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Nick Kroll featured as 2010's New Class in Death + Taxes

Feb 27, 2015

Krollin' With My Homies

"You know who likes fried chicken? Black people. You know who else likes fried chicken? Everybody."

Nick Kroll has been doing the friend chicken joke for a while, and wherever he is, whether he's on Live at Gotham, performing on Jimmy Kimmel or on his home turf at Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles, everyone in the room laughs. He has a sharp yet friendly way of delivering it -- like he's doing a bit with you rather than telling a one-sided joke. "I love doing stand up," he says. "I love that you can grab a microphone and go anywhere in the country and talk to a group of people and make them laugh. And you don't need props, you don't need wigs, you don't need anyone explaining anything. Everyone understands it. Sometimes they're not gonna like you -- but you know, I like that."

Upright Citizens Brigade is a home base for Kroll, a foundation to keep the emerging talent anchored as he spins his career through enough media channels to make your head spin. First there was the Internet -- his shorts like "The Ed Hardy Boyz" and his audition tape as Bobby Bottle Service for The Jersey Shore were some of the most-watched pieces of comedy online this year. Then there's television, with HBO's Life and Times of Tim and FX's The League. Most recently he's clawed his way onto the big screen with roles in four movies releasing this year.

If Nick Kroll were an outfit, he'd be described as "high-low." If your shirt is from Target and it looks good enough to wear with your Chanel bag, then ynot only is it a damn good shirt, it's also available to everyone. Being high-low is having range.

"I came up at UCB and this place called Rafifi in New York and Largo, and it's a very specific audience that goes to those shows," he explains. "It's college educated, upper-middle class white people in their twenties and thirties." The difference between Nick and most of the comics who come up in that scene, even the really good ones, is that most of them stay there. Being part of this hyper-intellectual community is both exciting and essential for Nick, but he has his eye on a much broader fan base.

"The people who I respect a lot like Louis CK, Chris Rock or Seinfeld -- those guy scan go and make anyone laugh. It doesn't matter if it's super blue collar or super rich, or whatever. They're just funny. There are certain universal truths that everyone can understand, and I think that's what I aspire to." On the other hand, he's careful to qualify. "If I only can make certain people laugh then so be it -- I don't want to tell jokes that I don't think are funny to get a broader audience."

At the high end of Nick's "high-low" continuum are the characters he invents for his bits at UCB. "The UCB audience has a very specific point of view on the world," Nick admits. "It's very ironic." Fabrice Fabrice, who was his first character to catch on with live audiences, is the vicious, gay craft service guy on the set of That's So Raven. He struts on to the stage at the start of every show in a pink polo belly-shirt, pink flip-down Uggs, and two pairs of sunglasses. Another UCB favorite is Gil Faizon, an Upper West side divorcee with an affected accent,an affinity for Alan Alda, and possibly a coke problem. In a skit at UCB in New York, Nick and John Mulaney gave a walking tour of the city in ribbed turtlenecks, blazers and gray wigs. In front of a picture of Central Park Nick points to an imaginary passer-by and says, "Oh look at that, it's a brown woman walking around with her white babies," to which John responds, "Oh that is a genetic mystery." "We applaud it," says Nick. Then they take the audience to "The hot cultural center, Times Squaaaaare", where John comments, "You know the problem with an anonymous jerk-off booth, is that you still know who you are." The audience laughs at every joke. They're New Yorkers, so they get it.

Falling somewhere in the middle ground between the Chanel bag and the Target shirt is Nick's TV work. There's his role on FX's The League, which has lately been getting him recognized on the streets by meatheads and bespectacled comedy nerds alike. Then there's his role as Stu on the animated HBO series, The Life and Times of Tim. Nick describes Stu as "the kind of guy who eats garbage burritos and is totally in love with Tim's girlfriend and talks about it openly in front of everyone." The show is mostly improvised, and it was Nick's first big job -- one he got after a casting director saw him perform live. "My first audition literally on a skype internet phone from my friend's place in Chinatown. We've done two seasons and it's so fucking fun. The guests this year -- Will Forte came in and Jennifer Coolidge came in and Super Dave Osborne came in. I got to improvise a scene with Elliot Gould. Bob Odenkirk and Bonnie Hunt came in. All these people who have been making their living in comedy for forty years -- they just come in and I get to fuck around with them on a completely even playing field."

