Puberty, in Nick Kroll’s hit Netflix series Big Mouth, is a bawdy animated universe where feelings and hormones have minds of their own, guiding characters through complex social situations with hilarious and often revelatory results. Kroll’s recent spin-off, Human Resources, demonstrates that the workplace is remarkably similar. The comedian—who voices more than 30 characters across the two shows—knows that we bring our full selves to the office, for better or worse, because he oversees one of his own, a year-and-a-half-old production company called Good at Business. Here, Kroll talks about writing comedy over Zoom, translating Slack to the screen, and teaming up with Mel Brooks for the upcoming Hulu series History of the World, Part II.
When did you realize that Big Mouth could yield a spin-off, which focuses on the professional lives of the Hormone Monsters?
[For] the finale of season 2, we thought it would be fun to go up and see where Maury [one of the main Hormone Monsters, who guides kids through puberty] worked. It proved to be so fun to see that world. As the seasons progressed, we kept introducing new creatures: a Shame Wizard, Anxiety Mosquitoes, Depression Kitties, Lovebugs, and Hate Worms. We realized we had a workplace full of characters.
What did you want to examine about today’s workplace culture through that Big Mouth lens?
Big Mouth is about kids. There’s only so much that you can explore beyond their experience in adolescence. With adults, it allows us to explore other things. For example, the sensitivity training [episode] allows us to talk about what it’s like in a workplace today: Things that used to be able to fly can’t anymore, much of it for good reason. The beauty of having [the main characters in Human Resources] be monsters and creatures is that you can heighten things to make them ridiculous, yet still explore the idea that not everyone has the same culture inside of that workplace. And so how can Hormone Monsters, who want to screw all day, do that while being respectful?
Being in a writers room is all about energy and bouncing ideas off each other. How did that go over Zoom?
I think it was season 5 of Big Mouth when the lockdown happened. Then we went straight into Human Resources. It was a season 1 show, but we had so much built in, culture-wise and humor-wise, that it was an advantage. We weren’t trying to write something completely new with a completely new group of people. [But] the energy is tougher [on Zoom]. You have to change your hours. You just don’t have as much stamina. You have to be more conscious of your writers’ time and be very clear about what is happening when. Today, we are working on this little section, and we’re going to break at exactly 11:15. Giving people a sense of structure was helpful in keeping everyone’s energy and spirits up through the slog of day-after-day over Zoom.
Apps have definitely changed how we engage with each other at work. You are currently developing a series based on the experimental novel Several People Are Typing, which is written entirely in Slack messages. What’s your relationship like with Slack?
Not having been in the corporate space for many years, I knew of Slack, but it’s not part of my day-to-day life. But [author] Calvin Kasulke does a beautiful job of telling a weirdly emotional and funny story all in this format. It seemed like a great opportunity to do a show about what it’s like to work in an office in the 21st century, the push and pull of those physical and virtual spaces that we’re living in; where yes, you’re at work, but you are also DM’ing with one of your coworkers while texting your spouse while buying a winter coat. We are navigating these different environments at once. And it’s hard to extricate yourself from work because even when you’re home, you’ve got your phone, which has your work mail or your Slack channel.
History of the World, Part II, a series you’re cowriting and executive producing, is a sequel to Mel Brooks’s 1981 film. How did you get involved with the project?
To be honest, I got a call from Mel Brooks.
Wow, what a flex!
I will say it is the biggest flex that I could bring. I grew up watching History of the World. The Producers was my favorite movie. Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs—these are seminal works for me and so many people. I’d gotten to know [Brooks] through a few events, and he came and saw [Kroll and John Mulaney’s 2016 Broadway comedy] Oh, Hello. [His team] came to me, and then I brought in Wanda Sykes and then Ike [Barinholtz] and Dave [Stassen], and we’ve built this team. It’s been one of the highlights of my career and my life. And I still can’t believe it’s happening.
Meet The Team: If Nick Kroll’s characters formed a corporation, this group would run it
He could’ve called anyone. Why do you think he called you?
I’ve done sketch before, but I’ve also done longer-form storytelling. I’ve done some history stuff in the past. I don’t know. I couldn’t answer that question, really. It’d be putting words in his mouth. All I can say is that I am such a fan of his that I think he knew we would pay proper respect to the work that he’s done, but also make something that felt current and new. When you look at Mel’s body of work, [with] so many of the jokes, the people in power are the target. He’s almost always punching up. And as we try to do a show about history in 2022, we’re looking back and rethinking and “relensing” so much of what we saw as history, and who wrote history, and what was said, that it actually felt like a perfect project to be rebooted right now. Because what we’re doing in society in general is like, Let’s look at who these leaders were. Were they as good as we thought? And that’s what Mel’s been doing for his whole career.
Brooks is a writer on the project and an executive producer. What have you learned from working with him?
He’s 95 years old and still excited to make things. He’s still excited to write bits. He’s excited to come up with songs and lyrics. He’s excited to be on a pitch. And that is incredibly inspiring. His ability to put people at ease with a joke and a kindness is a great skill.
Brooks’s legacy has clearly had an impact on you. What do you want your legacy to be?
[Laughs] I’m uncomfortable being like, “Well, my legacy . . .” but. . . . You can’t control what the final outcome of the work will be. So I hope that working with me is a pleasurable experience. It’s part of the ethos of Good at Business, which is “no assholes.” I have a pretty strict “no assholes” policy. I don’t think you have to be an asshole to be good at what you do. And I hope that the work itself makes people laugh, [and] that hopefully it makes people think a little bit.