Gil and George are like two Woody Allen characters who’ve been left in the sun too long, two “eligible bachelors” who went from being a little long in the tooth to miserably co-dependent. Their sense of humor is as curdled as their political outlook (they think of themselves as “very liberal” while parroting various outdated and racist views), and their accents possess a particular and bizarre sort of gruffness (they pronounce the word “cocaine,” one of their favorites to say, as “cuh-cane”).
Kroll and Mulaney have both become huge successes in their own right since cooking up these characters at now-defunct New York City clubs like Rififi. Kroll moved to Los Angeles and appeared in sitcoms like Cavemen and Worst Week before landing a role in FX’s long-running hit The League; he was also one of the early alt-comedy podcast stars, appearing in character as various outsized personalities on shows like Comedy Bang Bang. Eventually, he got his own sketch series Kroll Show on Comedy Central, which ran for three terrific seasons, each stranger than the last.
Mulaney went to Saturday Night Live as a writer, where he created many more characters with a distinct sort of New York sense of humor to them (including the club kid Stefon and the irascible news correspondent Herb Welch). He’s also one of the world’s best stand-up comedians (his specials New in Town and The Comeback Kid are both available on Netflix), though he did struggle to make the leap to sitcom stardom (his Fox show Mulaney was canceled after one season). For both Mulaney and Kroll, “Oh, Hello” felt at best like a niche hit, two characters they could trot out on a podcast or a UCB stage, but nothing bigger than that.
But though the broadcast comedy world has broadened in the age of streaming media, it was the oldest medium of all that got Gil and George much wider recognition. After making some celebrated appearances as the pair in Kroll Show sketches, Kroll and Mulaney turned “Oh, Hello” into an off-Broadway show that ran at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village for several sold-out weeks. Directed by the Tony nominee Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher), it drew a surprise rave from the New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley, which led to a nationwide tour and then an extended Broadway run. Now it’s available on Netflix, whose hunger for original comedy programming seemingly knows no bounds.
I went to “Oh, Hello” shows at both the Cherry Lane Theatre and Broadway’s Lyceum (mostly similar in content, though there was a new celebrity guest every night); the Netflix version is a filmed version of the latter, which had a little more pomp and circumstance befitting its grander stage (“So expensive!” George crows at the various props onstage). It’s still amazing to me that such a peculiar piece of warped New York humor has found itself presented on such a big scale. But that’s a testament to the magic of Gil and George’s chemistry, and the comfort Kroll and Mulaney have with each other, whether they’re improvising or sticking to the show’s brilliant script.