Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg co-created the buzzy Netflix animated hit Big Mouth. Fresh from their third season of the series, they talked to Awards Daily about some of the history of the show and how it has changed over the years. Plus, they share how the voice actors have influenced their characters. There are some hints about Big Mouth season four!
Awards Daily: I’ve heard that both of your lead characters are based on yourselves and read an article that Jesse is based on a friend of yours. So, are all the kid characters based on people you knew or did they come from somewhere else?
Nick: So yes, Nick and Andrew are based on me and Andrew, Jesse was in part inspired by our friend Liz, and Jay is an amalgam of a few of our friends.
Andrew: One friend who was a magician and one who was a pillow f*****.
Nick: Yes! We melded those two very important character traits into one person.
Awards Daily: (Laughter) Of course.
Nick: From there it just started to expand out, our families are drawn on some of our family experiences. I’m the youngest of actually four not three (in the show) and Andrew is an only child. Like many shows based on some version of reality, there were inspirations and obviously complete departures. And that would include Nick and Andrew inside of it as well.
Andrew: And then also all our actors are such great improvisers, we use a lot of improv in the show. The characters are influenced by their actors. Jay is so influenced by Jason Mantzoukas and Jesse with Jessi Klein, and all the kids and all the characters, even Andrew and John Mulaney did Andrew being a little bit me and a lot based on John.
Awards Daily: Hearing Jason Mantzoukas on The How did This Get Made podcast I can definitely hear some overlap in the personalities of Jay and Jason.
Nick: Once we start to hear our actors we start to write to the things they are doing and where their instincts lead them. Jenny Slate’s character has some overlap with the stuff she did on The Kroll Show, a character named Niece Denise, and Jessi Klein has informed Jesse in various ways. We really do take our actor’s lead; Andrew has become more formal in certain regards over the years because of how John himself speaks.
Andrew: I remember even in the first season Jason was in the writing room one time. This very early beginning talks about how he thinks Jay is always a third wheel between his brothers and with Nick and Andrew and how he’s always left out. I think that early on really tells us a lot about Jay’s humanity. That was something he (Jason Mantzoukas) really noticed first.
Nick: That’s very true, we have our actors read scripts and weigh in and give us their thoughts. Obviously in the recording we let them improvise; we really try to let everyone involved in the process infuse themselves. As the seasons have gone on we rely more and more on our writers as we have expanded the kinds of stories we are telling, who we are telling the stories about, and who represent different points of view and life experiences. We really rely on having them weigh in. We are not just telling the story of two white straight boys, going through puberty. And really try to expand what puberty, adolescence, and development of human sexuality mean to different people.
Awards Daily: Going off on that your show has touched on many things about teenage angst, sexuality and many other issues. Is there an issue that you haven’t gotten a chance to touch on yet that you are anxious to do?
Nick: The weird thing about our show is we are talking to you about season three. Season four is coming out in the fall, and we are very deep into writing season five. So there are things that we felt that we had not covered when we finished season three that we are now covering and finished covering in season four and are deep into discussing for season five. And yet it still feels like there are so many more stories to tell because the minute we jump into an area we realize how deep and complicated it can be.
Like the way characters evolve, Jay started as a magician kid who liked to have sex with his pillow, and by season three he is a boy trying to understand his bi-sexuality and where he falls in the spectrum of sexuality. I don’t think we would have predicted that’s where we would be when we started the show. We have been trying to learn alongside our audience and society in general about how to talk about these different things. And have utilized a lot of experts in the field of adolescence and human development to talk through a lot of this stuff with, and that’s been really gratifying. As well as the episode looking back at Duke Ellington’s youth and how he dealt with his puberty in 1913 in Washington DC and in Atlantic City. We realize it would be interesting seeing Duke Ellington, a black man in the turn of the 20th century and what his experience was. We keep trying to find new kinds of stories to tell around similar themes.
Awards Daily: Speaking of Duke Ellington, where did that idea come from – to have a ghost in the attic and to have it be the ghost of Duke Ellington of all people?
Andrew: One of the reasons is, and this has always been our philosophy, if a show is going to be animated it should be animated for a reason. The hormone monsters and the Shame Wizard and the creatures we bring in are part of that and specific to the medium. Then Nick had the idea because he lived in a house where Duke Ellington lived or died?
