun and well-received as we could have ever dreamed and there’s a world where I’m like, ‘This might’ve been it.’ It might all be slightly downhill from here.
JM: Yeah, I could see it being downhill or a second big swing that falls short and misses the mark.
NK: But we are going to take some more big swings.
JM: We’re gonna absolutely do the thing you’re not supposed to do.
NK: But honestly, doing the show and then having the Netflix special off of it was like — this was sort of the final piece of what we had always dreamed we would do, which is make this very specific live theater experience that then could be on Netflix and have everybody see it.
Image: Joan Marcus via netflix
What would be the ideal next venture for Gil and George?
JM: There’s a couple ideas. They’re about to do The Amazing Race in a foursome with Dr. Ben Carson and Gene Simmons. They tape that, then it airs, then they have to do press, so they’re out ’til deep 2018, I’d say.
NK: And Kevin Spacey, who just hosted the Tonys, is doing Clarence Darrow at Arthur Ashe Stadium I believe, at the U.S. Open, and George and Gil are going to do a two-man version of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill at La Famiglia Pizza in Penn Station.
JM: It’s called Anita Diet Coke.
That sounds perfect.
JM: It’s a really shitty and lousy show.
The joke density of this show was one of my favorite things about it. You can talk about the process, but I feel like every line…
JM: Every line’s a joke.
NK: Every line’s a joke.
The word choice and everything.
JM: We just kept doing it until every line was a joke. Sometimes we’d go "Eh, we actually just need a straight line." We’d be like, "We need a joke when you say ‘Can you get the door?’" and then we’d be like "I think we just gotta stick with that. It is important for the story." And then we’d be like, "Can you get the door, cause it might be Monica Lewinsky."
NK: Or if we couldn’t verbally make a joke, we’d have to like walk a funny way or something. I think we settled into a thing of…if we have a hundred jokes per show — well, there’s more than a hundred jokes.
JM: That’d be a failure, yeah.
NK: The show was a 100 minutes, and I would say there’s five jokes a minute. So I’d say there’s about 500 jokes in the show. Not every joke’s gonna be for every person, but even if you only get like a fifth of the jokes you get like a hundred jokes.
JM: But I don’t want you watching it if you’re not gonna get the jokes.
NK: Don’t watch it.
I feel like that’s so hard to do, because even some great films and television shows have filler lines.
JM: They work incredibly hard on television, but you’re putting things together at best over the course of a month or so. And we worked on this for two years, plus eight years of thinking about these characters all the time.
NK: That was to me the beauty of doing a play was you get to polish this one specific thing every day and keep tweaking it and in a weird way it’s like Groundhog Day except not the musical that is actually on Broadway now, but that—JM: We would’ve never finished a show with any type of injury.
NK: I think we were able to keep polishing it and finding the spots…until we taped it, at the end of our 140-show run we were still changing jokes. And usually the ones that we loved that didn’t get changed, it wasn’t like "Ah, we love this joke but I’m sick of it, we’re going to change it," we just were slowly eliminating the jokes that weren’t…
JM: Sometimes we’d go back to a joke we’d done two years earlier off-Broadway and be like, "Oh right, I got tired of that, but that still works," so we’d drop it back in. I remember when I was at Saturday Night Live—
NK: What a show.
JM: — I was at Book of Mormon dress rehearsal. And it was…there’s frustrations in writing a whole new show every week that’s much more disposable, and then seeing [Book of Mormon] I was like, "Holy shit." And the person I was with was like, "Well they’ve been working on it for five years." So to do something that we were working on, in some sense for 10 years, was so satisfying.
NK: He was with Woody Allen.
JM: I was with Woody.
What makes Oh, Hello better than Hamilton?
NK: Oh, so many things.
JM: So many things.
NK: We don’t rap once.
JM: Oh, Hello is timeless because the music is Steely Dan.
NK: Yeah. It’s about an important cultural event, which is…
JM: The lives of these two guys, Gil Faizon and George.
NK: Let’s see, what else? Lin-Manuel Miranda has absolutely nothing to do with Oh, Hello, which is great for us.
JM: He got a MacArthur Genius Grant and we got a McGruff crime fighter award, which, I mean, you mail away for it. It’s for little kids. It comes in cereal, but we did it. George and Gil got it. You get a little shit whistle that doesn’t work and it says "crime fighter" on it.
NK: And then we changed it to say "Take a bite out of rimes," thinking that would be good for rapping, which we don’t do.
JM: Plus, Gil and George are total cowards and would never blow a whistle.
My last question is: Do you even like tuna? What would you order at a diner?
NK: I am stone-cold allergic to tuna.
So any amount is too much.
NK: It truly is too much tuna for me. I’m intolerant to tuna.
JM: And I like cod.
NK: A salted cod. A dry diner cod.
JM: Dry cod at a slow boil.
Oh, Hello is now streaming on Netflix.