Television

Nick Kroll’s New Netflix Show Tackles the Horny Side of Puberty

‘Big Mouth’ stars Kroll, John Mulaney and Jenny Slate.

by Amil Niazi
Sep 29 2017, 3:59pm

Nick Kroll via CP | 'Big Mouth' courtesy of Netflix. 

Puberty is a nightmare. A chaotic, destructive, empowering, horny nightmare. I remember the first time I got my period I cried for three hours straight because I knew, I just KNEW that shit was about to get weird. And it absolutely did. I felt truly and honestly possessed by a demon during those fraught years, where I raged and screamed and picked at zits and found my only solace in anthemic anti-heros like Courtney Love and PJ Harvey.

In adulthood I've chosen to mercifully forget my tweenage years, but watching Nick Kroll's new Netflix show Big Mouth I was immediately transported back to the dark ages. And while there were some definite full-body cringes reliving some familiar moments, the show is such a funny and honest a portrayal of puberty that it was actually strangely comforting to go back there.

One of the worst things about that stage of life is the isolation you feel, like you're the only one in the world going through whatever you're going through. But Big Mouth, co-written by Kroll's childhood friend Andrew Goldberg, reminds you that we all go through it and most of us even survive. The animated series tackles everything from boners to bullying and does so with ease, clarity and a healthy dose of raunch and stars some of Kroll's frequent collaborators like Jenny Slate, John Mulaney, Jason Mantzoukas and Fred Armisen.

I chatted with Kroll about why he decided to revisit puberty as an adult and even touched on one of his most embarrassing teenage moments.

VICE: Most of us, you know, try and forget puberty forever. Just straight erase it from our mind. Why did you want to revisit it for a series?
Nick Kroll: I think simply because people seem to want to be like, "OK, I went through that. Don't want to think about that ever again." It seemed like "Oh, well then, that seems like the thing you should be trying to talk about and remember. Everything felt pretty high drama, so that's first and foremost when you're making a show. The stakes are very, very high when you're going through puberty. And I think, partly for me, it was a lot of the stuff that I'm still dealing with as an adult. In therapy, things that I've talked about are directly related to what t happened to me when I was going through puberty, or in my case, not going through puberty. I was like a very late bloomer. Some kids are like, "Oh my God. Puberty is this nightmare." I was like "When do I get uncontrollable boners and when do I get to scream at my parents?" And that, for me, didn't happen until high school but these emotions of not going through it for me were as tough. Everybody is going through their version of this and the only unifying factor is that you feel alone going through it and I think this show tries to directly or indirectly say, "You're not alone." Like, you're not alone if you're going through it now and you weren't alone when you were going through it even though that's the way it felt.

Totally, as an adult, you can relate to it and you have these moments where you're like, "Oh, fuck. I remember that." But if I watching this as a young person, I would be like, "Oh, my God. So, this is what's happening to my body."
I mean it's pretty dirty and graphic but I also think it's all based on the emotions and feelings and things that we're going through and I think there is some utility to it. If I had been a kid when this show came on, I would have been so—I mean I'm not trying to brag but, I'd be so fucking psyched if this show came out and gave me some tools and reference points of the things that were happening to me or my friends, you know?

Oh, absolutely. I mean we had Degrassi , you know, but it wasn't quite as real.
Yeah. You have Degrassi, it was honest but so humorless. You know what I mean? Are you Canadian or are you American?

I'm Canadian.
Right. So we did a bit on Kroll Show called "Wheels Ontario" which parodies Degrassi.

Oh I know it, it's painfully accurate.
So here [on Big Mouth] we took out all the earnestness of Degrassi and Canadian programming. But interestingly, how Degrassi was a topics-based show, you know, dealing with an issue, each episode on our show really deals with a specific issue of puberty and adolescence. So in the first episode, I see Andrew's penis and I haven't hit puberty yet so I feel different and inadequate. Second episode is Jessie getting her period. Third episode is Andrew questioning whether he might be gay or not. The fourth episode is about you know, the emotional brutality of sleepovers. Each episode is kind of built around an issue or a major temple of puberty and from there it becomes about the emotion of our characters going through their specific lens of a particular moment in puberty and adolescence.

Did writing the show unearth memories that you forgot you had about puberty?
Ooh. I mean it unearthed them somewhat. I created the show with my friend, Andrew Goldberg who I've known since first grade and it's based on us. We were best friends through all of middle school and had stayed close and he went on and became a writer and producer for Family Guy and there's definitely stuff that we talk about now where I was like, "Hey, you know, when we were that age, this is how I felt." And he was like, "This is how I felt." And it was—it's just fascinating that like 30 years later we're talking about stuff and realizing like, "Oh, wow, you know, we were so close" but we couldn't talk about this and there's things that have just stuck with us for the rest of our lives. You know, because it's also a time in your life where you're beginning to separate yourself from your parents to create your own identity and that stuff is really formative. Those events and emotions really, really change or form the person you become.

Puberty is definitely a universal experience but you know for me, it was like 20 years ago. You didn't have to live it out in front of all of your peers on Instagram and on Twitter. So, did you have to talk to recent teens to get the new lay of the land?
It's an interesting thing. It is a different mechanism now and we struggled with that. We didn't quite know how to play how much kids are in their phones now and to be honest, it seemed like it would be kind of boring just to show kids looking at a smartphone.

Right.
I think it's crazy that kids have to deal with social media and all that stuff now but the truth is all of that stuff comes back to going through and feeling the same things that we were feeling. It's just the platform that they have to deal with now is different and possibly heightened but it's still the same things: feeling unattractive, feeling not included, feeling awkward but also trying to create your own new identity and figure out who exactly you are and how you want to come across. So, I think the social media element of it all is a crazy added element of it but it still goes back to the same root.

Do you have a moment that sticks out from puberty that's just the most embarrassing thing that happened to you back then?
Yeah. We were all hanging out in someone's basement. Boys and girls, like the seventh and eighth graders and a girl pantsed me, which I guess really should be de-pantsed, but a girl pantsed me and pulled my underwear down. And the girl who I had had a crush on throughout my entire elementary and middle school saw my little penis 'cause I had not hit puberty. I was a late-bloomer. So, I was exposed to my middle school crush very openly and it—I'm still talking about it in therapy now. [laughs]

Oh shit. That would fuck you up for sure.
Yeah.

Did they laugh?
No. I remember like a look of shock and then I remember like, my mom was delayed to pick me up. So, I was basically alone with the girl who pantsed me and I think I cried. It was not my coolest moment.

I'm sorry.
Oh, it's fine. I created a TV show out of it. So, at least I got something out of the whole thing.

That's true. Most of us don't get much. We get therapy.

Big Mouth premieres on Netflix on September 29.

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