Oh, hello! Need a show to devour during your queerantine? Take a bite out of Big Mouth.
Big Mouth’s third season is now streaming on Netflix, and the raunchy Emmy-nominated series has already been renewed through Season 6. Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg co-created the puberty-themed animated comedy based on their own adolescence. Kroll, a writer and executive producer, also voices his fictional younger self and other screwy characters.
NewNowNext called the 41-year-old funnyman, who gets serious in his new rom-dram Olympic Dreams, to chat about why he goes for the gold with LGBTQ representation.
Okay, I just binged Big Mouth. Why has it been important for you and the writers to include so many LGBTQ characters and storylines?
The show started with me and my best friend, Andrew Goldberg, looking back on our experiences going through puberty. Historically, we see puberty through the eyes of heterosexual boys, but we also wanted to dig into what it’s like to be a girl or queer and going through puberty. As we starting building out the show and other characters, it felt like it would be a disservice to the show to not explore everybody’s different experiences.
Horny preteen Andrew, voiced by John Mulaney, questions his sexuality in the second episode, “Am I Gay?,” which features the Emmy-nominated song “Totally Gay.” Episode 2!
Sure, why not? I think everyone at some point has questioned their sexuality.
There was a New York Times op-ed titled “Big Mouth Is the Queer Childhood I Wish I Had.” Did you expect the LGBTQ representation to have such an impact?
We wanted to make a very funny, dirty show that also talked very honestly about real issues, so I think the show has been received by people in the way we hoped it would be.
The show got some criticism for bungling the introduction of a pansexual character. Viewers are paying close attention. What kind of pressure does that put on you in the writers’ room?
I don’t feel pressure, but we all feel some responsibility knowing that kids are watching and maybe absorbing some messages. We’re very conscious of that, and we try to be very mindful of what we’re saying.
It must help to have writers like gay comics Joel Kim Booster and Jaboukie Young-White.
Yeah, as we’ve gone on, we’ve tried to fill our writers’ room with more different voices who can speak to their specific experiences and advocate for different types of stories related to those experiences. We’re going to keep doing our best to represent everybody.
Big Mouth has a snarky gay student, Matthew, voiced by Andrew Rannells. Jay, voiced by Jason Mantzoukas, is exploring his bisexuality and has experienced biphobia. What do you hope comes across through these characters?
We want to tell stories that normalize queer kids’ experiences, but we don’t want to pretend that their life is always easy or that everyone is always totally understanding of who they are. We also don’t want to treat our queer characters with kid gloves or portray them as infallible heroes. We want to create fully realized queer characters whose queerness is a part but not the sum total of who they are.
— Big Mouth (@bigmouth) October 11, 2019
Did you have queer classmates?
There were one or two guys in my grade in school who were openly gay, but there were much fewer conversations about it back then. I find that now, talking to kids in high school, gender and sexuality are much more fluid. When I was growing up, kids maybe asked, “Am I gay?” Now kids are asking, “Am I straight?” It’s not a given.
A highlight of Season 3 is the musical number “Spectrum of Sexuality.”
Whether you’re queer, straight, nonbinary, or wherever you fall on the spectrum of gender and sexuality, during puberty you’re struggling with what’s happening to your body, figuring out who you are and who you’re attracted to, wondering if someone likes you back, dealing with all the hormones, shame, depression.
We’re all a mess.
Yeah, and we hope everyone can relate to the stories we’re telling, because inside our unique experiences are universal experiences. It feels like it’s all changed so much from when we were kids, but it really hasn’t.
The Queer Eye guys got animated to do a makeover on your character Coach Steve. Did you get any tips?
Well, Andrew Goldberg and I did a Dressing Funny with Tan France, so we already knew about the French tuck.
You’re best known for comedic characters and voice work, but you play the romantic lead in Olympic Dreams, shot at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang. Was that a challenge?
We were between Season 2 and Season 3 of Big Mouth when I got the call about doing the movie. I knew the real challenge would be shooting a feature film in, like, 15 days with no crew—just one filmmaker couple, Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher—inside the Olympic Village in super-cold conditions. Not to sound cocky, but I knew I could handle the material. I was really excited to improvise in a way that felt grounded and real.
So why do you always hide that handsome face? Have you cracked this open in therapy?
[Laughs] I know, right? I’m always hiding the handsomeness. No, you know, it’s just that people want to see you do a certain thing. I love broad characters, sketches, animated shows, but it was also fun to show that I have it in me to play something more serious, like a romantic lead.
You were also a writer and producer of the film, which features real Olympians. Why was Gus Kenworthy cast as a new pal for Penelope, Alexi’s character?
We thought it would be an interesting element that this poor girl feels really alone, she just wants a kiss, she meets this handsome and cool dude, and he’s like, “Sorry, I’m gay.” But he kisses her anyway.
You cast a gay hunk to kiss the female lead and not kiss you?
We’re saving that for the sequel. [Laughs] Gus was the only other actor besides Alexi and me that was hired previous to us getting to Korea; we just grabbed the other athletes out of the athlete’s lounge and asked if they wanted to be in a movie.
That was a wild winter for Gus.
Yeah, it was so cool to hang out with Gus while he and Adam Rippon were getting so much attention as the first openly gay male U.S. athletes at the Winter Olympics. Remember when he broke his thumb and said the silver lining was that he wouldn’t have to shake Mike Pence’s hand? He’s obviously a great athlete and a talented natural actor, but it was really impressive to see how he handled being a part of this much bigger social moment in the history of the Olympics and our country. He and I have stayed friends.
You have a queer Latino character in your comedy repertoire named Fabrice Fabrice. Is it true you may retire him over sensitivity concerns?
I don’t know. He’s sort of found a home as the Ladybug in Big Mouth—it’s a similar voice. I can’t say that any of my characters will go away forever, but it’s a different time. You just have to be a little more mindful about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
My favorite character on your Comedy Central sketch series, Kroll Show, was PubLIZity publicist Liz G. Did you like getting into drag?
With whatever character I’m doing, getting into the hair, makeup, and costumes immediately makes me feel so much more connected to the material. But I will say that out of all the characters I’ve played, getting dressed up as Liz was the most exhausting. I have an incredible respect for drag queens.
Did you tell that to Trixie Mattel when you presented together last summer at the MTV Movie & TV Awards?
I did! We talked about the whole drag process, how long it all takes. Drag is no joke.
— MTV (@MTV) June 18, 2019