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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Kroll Show: “Karaoke Bullies”

Illustration for article titled iKroll Show/i: “Karaoke Bullies”
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Kroll Show humor is often extremely specific in what exactly it is that it’s mocking, and that level of specificity runs the risk of isolating people who might not be super familiar with the source material. “Karaoke Bullies” has basketball humor (within the framework of traditional sitcom humor, but still) along with super detailed Pennsylvania humor in Pawnsylvania, and I’m certainly less familiar with these topics than I am with, say, Degrassi and Canada, the wells from which Wheels Ontario pulls most of its jokes. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter though. Kroll Show writers are so over-the-top in their mockery of television’s tropes that even if you’re not fully on the inside of the joke, you still get it. Would someone who grew up in Pittsburgh appreciate the humor of Pawnsylvania on a different level than I do? Of course. But Portlandia appeals to an audience beyond just residents of the Pacific Northwest, and Kroll Show similarly finds a way to craft humor that’s simultaneously specific and widely appealing.

One thing I am all too familiar with is the real-life existence of people who don’t obey the fucking karaoke list, so I thoroughly appreciate the concept behind Karaoke Bullies, a reality series in which lower-tier rocker Nash Ricky confronts bullies who hog the karaoke mic. But the execution isn’t quite as tight as some of the season’s other new sketches. The thread that connects Karaoke Bullies with Pawnsylvania seems a bit thin: Murph’s best man Joe recruits Nash Ricky to stop Don’s revenge-driven plot to take over the karaoke stage at Murph and Teresa’s wedding. There’s also a twist shoehorned in at the last minute: Nash turns out to be the father of Denise’s bully Elizabeth. Knowing Kroll Show, this reveal could very well play into the larger framework of the season, but within the context of this episode, during most of Karaoke Bullies, I just wanted less Nash—as great as “L.A. Deli” is—and more niece Denise.


I implied this at the top, but for the record: I don’t have a very deep knowledge of professional basketball, so a lot of the Larry Bird (Kroll), Ted Williams (Kroll Show writer Joe Wengert, who wishes he was born a turtle), and Bill Walton (Seth Rogan) stuff does go over my head. That being said, Chairs still works for a non-sportsfan like myself because of how accurately it parodies Cheers. Kroll Show definitely digs deepest in its parodies of reality programming, but the sketches based on scripted series this season have also been really strong, especially since Kroll Show always dials up the jokes to a 10 and then pushes even further. Chairs uses clunky dialogue and a jaunty sitcom pace to make it very clear that it’s spoofing the tone and style of Cheers. Plus, the sketch builds on Kroll’s already established impression of Larry Bird, and even if I can’t speak to the quality of the impression itself, it’s an amusing enough character to work without the real-life context.

“Karaoke Bullies” definitely is the most contained episode of the final season thus far, and that’s fine. Recurring characters return and new crossover links emerge, but in terms of character development and story momentum, last week’s “Bangs” has “Karaoke Bullies” beat. But Kroll Show continues to milk even the simplest—and strangest—of concepts for every joke possible.


Stray observations:

  • The graphics for Karaoke Bullies are outstanding. I particularly love all the black-and-white freeze frames.
  • According to Gabe Liedman, the weed in Pennsylvania smells like chicken nuggets.
  • We get a double dose of Jenny Slate in this episode (as niece Denise and as Maureen, a Chairs waitress), and as the old adage goes: The more Jenny Slate, the better.
  • The “hubris-filled fantasy song” “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” is Slate’s go-to karaoke choice.
  • Slate also responds to some of Kroll’s questions in character as Marcel The Shell.
  • Random, quick moment that made me laugh way harder than it probably should have: Denise calling Nash Ricky “Rookie Noshy.”
  • Denise’s karaoke version of “Ottawanna Go To Bed” is even better than the original Bryan La Croix tune, and I wish we could have seen her do the whole thing.
  • Christine Nangle’s Teresa is one of my favorite parts of the Pawnsylvania franchise. I love how unintelligible all of her lines are.
  • Karaoke bullies are real, y’all. I was once interrupted during a rousing rendition of “Not Ready To Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks, and I have never forgiven that person. I also once brought an entire bar down by singing Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” alone, because my friend bailed on me. It was a very sad sight that was captured in its entirety on camera by another friend. If only I had had Nash Ricky to save me.

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