‘Oh, Hello’: Kroll, Mulaney, and a whole mess of tuna
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John Mulaney and Nick Kroll are living surreal second lives. Sunday afternoon, they start a six-show run at the Wilbur Theatre in their two-man play "Oh, Hello" as George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon, 70-something theater-loving bachelors from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. For three seasons on Comedy Central's "Kroll Show," the pair hosted a prank show called "Too Much Tuna," where an unsuspecting guest would be served a disgusting heap of tuna in a sandwich.
Mulaney, 33, and Kroll, 37, are roughly 35 years younger than the characters. Neither is an avid theater fan. Still, there is something about George and Gil that speaks to them. "I can't stress [enough] how much we're thinking about them at all times," says Mulaney, speaking in a conference call with Kroll. "I don't think there's a moment of their lives that we haven't discussed."
Kroll is just as immersed in the characters. "It's so weird that everything in my life is now mapped around crotchety 70-year-old men who I would never want to spend an afternoon with. For some reason, I would rather be that person all over the country for the next year."
"My worst fear," adds Mulaney, "is becoming these people, so I'm living as them now."
The characters have been popping up in strange places. Last week, they took over an episode of "Bachelor: Live," a talk show that runs after the ABC reality program "The Bachelor." Gil bared his belly, danced, and proposed to a former contestant. George mentioned that he has a twin brother, "actress Judith Light."
In December, "Oh, Hello" sold out a three-week run at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. One highlight? A 500-word piece in the Wall Street Journal about their talking tuna sandwich puppet.
"I thought it was only appropriate for the financial paper of record to give a full page to the fact that we have a tuna sandwich puppet," Mulaney deadpans.
There is a real-life precedent for the characters. Mulaney and Kroll were shopping at the Strand Book Store in Manhattan when they saw two gentlemen each buying a copy of Alan Alda's memoir, "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've Learned." Mulaney and Kroll watched them, even followed them to a coffee shop to observe them from a distance. "They just had that, like, Bert and Ernie quality where you know they live in the same apartment platonically in a Murphy bed," Mulaney says. "They were just like, 'Oh yeah, that type of guy.' They were a type of guy we both knew deep in our souls."
"Once you start to see a character like that, you start to see them everywhere," says Kroll. "And then you have friends — I'd say I get about five or 10 Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland pictures a week from people. On the subway, at MoMA, at a coffee shop, in a diner."
The pair do a lot of riffing for the live show, and audiences should be prepared for some Boston-specific references. But there is a plot: George and Gil are in danger of losing the rent-controlled apartment for which they have paid $75 a month for 40 years, and must decide whether to compromise the artistic vision of "Too Much Tuna" for big money. And there may be a dramatic moment or two.
"Oh, it's a deeply dramatic work," says Mulaney. "Except there's also tuna pranks within."
"We wanted to created something that was fulfilling on a bunch of different levels," Kroll says. "Hopefully it works that we trick you into actually feeling something for these monsters. And I would add that Steely Dan has an unfortunate amount of importance in the play."
After the Boston run, "Oh, Hello" is scheduled to play Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago. Mulaney and Kroll are also eying a run on Broadway. "We would really like to," says Kroll. "And we had a great off-Broadway run, so we'll see what happens."
The comics, who met as undergraduates at Georgetown University, can't foresee a time when they would tire of playing George and Gil. Their goal is "to keep doing these guys as long as people want to see them," says Kroll. "And then those guys are comfortable continuing on regardless of whether people want to see them or not."
George and Gil are infamous for not paying for theater tickets, creeping in with the crowd after intermission. But is "Oh, Hello" good enough that they would be willing to cough up the full ticket price? "They would sneak into the second half," says Mulaney.
At the Wilbur Theatre, Jan. 31, Feb. 1-2, and Feb. 5-6. Tickets: $50-$90, 866-448-7849, www.thewilbur.com