On the mordantly delicious low end of his lowbrow side, Kroll has ensnared a huge audience obsessed with his newer personalities who live on the Internet. Bobby Bottle Service has been getting a lot of play lately -- an Italian-American, Vaseline-lipped entrepreneur (record producing and pool cleaning) with a giant photo-realistic tattoo of his mother's face on his back. Bobby Bottle Service has an audition tape for The Jersey Shore in which he promotes to "Respect the shit out of those girls, like Snooki, who looks like she's been smooshed down to the size of a bowling ball with a tan and fake nails,which is very attractive to me." And the audition tape is a side project for Bobby B, who's best known for solving crime in "The Ed Hardy Boyz," an Internet series Kroll writes and produces with Jon Daly. The first episode is called "The Case of the Missing Sick Belt Buckle." Kroll's Internet characters aren't just for people who work in the entertainment industry or live in a big city and are friends with the guy in the ticket booth at UCB. If you get MTV, you get these characters and you laugh.

And then there's the Target shirt, that golden icon of lowbrow success. The Big Screen. Kroll has landed parts in four movies coming out this year -- Get Him to the Greek with Jonah Hilll and Russell Brand, Dinner for Schmucks with Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd, Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carrell, and Little Fockers, in which he gets to do a scene with Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Robert De Niro. "It's amazing to be in a room with De Niro, but to be able to fuck around with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson and come up with a bit with Owen Wilson. I got to be like, What if we do this and what about that and do you like that? And they were like, Funny, we'll do it."

If you take Nick's joke about fried chicken and replace "fried chicken" with "Nick Kroll" and "black" with "nerdy," you have a picture of where he stands on the map. "I get to do so many different things simultaneously. I get to live and breathe comedy and make living doing it, and get recognized occasionally. There's so many ways to create things and so many ways to let people know what you're creating. That's what's exciting for me."

It's like he's on SNL, but with limitless creative freedom. On trusting his instincts, Kroll says, "What it comes down to is that I'm much more scared of regreat than I am of rejection. And that makes me do embarrassing things. But I'd rather do embarrassing things than regret not having done them. And ninety-five percent of the time I feel right. Everything is a risk at various levels, and sometimes I'll jokingly say -- not even jokingly -- that it's easy to risk failure if you can't conceive of not being recognized for what you do."
LA General

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Mandate picks up project to star Aziz Ansari; Harris Wittels to write

Feb 27, 2015

Mandate Pictures Mounts Laugher Starring Aziz Ansari And Danny McBride

In a real cross-pollination of series TV and film, Mandate Pictures has acquired an untitled comedy pitch from Aziz Ansari and 30 Rock writer Matt Hubbard, that Harris Wittels will write as a star vehicle for Ansari and Danny McBride. Wittels is a writer on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, which stars Ansari, and McBride jumps between features and East Bound and Down, the HBO sitcom that he created with Jody Hill.

Rough House, the production shingle that McBride runs with Hill, David Gordon Green and Matt Reilly, will produce. Logline's under wraps, and it's the second teaming of Ansari and McBride, who'll also star in 30 Minutes Or Less, the pizza deliveryman comedy directed by Zombieland's Ruben Fleisher. Ansari, who'll next be seen in Get Him to the Greek, was just set to host the MTV Movie Awards on June 6. McBride stars with James Franco and Natalie Portman in the Universal comedy, Your Highness.

Ansari will be exec producer with Mandate president Nathan Kahane.
LA General

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The Birthday Boys featured in Los Angeles Times

Feb 27, 2015

The Birthday Boys' team approach to getting laughs
Los Angeles Times

Comedy Pipeline: A seven-member sketch troupe looks to break into the mainstream.

On a recent weekday evening, after they'd all been mercifully released from their day jobs, seven clean-cut young men, a.k.a. the Birthday Boys, a popular local sketch comedy troupe, lounged on the worn couches that line their living room-cum-production studio and took turns cracking one another up.

It didn't take much, really -- these guys know one another so well that they complete one another's one-liners. All but one graduated from the same small liberal arts college in Ithaca, N.Y., about five years ago. They all came to Los Angeles the same summer, crowded into the same Upright Citizens Brigade comedy classes, and five of them moved into this two-story house overlooking Universal City.