Nick: I think we sold it when we told Netflix I lived in the house. In reality we had visited a house one summer that we were going to rent that once belonged to Cole Porter, and I have a weird memory that in one of the rooms in his house the wallpaper was his sheet music. And it always stuck in my head that it is something that was really memorable. So when we were talking about the show being animated I think I was like, why don’t we have a ghost in Nick’s house like the ghost of Duke Ellington, and you guys were like, great, that sounds perfect. And then it allowed us to bring in pop culture figures who are dead for jokes and to help further different stories. So season one it was the ghost of Freddie Mercury to help Andrew figure out if he was gay. There were the ghosts of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Season three we brought the ghost of Prince, the ghost of Whitney Houston. When we wrote the episode about Duke Ellington’s story we thought it’d be funny if his house was haunted by a ghost as well, and what felt appropriate for Duke Ellington’s house in 1913 was the ghost of Harriet Tubman. We got Wanda Sykes to be the ghost of Harriet Tubman, which was one of the great pleasures of the show, Wanda Sykes voicing Harriet Tubman.
Andrew: And most people probably never notice that Jordan (Peele) actually sounds quite a lot like Duke Ellington. It is an exaggeration but he clearly listened to some Duke Ellington before he records. I don’t know about Wanda Sykes and Harriet Tubman.
Nick: I don’t think there are a lot of recordings of Harriet Tubman.
Awards Daily: Not that I’m aware, but we do have the movie (Harriet) now, so maybe that’s close enough.
Nick: We are currently trying to find something for Cynthia Erivo to do on the show as well.
Awards Daily: For me last season Thandie Newton as Mona the hormone monster left quite an impact and very different than Maurice and Connie. Are we going to see more of her?
Nick: It was a really lovely realization, because we were trying to figure out who would be right for Missy and because the hormone monsters are not perfectly in line with the rest of the personalities. And Missy is sort of a sweet, kind of dorky girl so we thought an English party girl would be fun. Thandie so comfortably just got inside of that, and we really enjoyed her and I think she enjoyed doing the show so it was a natural fit. So we definitely continue to use Mona throughout the series. It helps us just to continue to explore our kids as they evolve and they add these creatures in them. it’s really a lovely evolution overall.
Andrew: Yeah, and Missy and Mona especially have an adversarial relationship, where the things Mona says kind of horrify Missy in the way some of the feelings Missy has kind of scared her. I really enjoy that between the two of them.
Awards Daily: It adds a different layer than just her “dark side” talk to her now she’s got somebody else egging her on who is not herself.
Awards Daily: I have read that you guys have been friends for over thirty five years, and in the finale of season three Nick and Andrew have stopped being friends. Is this based on some kind of reality, or just something you thought would be good for the show?
Nick: That’s private, we don’t talk about that. (Laughing) No, but Andrew and I have been friends since we met in first grade, we were friends through middle school. After middle school we went to different high schools and colleges, we stayed friends but we definitely had periods of time where we were closer than others. We had evolutions in our friendship but we really did stay friends through all of it. But what I will say that was surprising for us was how much people were affected by Nick and Andrew at the end of season three not being friends.
They have a real falling out and the reaction I got from fans online of people being really upset and angry that Nick and Andrew had this major falling out. Which was ultimately really gratifying that people were emotionally invested in these characters and their friendship as we try to tell deeper and more nuanced stories, rather than just jokes about masturbation. Partly we’re drawing on that age when your friendships are so deep but also somewhat fragile, and that it is a real roller coaster of who you are friends with, and who you feel close to, and who you feel betrayed by, and it felt like something to really dig into for us and we were excited about that.
Andrew: There’s something really real to that time of life where you do get into a fight with your best friend It really does feel like a war. And most people are not like me and Nick who have been friends since they were kids and stayed that way.
Awards Daily: Can you give us any details on season four?
Nick: Here is what I will say. Season two was a real focus on shame, and season three is what it’s like to be a kid right now. In season four we are heading more towards a very specific emotional reality that I think kids right now are dealing with on a level that we didn’t experience when we were kids. It’s got a stronger thematic tie though, and I guess you’ll just have to wait to see it.
Andrew: I think this is safe to say that season three ends with the kids graduating seventh grade, and season four picks up during the summer.
Nick: Yes, season four picks up during the summer—that’s a good little entree.
Big Mouth is now streaming on Netflix.