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-heroes 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 as I relived some familiar moments, the show is such a funny and honest portrayal of puberty that it was actually strangely comforting to go back to that moment in time.
One of the worst things about that stage of life is the isolation you feel. It often feels 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. The show also 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 try to 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 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. 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 happened to me when I was going through puberty, or in my case, not going through puberty. I was 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?" That, for me, didn't happen until high school, but these emotions of not going through it for me were just as tough. Everybody is going through their own version of this, and the only unifying factor is that you feel alone going through it. I think this show tries to directly or indirectly say, "You're not alone." 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'm 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 and my friends.
Oh, absolutely. I mean, we had Degrassi, 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?
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, dealing with an issue each episode, on our show each episode 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. The second episode is Jessie getting her period. The third episode is Andrew questioning whether he might be gay or not. The fourth episode is about the emotional brutality of sleepovers. Each episode is kind of built around an issue or a major temple of puberty. 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?
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 to become a writer and producer for Family Guy. There is 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." It's fascinating that 30 years later we're talking about stuff and realizing like, "Oh, wow, we were so close," but we couldn't talk about this, and there are things that have just stuck with us for the rest of our lives. 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.
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, we were like in the seventh and eighth grade—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 because I had not hit puberty. I was a late-bloomer. So I was exposed to my middle school crush very openly—I'm still talking about it in therapy now. [laughs]
Oh shit. That would fuck you up for sure.
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.
Oh, it's fine. I created a TV show out of it. So at least I got something out of the whole thing.
Big Mouth premieres on Netflix on September 29.
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