A farewell to Kroll Show

Kroll Show aired its last episode on Comedy Central on a recent Tuesday night. Not many people saw the show during its three seasons, but those who did would not easily forget it. Nick Kroll, the star and creator, fashioned a program that transcended the constraints of the sketch-show genre. The characters developed over the course of the show’s run, becoming fully formed. They crossed over into each other’s story lines, much like a serialized drama.

Kroll is a dark-haired man, with big blue eyes and an expressive face that he can contort at will. His expressive eyes are often all that remains recognizable as he transforms into a variety of characters with the help of a skilled makeup team.

In the series finale, Kroll’s commitment to giving satisfying conclusions to his character’s journeys was evident. The episode began with PubLizity, one of the many Kroll Show sketches that skewer the conventions of reality television. It’s characters Liz G (Kroll), and Liz B (Jenny Slate) are the stars of their own reality show, PubLizity, which is also the name of their P.R firm. The firm specializes in promotional events with elaborate themes that usually have no clear link to the product that is being promoted. The PubLizity sketches feature all the hallmarks of the reality shows seen on networks such as Bravo. There are confessionals, commentaries on the action as it unfolds, and of course drama.

Kroll’s portrayal of Liz G is masterful. Wearing a blond wig, makeup and a skirt, he imbues Liz G with insecurities about her height and her bangs, making her real in the process. In the final season, PubLizity is in financial trouble. Liz G is determined to save the firm, and her savior comes in the form of Wendy Shawn (Jon Daly). Wendy Shawn is one of the stars of Rich Dicks, a recurring sketch starring Daly and Kroll as two obnoxiously wealthy friends who pop pills, and open restaurants that only serve brunch.

Daly has been a constant presence on Kroll Show, playing numerous characters. Like Kroll, he disappears into the characters that he plays, but they are often the sidekicks. As Wendy Shawn, he gets his moment in the spotlight. Pairing Liz and Liz with Wendy is inspired, as these three characters are known as much for their penchant for excess, as for the fact that they are often unintelligible. Liz and Liz love to scream and squeal when excited, their words devolving into nonsensical sounds. Wendy Shawn meanwhile, draws out the “a” and “r’s” in his words. “Thank you” becomes “thaaaannnk yaarrrhhh.” It’s a match made in heaven as they join together to plan Wendy’s brissmitzvah, a celebration to mark his conversion to Judaism that will feature both his briss and bar mitzvah.

An occasional viewer would not know that Wendy spent much of his time on the show ridiculing his half-Jewish friend, Aspen (Kroll) for being Jewish. The derision the character showed for Judaism is what made the idea of his brissmitzvah all the more funny. Kroll Show thrived on this type of specificity. The show was not made for casual viewing. It rewarded loyal fans with callbacks, references and in-jokes.

In its final season, Kroll Show reached new heights of both hilarity and weirdness. Viewers were treated to the Canadian talent show; Show Us Your Songs Commonwealth, a parody of shows such as America’s got Talent. The jokes about Commonwealth countries were so finely tuned that I often wondered if non-Commonwealth residents would appreciate them. My appreciation for Kroll only grew when Show Us Your Songs arrived in South Africa, and was treated to a performance by Die Vra, a hilariously accurate parody of one of South African music’s most well known exports, the outrageous Die Antwoord. One of the judges on Show us your songs Commonwealth, is Bryan Lacroix (Kroll), a Canadian pop star/actor modeled on Justin Bieber. He announces, that he is wearing black and white “because of South Africa’s history of Apartheid…”

Characters like Lacroix epitomize Kroll’s gift for cutting satire. By subverting the reality television genre, he was able to highlight its ridiculousness, and in turn make people question what attracts us to these shows in the first place. He took the tropes of the genre and used them for his benefit. Kroll was not trying to be liked. Would anyone looking for mainstream appeal create two characters that Kroll himself described as “Upper-West Side, liberal racists?” He was referring to Gil Faizon (Kroll) and George St Geegland (John Mulaney). Dressed in varying shades of beige, they look like they’ve walked straight out of a bad Woody Allen film. As the hosts of their own community access prank show, Too Much Tuna, they attempt to prank people by ordering them sandwiches that overflow with tuna. Kroll’s commitment to taking his characters storylines as far as they can go resulted in Gil and George developing mercury poisoning.

As the final episode drew to a close, Liz G and Liz B gathered in the Publizity office. They each tried to hold back a single tear, dabbing their eyes to make sure their makeup was not running. Kroll had ended the show on his own terms, keeping it weird, while at the same time making us care about these ridiculous characters.

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