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The ‘Big Mouth’ universe is getting bigger and so are Nick Kroll’s creative swings

The man of many characters is pushing himself to step in front of those personas to reveal more of himself—and it’s proving to be his greatest challenge.

The ‘Big Mouth’ universe is getting bigger and so are Nick Kroll’s creative swings
[Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Image]

Listen to the latest episode of Fast Company’s Creative Conversation podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher.

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Nick Kroll’s career has largely been defined by the cavalcade of memorable characters that he’s created over the years.

There’s New Jersey’s son Bobby Bottleservice, event planner extraordinaire Liz G., the less-than-a-mensch Gil Faizon, and, of course, the roster of voices he provides for his hit animated Netflix series Big Mouth. Season 5 debuts on November 5.

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While Kroll is exceptionally good at slipping into an array voices and personas, he’s pushing himself to step in front of those characters to reveal more of himself—and that’s proving to be his greatest creative challenge to date.

Nick Kroll [Photo: Storm Santos]
“Doing Big Mouth and related activities, I’ve seen the rewards of being more personally honest and vulnerable,” Kroll says in the latest episode of Fast Company‘s podcast Creative Conversation. “It was much easier to hide behind characters and what their point of view on the world was than it was to be willing to share my own.”

Big Mouth may have been inspired by the more laughable tribulations of puberty, but over the course of five seasons, it’s also allowed Kroll to unpack his very adult insecurities.

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For example, season four was a deep dive into anxiety that culminated in Nick Birch (Kroll) wrestling with not growing up to become Nick Starr, the adult version of himself who’s very successful but at the expense of his crushing loneliness having pushed away everyone who loved him.

“Nick Starr is a very ridiculously heightened version of myself, which led to a dissection of me at the time: a single man, 40, who was struggling to understand whether I was going to live the rest of my life alone or open myself up to more intimacy,” Kroll says. “So it was a lot of life imitating art. It was incredibly stressful. But ultimately, for me, incredibly therapeutic to allow myself to use my art to work through some issues that I was dealing with in my real life.”

Season five of Big Mouth is no different, as we’re introduced to Lovebugs and Hate Worms, new creatures alongside the Hormone Monsters, The Shame Wizard, and others that govern the kids’s emotions.

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As the season progresses, the character Nick plummets into a deep resentment for having been romantically rejected—all of which leads to a rather big swing for the show (no spoilers!) and more frank explorations of Kroll’s neuroses.

Check of highlights of Kroll’s Creative Conversation episode below, and listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher.

Everybody say love . . . or hate

“We were breaking [season five] in the midst of 2020, when there was so much vitriol through the election and the murder of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter Movement. And it was such an emotional year and still is. So we decided that love and hate would be a really interesting area to play in and introduce these Lovebugs. We have Anxiety Mosquitoes and Shame Wizards and Hormone Monsters. And so we introduced Lovebugs, but also that these Lovebugs could also, in turn, be Hate Worms—that love and hate can oftentimes be from the same source.”

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Will the real Nick Kroll please stand up?

“I think the challenge for me that I have been working through in Big Mouth and now I’m trying to take into stand-up in this tour [Middle-Aged Boy] where I’m not doing any characters is being open and honest, just allowing people into myself and my true stories of who I am. That’s a scary thing for a lot of people. It’s a very vulnerable thing to open yourself up and say, like, “Here’s who I am. Here’s who I was. Here’s the fucked up stuff.” Some stand-ups are so good at that. It’s what they do best. And it’s been something that I have been trying to get better at, because what I have noticed with Big Mouth is, I was so rewarded for being more vulnerable and honest about myself. So that’s been something that has been a challenge for me: to be more forthright about myself inside of my work.”

Creative conversation (pun intended)

“The way that I seem to be the best creative is just like being in conversation. Even if I’m doing stand up, it’s a conversation I’m having with the crowd. It’s the way that I seem to create—verbally. Very rarely do I sit down at a computer or a desk and be creative. It’s almost always in conversation.

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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