John Mulaney is almost an overachiever

We spoke to the former SNL writer about his failed sitcom and winning stand-up career.


Mulaney fox

John Mulaney

At only 33 years old, John Mulaney doesn’t have many items left to scratch off a comic’s bucket list. He’s been a writer for Saturday Night Live (he co-created Bill Hader’s Stefon), developed a ridiculous recurring character of his own (an old NYC prankster on Kroll Show), starred in a Comedy Central stand-up special viewable on Netflix (with an original Netflix special coming in November) and last year he even scored an eponymous network sitcom on Fox, Mulaney — yeah, just like Seinfeld.

Nick Kroll and Mulaney in character
Nick Kroll and Mulaney in character

The Chicago-born comic still has the film world to conquer, and he’s probably not done with TV either. Mulaney (the show) wasn’t exactly a success, lasting only 13 episodes.

“I wanted to try a multi-cam live sitcom, that’s why I did that show,” Mulaney says. “I thought, ‘These are funny and corny and weird,’ so I tried it out.

“Jenji Kohan, who created Orange Is the New Black, I heard her say that doing a TV show is like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie, and that’s true. So starring in, writing and executive-producing a show for 13 episodes — I’m still recovering from it, so a full 22-episode season seems like a monster.

“I’d been a producer and writer on SNL and other shows, and the stand-up, but nothing prepares you for running such a big show. I can’t say, ‘Yes, I had the exact right experience’ [to handle the job] but for a while it seemed kind of natural. I think for a minute I was like, ‘I got this’ — you kind of have to. But I said that about stand-up too, I was like, ‘Put me up there, I’ll figure it out.’”

Mulaney showAnd that turned out just fine. Mulaney just wrapped Funny or Die’s Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival tour, which found him sharing a bill with headliners Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari as well as Nick Kroll and Bridget Everett. Mulaney describes it as a “a fun, non-stop rolling party.”

“Everyone started together doing the same shows in New York from 2004, 2005 onward, so we’ve all known each other a long time,” he says. “I’ve been on group tours where people don’t really know each other and it’s fine, but this is like friends from college or something.”

I asked him whether his comedy pro friends ever get competitive with each other. “No, I’ve never sensed that in stand-up,” he says. “I know that sounds like a lie but everybody’s pretty different. With my friends and other comics I see often, everyone has their own style so it’s not like there’s ever a feeling of, ‘That joke should be mine.’”

As for whether Mulaney will man his own sitcom again, he’s not saying “never.” I asked whether an HBO format with shorter seasons was more appealing than the Mulaney experience, but it was the opportunity to do a traditional network sitcom that appealed to him, not simply having his own show. And looser constraints on language and nudity isn’t a concern either.

“I guess I don’t go for anything shocking or particularly risquée. I remember early on a comic telling me, ‘I don’t have any dick jokes,’” he recalls (apologizing for using the word “dick”) ”because he couldn’t write the best dick jokes. That’s a good rule.” 


John Mulaney performs at Metropolis (59 Ste-Catherine E.) on Sunday, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m., $47.50–$55.85