Nick Kroll and John Mulaney are best friends who genuinely love working together; it’s not difficult to imagine them doing this for the next 40 years — particularly since the pair are fresh off a record-breaking run of “Oh, Hello on Broadway” in which they portray elderly gadflys Gil Kaizon (Kroll) and George St. Geegland (Mulaney).
Next up, they’ll be hosting the Film Independent Spirit Awards on Feb. 25, a perfect fit for the comedians who clearly know their indie films – Mulaney is a writer/producer on “Documentary Now!” while Kroll played lawyer Bernard S. Cohen in last year’s acclaimed “Loving.” Variety sat down with the duo to discuss their friendship, drinking at awards shows, and the state of the business where, as Mulaney puts it, “The only true independent film is ATM security footage.”
Independent films tend to cover serious subject matter; are you worried about finding the comedy as hosts?
Mulaney: I think there’s something funny about how goddamn serious they all are. It’s unrelenting, it’s the Olympics of sadness.
Kroll: It’s the saddest year in movies. We’ve got “Manchester,” “Moonlight,” “Chronic,” “Jackie” … it’s sad when “American Honey” is the happiest film of the year and it’s about runaways aimlessly trying to figure out their lives with no parental figures.
Mulaney: When you’re watching a film and hoping that this magazine sales racket doesn’t turn into sex trafficking and that’s the happiest movie of the year, you have some serious movies.
How did the hosting gig come your way?
Kroll: Film Independent and Joel Gallen, who’s producing, came to us. We were finishing up “Oh, Hello” in New York and were so sad about ending. And we’re fans of the Spirit Awards, we watch it every year.
Mulaney: It was such a bummer that after a four month run and a year working together, it was about to end.
Kroll: We had put a cap on how long the play would run and were sure we’d want to go back and do other stuff. Then we got to the end and I was like, “Oh, I’m not done.”
Mulaney: And we love the Spirit Awards, it’s the best one.
Kroll: We’ve had friends host it and they always have fun doing it. But more than anything, we were excited about the idea of doing something else together.
Mulaney: We’ve both written for awards shows over the years and most people’s standard wisdom is, “Be very funny, but no one will fault you if you don’t do too much time. Be funny, be brief, then be gone.”
There are also bottles of whiskey on the table, which helps.
Kroll: There’s nothing better for hosting a show than a bunch of people daytime-whiskey drunk. The thing that’s the biggest bummer about any live show is a hot, sober room. So if it’s during the day and people are a little buzzed, great. The whole thing should feel like a party. It’s the independent movies. Most of these people never even got a wrap party on their movie.
Mulaney: It’s more fun to quiet a rowdy audience than to convince an uptight audience to laugh.
Will Gil and George be making an appearance at the show?
Kroll: We’re fighting with them over per diem. They insist they want to sit at a table with 10s. We explained that’s not how it works.
Mulaney: But they’re going to be in town at an estate sale in Palm Springs, so it’s awkward not to invite them.
Kroll: They’re not so much fans of independent movies are they are of independent theatres. They like small theaters with a vague, septic smell. They’re not wild about the newfangled theaters with the assigned seating.
Mulaney: They do enjoy fighting over assigned seating. Which they do even in non-assigned seating theaters.
Kroll: And they are happy to watch the films on screeners, as long as they’re on VHS.
So you’re celebrating the best independent movies of the year; is it a conflict of interest to also be in “Loving,” one of the best indies of the year?
Mulaney: Not for me!
Kroll: I think it gives insight into how gratifying it can be to be a part of something like “Loving,” which was made by Jeff Nichols who’s made some of the best independent films of the last 10 years, and Ruth (Negga) and Joel (Edgerton.) To know how hard and joyful it can be to make a movie like that and watch it go through the awards season and seeing how much goes into trying to get the word out about your movie — I think it gives an insight and appreciation into how hard it is to make one of these films and get it recognized.
How did “Loving” come to you, was it an audition situation?
Kroll: No, that was one of the joys of it. Jeff was a fan of “Kroll Show” and had seen some of the indie films I’d done, particularly “Adult Beginners.” He doesn’t really do much auditioning so that was so exciting to not have to fight for a role.
Mulaney: You don’t like auditions? What if the parking is really bad? Or the audition is an hour away and you get the material the night before? Or being in the waiting area and hearing someone screaming and going, “Oh and I’m supposed to scream?”
Kroll: Or seeing different versions of yourself that are better-looking or more famous.
John, what did you think of Nick’s work in “Loving”?
Mulaney: I was delighted. I loved the movie, it’s so beautiful but there’s this innate tension through the first 40 minutes where you’re so scared for that couple—
Kroll: Then the hero of the film, Nick Kroll, shows up!
Mulaney: No, it’s really fun to see your best friend and go, “Oh my God, look how good he is in this.”
So you guys really are best friends?
Mulaney: Yes, he’s my best friend.
Kroll: There’s a guy I talk to when I get my car washed.
Mulaney: That’s who I’m competing with? What’s his name?