We’re in a comedy boom right now. Louis CK has helped to bring standup to a level of prominence not seen since the late 80’s, podcasts and websites like FunnyOrDie and Collegehumor have given huge levels of exposure to many comedians, and sketch comedy has seen a revival both online and in television. Comedy Central seized the momentum and produced the excellent Key & Peele, which premiered to critical acclaim and strong viewership. Comedy Central is now expanding its sketch roster even further with Kroll Show, based around the many personas of comedian Nick Kroll.
Best known for his role on FX’s The League, Nick Kroll is probably the perfect comedian to base a sketch show around. A regular at standup comedy shows for years, Kroll’s act was always based much more around characters than traditional joke telling. He has established a repertoire of characters that have become well known in the comedy world, and even led to an SNL audition. Bobby Bottleservice, Fabrice Fabrice, El Chupacabra, and other characters have appeared in many podcasts and online videos, and Kroll plays them so well that it seems obvious that a sketch show would be the perfect showcase for their craziness.
One of the best decisions that Kroll made was with the format of his show. It could best be described as harkening back to SCTV, as it feels like you are watching a tv and the channel keeps changing every few minutes to a new show. Each episode has a couple longer sketches, “Publizity” and “Wheels Ontario” in the first episode, which are cut up by smaller self contained bits. The framework is not explicitly described, as it was with SCTV, giving the show a stream of conscious feel. Kroll Show also eschews the tradition of using out of character host segments as act breaks and to introduce sketches, like in Chappelle’s Show and Key & Peele. In fact the only exposure to Nick Kroll himself is in the opening minute of the show, where Kroll delivers a brief observational monologue, which probably came from an executive’s notes to show the audience what Kroll looks like without makeup and costumes so that the viewers could “relate” to him. Kroll is also careful to spread out his most familiar characters, Bobby Bottleservice doesn’t appear until the second episode for example, in order to leave room for new bits. This is a good strategy to bring in a new audience while appeasing existing fans of Kroll’s work, in the long run will hopefully prevent the same characters from becoming over done.
The sketches featured in the first episode are very funny and well structured. As previously mentioned, the two big sketches are “Publizity”, a fictional E! Network reality show about a PR firm in Hollywood run by two vapid women both named Liz, and “Wheels Ontario”, which is a pitch perfect send up of Degrassi and makes full use of Canadians stereotypes without coming across as mean and super hacky. There’s also a fake infomercial for the San Diego Diet, and a faux-ESPN segment where Kroll plays a desperately needy NBA referee unaware his mike is being broadcast. The only segment that didn’t work for me was “Sex in the City for Guys” which I found meandering and unfocused. Having said that, nineteen funny minutes out of a twenty-one minute show is a pretty good ratio.
Kroll Show is a very good addition to the comedy landscape. It’s well written and produced, and fills out its roster of supporting characters with hilarious people like Adam Pally, Jon Daley, Chelsea Peretti, Jenny Slate, Jon Mulaney, Ed Helms, and others familiar to comedy fans. If you like strong character based sketch comedy, or just funny stuff in general, Kroll Show is worth your time.
Pilot Grade: B+