Nick Kroll is serious, which is a tad unusual for a man who has largely made his living by being funny.
But being funny for reporters isn’t his job, he says in a telephone interview. “My job is just to answer your questions.
“Trying to be funny is tricky. You end up saying things that look different in print. My goal is to produce content that’s funny, not be funny in interviews.”
Kroll, of course, has been creating funny content for a dozen years, most famously on the “Kroll Show,” his sketch comedy series that ran on Comedy Central from 2013-15.
And lately Kroll, 38, is showing up on movie screens, from a co-starring role in the romantic comedy “My Blind Brother,” which featured his first onscreen love scenes, to a voiceover gig in the animated feature “Sausage Party.” He also has a key part in the historical drama “Loving,” currently playing in Bay Area theaters.
“Loving” already is the subject of awards chatter. In the film, about the real-life interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving, who were arrested in 1958 because their marriage violated Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. Kroll portrays attorney Bernie Cohen, who in 1967 successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that the state’s ban on interracial marriage was unconstitutional.
At the moment, however, Kroll is busy promoting “Oh, Hello on Broadway,” a play he wrote with John Mulaney. The pair met “at a very Jewish school, Georgetown,” he jokes, where they joined an improv group, became friends “and we kept hanging out and making things.”
One of the things they “kept making” were characters Gil Faizon (Kroll) and George St. Geegland (Mulaney), a pair of elderly Jews who share an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
“These are characters with very specific-to-New York personalities,” Kroll says. He and Mulaney were inspired by “two old men [we saw] going into the Strand book store, each buying copies of Alan Alda’s biography,” he says. The pair then moved to a park to read their books.
Before winding up at the Lyceum Theater, Kroll and Mulaney toured the country with “Oh, Hello” and then had a successful run off-Broadway, all to rapturous reviews.
That’s continued with this production, including a rave from Ben Brantley in the New York Times — with a small, off-handed warning about bad puns and politically incorrect jokes.
There are several Jewish references in the show, but one in particular raises eyebrows — when Gil recalls that his father once said that he “ratted out other Jews during the Holocaust.”
The comment drew some titters at a recent performance, but not nearly the laughs most of the show received.
Kroll understands why someone might get upset. “The character I’m playing is kind of a weasel,” he says. “Even though it’s an awful thing to talk about, if you’re looking at a character, perhaps his father was the type of person who would have done that.
“He’s not celebrated for what he did. But for our show to be able to say the things that we say, every group has to be provoked a bit. Everyone has to take a lump.”
Still, it’s somewhat surprising, considering Kroll attended Solomon Schechter Day School through grade school and was raised in a Conservative, kosher-keeping household in suburban Westchester County, New York. His parents — father Jules and mother Lynn — have served high-profile roles within the organized Jewish community, including positions on the board of UJA Federation of New York.
For Kroll, that sense of Jewishness, if not level of observance, has stuck. “Judaism can play out in a number of ways: religious beliefs, desire for ritual, even the underlying rhythms of conversation,” he says. “That’s what makes Jewish history and culture so interesting. So I think for sure, my Judaism plays a huge role in my identity.”
It can even be a selling point on casting calls “if they need a Jewish [looking] guy,” he adds. “Those are some of the more easy casting opportunities. On the other hand, there is no shortage of Yiddishe punims trying to do the same thing.
“But I’ve also enjoyed playing different characters. Because through styling and makeup, you can transform yourself into another person.”