*‘Oh hello’, a phrase exclaimed in greeting when one wishes to convey surprise and a discernible amount of polite hesitancy in their response, more often than not to mask a reaction of distaste and or suspicion.
Oh Hello on Broadway, Netflix’s most recent addition to their growing list of live comedy and stand-up shows, takes the average Netflix viewer — lying in bed with their laptop screens resting on their chests, a foot away from their noses, surrounded perhaps by a pack of Haribo or a pasta bake that they dip into blindly — and transports them , to the Lyceum Theatre, New York. While live comedy might be a growing genre on the paid streaming website, Oh Hello marks its first foray into recordings of live theatre and as a “play” it’s clear to see why this brainchild performance, put together by comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, is the ideal selection for the move. The performance itself began as an off-Broadway play which parodies all the stereotypes of an off-Broadway play.
The premise is this: geriatric, New York actors Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland (played by Kroll and Mulaney, respectively) are putting on a play, written by George and starring them both. While having never formally made it in the acting business, they are still doggedly pursuing the fame and fortune of the acting role of a lifetime. The play is an autobiographical depiction of their lives together, through the ages. They, and the stage of the Lyceum become artefacts of the history of theatre in New York. We are led through various guided tours of the set, their lives, and even play-by-plays, explaining specific jokes and references for their much younger audience. The shambolic show is transparent and self-reflective as they anecdotally comment on and take the time to explain various choices in set design, dialogue, and humour, riffing off each other in true old-timey fashion. They bicker and talk over each other, each wrapped up in the gravitas of their own dramatic effect, tortured by their own shortcomings in life. Punctuated with consistent breaches of the fourth wall, the play is something of a two-man, one-man show (three-man if you count Ravi, their unpaid intern stage manager from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU — while he is never seen, his presence is frequently acknowledged, and his person is often squabbled with).
Because of the type of characters they have chosen to embody, Kroll and Mulaney are given a wealth of distasteful and crass humour to exploit in this 105-minute blitzkrieg of political incorrectness. By playing “characters” they escape the bear trap many other comedians fall prey to by very clearly depicting (with fake beards, wigs, and unforgivably heinous outfits) that the views they express — about the Holocaust, immigration, and the year 2016: may she rest in peace — are not their own, and are obvious parodies both of the absurdities older generations hold close to their hearts, and the political correctness clipping the wings of comedians today. The feistiness of the show comes from the fact that these two sets of opinions are constantly juxtaposed in context of the show’s self-awareness. In the meantime, the actual plot waits patiently as a prop to be picked back up once all the Steely Dan references have been made, and all the histories of the actual props which they’ve unearthed from the Lyceum’s stores and bought at various car boot sales, have been explained. In true generational fashion (we’re talking post-war here), they have decided that more is always more and can never be enough. Which is kind of what this show feels like when you surface from thick New York accents and crude humour ranging from the velcro trainers they both wear, to bestiality (no, I won’t expand any more on that), to ‘all the cocaine’ they’ve done.
With guest and almost-guest appearances by Steve Martin and Matthew Broderick, montages, interpretive dance, themes of betrayal and loneliness, they fit in every reference to theatre and its different tropes they can find time for, while also managing to fill any gaps with long strings of actual stand up comic-esque interaction. I spent too much time watching it for the first time wondering whether or not it was well-written, or whether my jet lag had dulled my critical taste. I currently stick by the opinion that it’s pretty funny, whichever way you cut it. Moreover, it’s something new that we have yet to see on Netflix. Sorting through the cache of critically-acclaimed but over watched, and genuinely atrocious movies that clog up the ‘Recently Added’ and ‘Recommended for You’ sections is tiresome, and here Gil and George find a little haven in which they can liven things up. Give 105 minutes of your summer to be transported to ‘br’dway’, as they like to call it, and learn a thing or two about comedy in the theatre while you’re at it.
Any actual theatre buffs will be screaming at the multiple references to Broadway classics, and for the rest of us, it’s really just very refreshing seeing two comedians use their satire and talent for timing in a new medium for stand up. Where Hasan Minhaj has brought with him sleek interactive set-design and a graphical extravaganza to slide effortlessly from comic cue to comic cue, Kroll and Mulaney make a point of making comedy an effort, dragging the audience through an excess of memories, props, physical theatre, and a veritable bonanza of movement and extravagancy. While you might not agree wholly with the choices of humour (admittedly as not-a-native-New-Yorker, many references flew straight over my head), it is impossible to call Oh Hello, on Broadway a bore.