Nick Kroll’s ‘Little Big Boy’ Netflix Comedy Special Review

kroll in Little Big Boy.
Photo: Netflix

You can’t say Nick Kroll doesn’t love a voice. His new Netflix special, Little Big Boy, is full of weird little voices and small impressions, and they’re some of the most confident, assured parts of the hour. At their best, Kroll’s stories are rooted in his own experience but are explored from several angles with narrative asides and other characters who intrude on the action, and there is a feeling of relief when he can relax into the performance of someone other than himself. He plays his mom, his dad, a 4-year-old who’s stalling at bedtime, and — most frequently — exaggerated, bizarro versions of himself in various mortifying scenes from his past. He’s so good in those moments, especially when he plays himself. The characters are specific, novel, and fun, in a way that some of Kroll’s material otherwise is not. Sometimes his performances have enough buoyancy to keep the whole joke afloat. Toward the end, though, the special starts to founder.

If there’s anything Kroll likes more than doing a fun, vaguely demonic voice, it’s telling a poop joke. who can blame him? He’s hardly alone, and the scatological portions of Little Big Boy are some of the most striking, evocatively told segments in the hour. These are obviously things Kroll has spent a great deal of time considering: the causes of diarrhea, the futility of trying to fight it, the euphemisms, the universality, the shivering, the hair rising on your arms. Kroll has a mastery of the whole experience. He has no observational powers, but in little big boy, they are almost wholly devoted to what it feels like when your bowels go awry. The first story (childhood karate class) sets the tone. The second one (restaurant and then car) escalates the experience. By the third explosive-diarrhea joke, though, you come away so sorry that Kroll has spent this much of his life enduring and meditating on this particular feeling.

The shame of those experiences and Kroll’s depression after a particularly brutal breakup are the highlights of Little Big Boy. Without the image of Kroll standing onstage, the stories could almost be scenes from Big Mouth, the Netflix series about adolescence that Kroll co-created and stars in as a voice actor. The special also shares some of Big Mouth‘s fondness for letting a supernatural figure comment on a character’s shame. In big mouth, it’s several hormone samples; in Little Big Boy, it’s Kroll’s inner critical monologue, which speaks through the voice of Kroll doing an impression of British actor Jason Statham. The accent wobbles sometimes, which may be an issue for a realistic dramatic performance, but it works quite well for stand-up. Kroll-as-Statham poses more of a writing problem than a performance issue, however. The idea is fine, and the first few times he shows up are entertaining. After a few Statham appearances, though, he starts to wear out his welcome largely because he doesn’t have much that’s new to say.

The same is true for Little Big Boy more generally. The momentum of those opening stories starts to falter toward the end as Kroll shifts into a more straightforward retelling of the past several years of his life. After the embarrassing poop experiences of his youth and a tour through why we hate our mothers (conclusion: They are annoying), Kroll starts catching up to his more recent history and is much less confident about how to mine these stories for humor. He enters into a stream of nice, superficial wife-and-baby stories, and it feels as if he’s uncertain about where to take an off-ramp back into a more fully realized, well-built closing joke. The one wholly developed joke in the final stretch of the special comes from a time early in his relationship with his wife when they’re going for a drive in Italy. Eventually, yes, of course, it becomes one of the poop jokes. But before then, there’s a little throwaway moment when Kroll gives a bit of exposition: “We go to the Hertz Bologna, which means, ‘My pee-pee hurts.’” Then he giggles and his entire body appears to transform into a strange , elfish demon. “Hey hey hey!” he says, cowering behind the stool that has been holding his glass of water. “You can’t see me behind this stool!” He’s proud of, mortified by, and delighted with his stupid little pee-pee joke. He’s impressive! He’s an odd little weirdo!

at every moment, Little Big Boy wants to embrace that energy, that mischievous, nose-thumbing, thrilled, mortified feeling of making a truly stupid or crude joke and then having to be seen as someone who just made that joke. When Kroll pulls it off, the special is a fun demonstration of his whole comedic identity. When he starts to run out of steam or feels hampered by the comparative adultness of jokes about being a husband and father, you wonder why he can’t transform back into that imp coyly grinning behind a stool. It would be much more fun and more memorable than the shrug Kroll offers at the end.

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