I can think of no better way to celebrate Father’s Day than by watching the entire 30-episode run of Kroll Show, a triumph of dad-related and Jewish-related humor. Or you could just fast forward to a Season 2 sketch called “Fat Dad, Dirty House, The Curse of Cassandra.” Comedy Central obviously doesn’t think this is one of the series’s better sketches: it isn’t available as a standalone video, meaning you’ll have to find it here, within an episode called “Finger Magnets.” They’re wrong not to offer it for free because the 90-second sketch is one of Nick Kroll’s masterpieces.
In “Fat Dad,” Kroll dreams up the most disgusting character his fertile comedic imagination could conjure, and then builds towards a moment of actual, Father’s Day-worthy tenderness. The sketch is a short snippet of a fake reality show in which Cassandra, the Lizzes‘ oft-abused assistant, takes care of her morbidly obese dad, who in turn lives in an incredibly dirty house. Buried under layers of makeup and ensconced in a near-spherical fat suite, Kroll’s character is lazy, ungrateful, and pathetically insecure. “Tell them about my masters degree!” he bellows to his daughter when two delivery men see him sprawled out helpless on his floor. This is most repellent human you can imagine, short of an actual criminal.
And yet this sketch resolves itself in one of the show’s more tender parent-child moments. Cassandra might indulge her dad’s worst tendencies—ordering him new couches, making him sandwiches, hoisting his flailing body off the floor—at the expense of her own dignity. But the love is there. In fact, her mindless dedication to something as comedically horrible as “Fat Dad” is downright heroic within the show’s degraded moral universe. In the end, pathos is salvaged out of disgust, which is one of those difficult and wonderful tricks that only the best of comedy can pull.
At first blush, “Fat Dad” sits outside Kroll Show’s rich vein of Jewish humor. But it brings together the psycho-familial themes that permeate Kroll Show and which often find a Jewish expression. “Fat Dad” isn’t technically Jewish dad humor, but it’s dad humor from a comic who doesn’t shy away from his own Jewish identity and whatever it might represent to him.
In fact, Kroll Show saved its most overtly Jewish jokes for the series finale, when John Daly’s obnoxiously goyische “Rich Dicks” character undergoes a combination bris-mitzvah. The Jewish humor in Kroll was always somewhat less direct than that, and often worked at the level of social or cultural archetypes with which a Westchester County, prep school-educated Jew like Kroll would have been familiar. You’ve met the Lizzes before (“I started at Binghamton, but I finished at Syracuse,” Kroll’s Liz character brags at one point). If you’ve spent any real time on the Upper West Side, specifically in the lounge at Columbia University’s Butler Library, you know there’s nothing fictional about Gil Faizon or George St. Geegland. The only explicitly Jewish character on the show is Aspen, the other Rich Dick, and he too has the feel of someone harvested from Kroll’s lived experience.
If there’s any larger message about contemporary Jewish identity here, it has to do with the classic Jewish-American neuroses and stereotypes as a psycho-social inheritance, present and persistent even as they degrade into tired, empty parodies of themselves. Kroll has been formed by the Lizzes and Faizons of the world, and there’s a strong whiff of autobiography in those Rich Dicks sketches. He’s moved past them all, and yet they’ve come with him, too; both because of, and in spite of, their own essential lack of substance.
Is Fat Dad another character pulled from Kroll’s distinctly Jewish-American psyche? If so, he exists in a place that Kroll didn’t feel like exploring that much, for whatever reason. In a show that’s largely about parents and children—there’s an entire recurring Season 2 sketch called “Dad Academy,” in which Gil Faizon has a long-lost son, C-Czar has a long-lost mother and Dr. Armond’s horrible son Roman is the show’s other irredeemable character—Fat Dad is one of the few characters who only appears once.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet Magazine.