Nick Kroll isn't a spiteful, paranoid, self-centered prick, he just plays one on TV. On FX's The League, the 34-year-old stand-up comic and actor portrays Rodney Ruxin, a Napoleonic product liability lawyer whose only concern—other than keeping his disproportionately hot trophy wife—is decimating his so-called friends in their fantasy football league. He's underhanded, conniving and, thanks to Kroll, hilarious just eating crackers.
WW spoke to Kroll, whose new sketch show premieres on Comedy Central next year, about the links between Ruxin and some of his other, flashier stage creations (like Jersey Shore reject Bobby Bottleservice and Fabrice Fabrice, a gay Latino craft services coordinator), the well-meaning jerkdom of The League, and the role you would think he'd like to forget: that of a erudite Neanderthal on Cavemen, the ill-fated ABC sitcom based on the Geico commercials.
WW: A common thread connecting a lot of your characters is a misguided sense of superiority. Why are you drawn to those kinds of characters?
Nick Kroll: I think what I find funny are people who are self-unaware, who think they're superior or smarter than other people. It's not a conscious decision, but I think I go back to that just because there's something funny about a pathetic person who thinks they're great.
There's obviously quite a bit of that in Ruxin. Is there more of yourself in that character than your others?
Well, I've had so much time on camera with him, and a lot of the show is improvised, so there's something in there that's me. But I think I'm a pretty positive guy who wants to be liked, and Ruxin is such a crummy dude. He wants to be disliked. He thrives on it. And he's so distrustful of people. Obviously I won't get into the back of the van with a stranger, but I have a lot more faith in humanity than Ruxin does.
How does the cast keep the characters on The League from losing their sense of humanity completely?
Jeff Schaffer, who co-created the show, is from the Seinfeld world, and on Seinfeld, it was, "No hugging, no learning." I think we stay pretty true to that. We all like each other a lot in real life, though, so while we're super-cruel to each other on the show, it's underlined by the affection we have for one another. The characters make each other laugh, like friends. And nobody is spared from being the butt of the joke. Everyone has their moment to get shit on.
I have to ask you about Cavemen.
For me, personally, it was an amazing learning experience. I'd never acted on TV or even a movie before getting that job. It was a good lesson in seeing how the media will run with something without really giving it a fair shake. If you actually look at the comedy we were doing there and put it up against any number of network shows that people are fine with, you'd be like, "Oh, that's just as good as half the shows that make it to air." I'm glad I wasn't on it for seven years, but I don't regret it at all.
SEE IT: Nick Kroll performs at Helium Comedy Club, 1510 SE 9th Ave. 8 pm Thursday, 7:30 pm and 10 pm Friday-Saturday, June 14-16. $20-$25.