Nick Kroll Says It’s a ‘Disservice’ to Keep ‘Big Mouth’ Going Forever

When “Big Mouth” premiered on Netflix in 2017, it didn’t occur to co-creator Nick Kroll that the raunchy yet endearing animated comedy about a group of middle school friends who experience puberty, sexual discovery and gender identity for the first time would strike a chord with tweens and adults. “Originally, we were making a show that we thought would be funny for us to watch,” said Kroll, who is an executive producer and writer as well as a voice actor along with John Mulaney, Jessi Klein, Jason Mantzoukas and Ayo Edebiri. “[Puberty] couldn’t be more of a universal theme that would resonate with kids who were going through it or had just gone through it, and adults who were looking back at that time.”

Now, seven seasons and three Outstanding Animated Program Emmy nominations later, the coming-of-age series — which spawned a short-lived spin-off, “Human Resources” — is sending its sex-obsessed characters to high school for its eighth and final season, officially making it the longest-running original scripted series in Netflix history.

Why do you think kids and adults connect with “Big Mouth,” despite its risqué content and language?

NICK KROLL We were encouraged to realize how many younger people saw themselves in it or wanted to see themselves in it, so we continued to expand the universe and the stories that we were trying to tell and the different kinds of experiences people could have. Starting with Hormone Monsters, then moving into Shame Wizards, Depression Kitties and Anxiety Mosquitoes, it became a show that wasn’t purely about kids masturbating — but really a show about people, their feelings and their emotional state.

How do you feel about “Big Mouth” serving as an educational resource?

[Once] we realized how many parents and educators were like, “We use the language of ‘Big Mouth’ and the platform to talk about things that are hard to talk about,” we tried to be as responsible with our stories and messaging as possible. If it sounds too preachy or afterschool special-y, then we’re not doing our job, which is to be funny. You need a little sugar with your medicine. The beauty of being on the air for seven seasons is you can dig deep into these characters and understand where they are emotionally. As writers, it’s more gratifying to tell stories that have emotional resonance. There isn’t always great sex education in schools or it’s hard for parents to talk about. I’m very gratified by that.

John Mulaney as Andrew and Hormone Monster in "Big Mouth" (Netflix)
John Mulaney voices Andrew (here, with Hormone Monster) in “Big Mouth” (Netflix)

Was there a specific turning point where you thought, This is the show we’re marching toward?

One of the things we do every season is we try to do something that’s a real form-breaker. In Season 7, we did an international episode, which was an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Because Netflix dubs our show [in other languages], we were like, “Let’s use the people who do the voices in Brazil, Sweden and South Korea. But let’s also try to tell stories of what it’s like to go through puberty in Kenya or Iran.” One of our writers, Mitra Jouhari, is Iranian and was excited about telling a story about a girl discovering the alternative uses for a bidet for a girl discovering her body — telling a very “Big Mouth” story but in a very international context.

Or getting Lin-Manuel Miranda to write a song about a boy who is waiting to grow pubic hair and using all of his incredible resources — all of the Puerto Rican folks he works with — to create this very specific song that feels, again, veryBig Mouth” and is all in Spanish. That, to me, makes me [feel] like, This show still feels exciting and fresh to us, and yet still very much on theme.

Looking back to Season 1, Jessi getting her period and talking to the Statue of Liberty or Andrew singing a song called “Totally Gay” with the ghost of Freddie Mercury — that’s the story about a friendship between kids not knowing whether it’s sexual or not. When we introduced the Shame Wizard, that was a real revelatory moment. And we got the incredible David Thewlis to voice it. When you look at those early seasons, I think we knew what the show was very early on.

The international episode is a perfect example of the freedom you have in animation where you can pull off story elements that would be logistical nightmares in live-action.

Yeah. If we were a live-action comedy show, [saying] “Let’s go shoot in six continents around the world using local talent,” that would have been impossible. There was a story [in Season 6] of Brian Tyree Henry, who voices Missy’s boyfriend [Elijah], who turns out to be asexual. I’m sure other shows could maybe tell that story, but because we’re an animated show, you could have him talking to his Hormone Monsters and working on those issues. If you were doing a [live-action] show about a 15-year-old boy figuring out whether he’s asexual or not, it’s much harder to do.

“Big Mouth” has amassed an impressive list of guest voice actors over its run. Who surprised you the most?

She started on “Human Resources,” but we got Lupita Nyong’o [to voice] a Kenyan Shame Wizard [in Season 7]. It tickles me to know that we got an Oscar winner to come in to do a voice. It was during the pandemic and we had a few different Zoom meetings about her character and you’re like, “This is why you’re an Oscar winner because you’re genuinely trying to understand who this character is.”

John Mulaney as Andrew, Nick Kroll as Nick and Jason Mantzoukas as Jay in "Big Mouth" (Netflix)
John Mulaney as Andrew, Nick Kroll as Nick and Jason Mantzoukas as Jay in “Big Mouth” (Netflix)

You’re heading into the final season of “Big Mouth,” which finds the gang starting high school and by doing so, entering a new stage in life. Did you ever think it would take seven seasons for them to leave middle school? 

We weren’t thinking much about [whether] they would move forward in time because [animated] shows don’t move forward in time. The beauty of animation is that people stay exactly the same. We realized that they needed to change and evolve, which is a very rare thing [in animation]. It became very clear to us that that was the way the show would work and they would eventually go to high school. It was a great generator for stories to tell and for characters to continue to evolve, and watch them learn and not learn. Specifically Season 7 when they graduate middle school, it’s a scary thing to have your kids move forward but it ultimately provided us with new stories that continue to innovate on what we were doing.

The Season 7 finale saw Nick and Andrew (Kroll and John Mulaney’s characters) attending different high schools, which is reminiscent of real life when friend groups split up due to circumstance. What are were looking to explore?

[Co-creator] Andrew [Goldberg] and I went to different high schools, and our friendship evolved and changed. We’ve already written Season 8 and we’ve voiced it, so it’s done. It was exciting to be able to tell new stories, not only about what physically is happening to these kids but about how friendships and relationships change when you go to high school. What does that mean for their identity and who they are at this new place? So much about your teen years is trying to define who you are and change the definition of who you are. There are some things that we do in Season 8 that really speak emotionally and physically to these kids.

Why end “Big Mouth” with Season 8?

We didn’t ever think this was a show that should go on forever. But it’s a show with characters we love that could be revisited in different ways at different times. There’s ample opportunity to continue telling stories from these characters, but at the moment, it felt like we told a very complete story. The themes of adolescence and change — it would be a disservice to continue telling these stories with no end because this is a moment in time in your life. We always knew that and wanted to not diminish the characters by keeping them stagnant. It’s been gratifying to try to complete those stories.

A version of this story first ran in TheWrap’s awards magazine.

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