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Friendship and the elephant in the room: Nick Kroll and John Mulaney on hosting the Spirit Awards

John Mulaney and Nick Kroll will be hosting the 2017 Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday.
John Mulaney and Nick Kroll will be hosting the 2017 Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The dress code for the Film Independent Spirit Awards, which take place Saturday afternoon in a tent by the beach in Santa Monica, is “festive and relaxed,” which might be a good description for the event itself.

Though Oscar-nominated movies such as “Moonlight,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Jackie” all have multiple nominations at the Spirit Awards, so to do many films with no recognition from the academy, such as “American Honey,” “Certain Women,” “Free In Deed,” “Chronic” and “The Childhood of a Leader.” (Oscar favorite “La La Land” was ineligible to compete because its budget exceeded Spirit Award limits).

The hosts for the informal, often raucous event are comic writer-performers Nick Kroll and John Mulaney. They are fresh from their recent success on Broadway with “Oh, Hello on Broadway,” in which they played a cranky pair of aging New York City roommates. (As an actor Kroll also appeared in “Loving,” nominated for two Spirit Awards.)

Mulaney, one of the country’s top stand-up comedians, and Kroll sat for an interview recently in Hollywood to talk about their hosting duties with an often impenetrable mixture of sincerity and sarcasm.

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This awards season has been especially political. Are you going to address that?

Kroll: We’re going to go more local: California, SoCal, school board election stuff.

Mulaney: The Orange County comptroller is really gonna get it, in a rather mean-spirited way.

Kroll: I still don’t understand how California things work.

Mulaney: That’s why a lot of things get screwed up. They’re like, if you don’t want this, vote yes. It’s like, Prop. 8 is about gay marriage, well then I’ll vote for it. No, don’t. We actually are hosting because of Prop. 117, which is “Are you not OK with Nick and John not hosting? Vote yes or no.” And there was so much confusion that here we are.

Kroll: So to answer your question, whatever he just said. Look, what we’ve felt, if we’ve read the room right, is that the country has never felt more safe and sane and we’re going to bask in the glory of this moment in time when everyone feels included. The world feels like it’s in good hands.

What do you both like about working together?

Kroll: With independent film, if you have a brother you automatically become one of the great filmmakers. And so John is my comedy brother and I feel like it gives us extra strength.

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Mulaney: There’s Owen Wilson and Luke.

Kroll: There’s Mark and Jay Duplass.

Mulaney: And there’s Kroll, Mulaney, not related. Or Uday and Qusay Hussein.

Kroll: I believe self-proclaimed as the finest filmmakers in the history of the world. Or the Trump brothers, great filmmakers.

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Mulaney: Obviously we have to address the elephant in the room, the election. Luckily Eric Trump shot the elephant and cut off its tail.

Obviously we have to address the elephant in the room, the election. Luckily Eric Trump shot the elephant and cut off its tail.

John Mulaney on hosting the Spirit Awards

Will there be an appearance by George and Gil, your characters from “Oh, Hello?”

Kroll: Literally, we talked to George and Gil about going out, but they wanted first-class Greyhound tickets.

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Mulaney: They’re kind of against awards shows. They were snubbed at the ESPYs for their handball work. They play handball at a New York City court every day and were expecting to win almost every ESPY for that.

Are you two surprised the characters have been so popular?

Mulaney: I was surprised, but they were always our absolute favorite thing. It was a pleasant surprise. We would have done them to the final day of our lives regardless. So that people responded to it was just a delight. I was very pleasantly surprised.

Kroll: I would agree. George and Gil were not surprised.

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Mulaney: They’ve been waiting for this for 40 years.

Kroll: They didn’t want to call it “Oh, Hello on Broadway.” They wanted to call it “Of Course.”

Mulaney: Paul Shaffer said, “This is a happening. This is the new ‘Soupy Sales Show,’ where everyone around town is saying this is a great hang.” And quote that in full. That was one of the best compliments I’ve ever heard, “This is the new Soupy Sales.”

Kroll: For us, it was always like, this is what I hoped show business would be. At least in my mind — you do this show, cool people come, people you would’ve admired for a long time, you meet them before, you hang out afterwards, you go to like Joe Allen or Bar Centrale. It just felt like you would imagine, when I was a little kid, what show business would be. Doing something like the Spirit Awards feels kind of similar, and when you’re a kid thinking one day maybe I’ll host the Oscars, but then the powers that be won’t let us host the Oscars because we’re too dangerous.

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John Mulaney and Nick Kroll, hosts of the 2017 Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica on Saturday.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

After the run on Broadway are you nervous to do a show as yourselves?

Mulaney: I’ve been nervous for 34 years. There is no time that I’m not nervous.

Kroll: I just have to convince myself that I’m playing the character of Nick Kroll. I think part of it for me is that being onstage with John, I’m never nervous. I’m more excited. I think when you do these kind of shows, having someone you think is the funniest, who you have fun with, makes the whole thing less pressurized, like it’s just the two of us. It’s what we’ve been doing since we were in college.

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What would be an ideal moment?

Kroll: I think a non-sarcastic answer is if we have fun then the show will be fun and people will enjoy it. That’s all we can control. I think the lesson we’ve learned from back in college, through years in New York and performing in L.A. and going to Broadway and the process of writing this so far, is that if it’s fun to us that’s all you can go on. If the audience doesn’t like it, you can’t control that.

Mulaney: I’m keeping the 400 bucks. But this is the best non-wedding event on that beach on that day. For sure.

‘2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards’

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Where: IFC

When: 2 and 10 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-MA-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17 with an advisory for coarse language)

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Mark.Olsen@latimes.com

Follow on Twitter: @IndieFocus

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