Nick Kroll and Jason Mantzoukas Have All Kinds of Chemistry


The comedians Nick Kroll and Jason Mantzoukas have been friends for nearly two decades—they met after orbiting each other in the fizzy New York comedy scene of the early two-thousands, and cemented their bond over sandwiches at an old-school diner in Manhattan. Kroll is best known as a co-creator, writer, and star of the adult animated series “Big Mouth,” in which he voices Nick Birch, a protagonist loosely based on his teen-age self, as well as a smorgasbord of tertiary characters, including a foul-mouthed ladybug, a box of tampons, and a chain-smoking Statue of Liberty. If Kroll is distinguished by his formidable vocal skills and talent for mimicry, Mantzoukas is striking for his physicality: onscreen, he nearly vibrates with pent-up energy, eyes wide and hair corkscrewing in all directions. He has carved out a niche for himself playing chaotic, borderline unsettling eccentrics like the ex-detective Adrian Pimento on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and the glitch-ridden Derek on “The Good Place.” (As he put it to me, and to the creators of one sitcom in which he was vying for a part, “I happen to play a great maniac.”)

Outside of their rollicking, often ribald humor, Kroll and Mantzoukas are keen and generous conversationalists with a tight rapport: Mantzoukas will jump in quickly to add some forgotten detail, then back off, giving Kroll room to run. Since their early years in New York, the two have appeared together on numerous television shows, including “The League,” a comedy about the members of a fantasy-football league; “Kroll Show”; and, most recently, “Big Mouth,” which follows a group of middle-schoolers whose struggles with puberty are embodied (and exacerbated) by the crass, satyr-like “hormone monsters” that give voice to their basest thoughts and feelings. Even as the show pushes the boundaries of crudeness, it doesn’t shy away from depicting teen-agers’ most vulnerable moments. It’s also set itself apart from other animated series by allowing its characters to age, their bodies and relationships changing over time. In the latest season, which was released on Netflix earlier this month, Kroll and Mantzoukas play opposite each other as young lovers: Kroll as the brash yet insecure Lola Skumpy, and Mantzoukas as Jay Bilzerian, an aspiring magician who throws himself into sexual situations with abandon.


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