Now they're part of that new generation of comedians bred by supportive parents, Adult Swim, YouTube and Zach Galifianakis. And like so many other dreamers out here, they haven't quite cracked the mainstream -- it's no easy task booking a seven-member troupe on TV -- but in their first 18 months performing together, they landed a spot on Montreal's prestigious Just for Laughs comedy festival, secured high-profile management with Principato-Young and their own half-hour, monthly show at UCB.

"You get the question a lot: 'So do you guys get paid?' " said Dave Ferguson, the group's de facto spokesman, who has a sort of Richie Cunningham buoyancy. "There is no money involved at the work at the theater. So it was never a desire to even make it a profession. It was just like, 'We can have an audience to do what we find funny!'"

Los Angeles is thick with throngs of young, sophisticated and tech-savvy comedians like the Birthday Boys, lured as much by the promise of fame and fortune as by the comedy community that thrives after hours in the black-box theaters around town. Sometimes, like the actors and filmmakers struggling alongside them, they try New York or Chicago first. But eventually, they realize the lion's share of the work is in Hollywood. Once they get here, they spend years trying to land some of it.

Here's what it looks like at the bottom of comedy, L.A. style: While driving Paul Rudd to the airport for your boss, you get called to the MTV Movie Awards writers' room. To help craft a bit for Paul Rudd. You miss the chance to be an audience plant on The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien because you were taking lunch orders for the writers and producers of The Simpsons. And that comedy video you spent your weekend shooting warranted a really nice comment on From your mother.

"You want to get up on stage and play guitar with Keith Richards," said Mike "Mitch" Mitchell, who's still bummed about missing that O'Brien gig. "You don't want to get him an 8-by-11 envelope. That's the frustrating part."

Holding on to jobs

By day, the Birthday Boys are desk-bound subordinates to folks higher up the Hollywood food chain. Ferguson works for an Imagine Television executive. Chris VanArtsdalen, Jeff Dutton and Mike Hanford work at Buster Design, which produces TV commercials and content for TV shows and Web series. Matt Kowalick is a writers' production assistant at the NBC drama "Mercy." Mitchell works for the producers of the Fox series The Simpsons. And Tim Kalpakis is a production assistant at James L. Brooks' film and TV production company, Gracie Films.

They dream of landing their own sketch comedy TV show, something in the vein of 1990s-era Canadian sketch TV troupe Kids in the Hall or Bob Odenkirk and David Cross' HBO show Mr. Show. For now, though, they're living off the adrenaline rush of churning out eight new sketches each month, working them out live on stage every week, shooting videos on the weekends, nailing an occasional audition and writing, writing, writing.

Their material is refreshingly lighthearted. Unlike many of their peers, they veer away from the really dark stuff. Instead, they favor the ridiculous, such as the buddy cop movie spoof, "The Veteran Cop and the Veteran Cop," and "Hottubbin'," one man's pathologically creative reasons why he won't drive a stick shift. Even the name Birthday Boys is grounded in their own kind of silliness. "We wanted something that evoked a stupid sense of fun," Ferguson explains. "And Kids in the Hall was taken."

Nearly all of the Birthday Boys' production happens in their four-bedroom house. The dining room is draped with a giant green screen. Video editing takes place in a bedroom downstairs. Their wardrobe rack is so crowded with Santa Claus suits, ministerial robes and the like that visitors have to squeeze by it just to get inside the front door. A huge cardboard whale fin -- left over from a Moby Dick sketch -- is conspicuously stashed in another corner. A large dry-erase board listing sketch ideas leans against an oversized security monitor they found on the street and use as a TV.

"We have this stunted development situation," said Ferguson. "We live together. Mike and Jeff live in that room. And then work together. And share an office."

Ferguson himself shares a room with Kalpakis and Kalpakis' library of comedian biographies. VanArtsdalen, the computer animation wizard of the group, shares his room with his video editing hardware. Kowalick and Mitchell don't live there at all, but they're parked on the couch so often they might as well.

On this night, the troupe is working out its next live show, a series of '80s-themed bits with something for everyone: a nun in a miniskirt, a Ferris Bueller reference, a bizarre reimagining of the 1989 dead-guy comedy Weekend at Bernie's and one automated Caddyshack gopher singing Kenny Loggins' "I'm Alright."

"It's always about the unexpected," said I Love You, Beth Cooper star Paul Rust, a big fan of the troupe. "I think they're very much a product of growing up with The Simpsons and Late Night With Conan O'Brien. Like if you're going to be silly, be as smart as possible, and if you're going to do smart be as silly as possible."
LA General

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