It’s probably safe to say that at this point John Mulaney is best known for being a pretty young guy with a really cool job. The Chicago-born stand-up and sketch-writer was hired as a “Saturday Night Live” scribe four years ago at 25, and was then promoted to producer for the 2011-’12 season. Aside from the usual prestige of working on “SNL,” Mulaney has earned extra attention as the co-creator of Bill Hader’s popular character Stefon, a young druggy who shows up periodically on “Weekend Update” to irritate Seth Meyers. Wearing a ridiculous shirt, Stefon reviews New York City clubs, such as Taste, where the DJ is Chinese Baby Bok Choy, “a giant 300 pound Chinese baby who wears tinted aviator glasses and spins records with his little ravioli hands.” It’s all very funny stuff.
Those who don’t watch “SNL” may still recognize Mulaney from his stand-up. While he’s been touring nationally for years, his new hour-long Comedy Central special “New In Town,” which airs Saturday January 28th at 10pm, will certainly garner him many new fans. We won’t ruin any jokes for you, but they’re the kind you’ll want to retell. Badly. So we were pleased when Mulaney agreed to answer a few questions about comedy, music and his rumored affection for Marilyn Monroe. He also told us one of his earliest jokes, which in our opinion still holds up.
I heard you’re a fan of Marilyn Monroe. Is that true? And if so why do you like her so much?
Well I think she was a very cool lady for starters. And she is really funny in “Some Like it Hot.” But also — and this is where I reveal my weird inner life — I feel really bad for her every time I see a photo of her. Like, I feel really protective of her because all these people used her and then made her feel stupid. She wanted to be taken seriously and people thought she was an idiot. She was just embarrassed a lot, it seems like — and everyone can identify with being embarrassed.
This is a clichéd question, but I’ll ask anyway: If you could visit any time and place for like a month, when and where would you go and why?
I’d like to go live at Downton Abbey for a month. It seems very easy and just my speed. You get up. You get dressed for like an hour. Then you have a mediocre-looking breakfast. Then you take a walk around your house. Then it’s like 4 PM. Then you dress for dinner. Then you eat dinner and go to sleep. Those dudes do like three things a day maximum.
I watched HBO’s “Talking Funny” special and at one point Ricky Gervais asks the other comics when they realized they might be funny. I was wondering if you remember a joke from early on that worked well.
Yes I do. I was at a birthday party when I was 4 and the birthday girls’ mom said, “That’s a sharp shirt,” and I said “Yeah sometimes I use it instead of scissors.” And I said it really deadpan.
That’s really funny. Did you know it was a joke?
Yes, I did. My mom tells me that I knew I was cute when I was a baby and it was a little obnoxious. I was a vain baby who was pleased with himself.
What music have you been listening to lately?
I have been listening to Eleanor Friedberger’s album “Last Summer” a lot. My favorite album of the year was “Kaputt” by Destroyer. All Fall I have wanted to drive in a car at night while listening to it and I got to yesterday. I even ran a red light. But that isn’t the album’s fault.
If you could be in any band as a back-up singer or a second guitarist, which would you choose?
The Ramones, because they just drove around in a van bitching at each other for like 30 years. It sounds like it was pretty funny. Plus, if I was in the group I would look like one of the Ramones, and how fun would that be!
Which comics did you like when you were growing up?
When I was very young, maybe 7 or 8, I watched all the stand-ups that were on TV in the late 1980s. Bobcat Goldthwait, Dennis Wolfberg, Sinbad, Paula Poundstone. I liked all of them. I would watch those old Comic Relief specials and loved every comic on them, though I can’t remember all of them.
When I got a little older, I started to listen to a lot of older comedy from the 1930s and 40s (I was not an outdoorsy child). My Dad got me some tapes of old radio shows and I would listen to them all the time and I liked how people talked back then. At the same time I started getting old stand-up albums like “Woody Allen: Comedian” and Monty Python and all of the other things that most comedy nerds watched.
Who do you like now?
I am still a fan of lots and lots of stuff. Nothing makes me happier than watching Louis CK. And I also love anything Steve Coogan does. And I also love this comic in Britain named Tim Key. But, the coolest thing for me now is that I am a huge fan of the people I get to work with. People like Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Andy Samberg make me laugh uncontrollably.
I heard you come from a big family. Do you think that shaped your comedy?
It’s funny that you say a big family. It wasn’t that big for Chicago. But compared to most people I know now, it was. I am the third of four kids but I can’t pretend that I didn’t get enough attention or something, and needed to do comedy to get people to notice me. My parents gave all of us a lot of attention. I also tried to make myself the center of attention at all times when I was a kid. I think maybe I got some confidence as a comedian from performing for my family. And since it was five other people, I had a good-sized crowd to workshop stuff.
What’s the best advice you got when you started out?
In terms of getting on-stage as a comedian, I think the best thing to do is just be around a lot. You should go to a lot of shows. Watch a lot of people. Meet a lot of people who book shows. And then when they have an open spot and you ask if you can get up on the show they say, “Oh I know that person. He/she is normal and funny.” This may not sound artistically inspiring but just showing people that you are a friendly not-crazy person will make them root for you a little and give you a shot.
Also, in terms of writing jokes, I was doing a show in New Brunswick, New Jersey, once and I bombed soooo bad. And a comedian named Ross Bennet was there. And he said to me, “You’re very funny. But these people have no time for your cleverness. Get to the point.” And I liked that advice a lot. It’s great to be clever but you should, underneath it, have a point. I don’t mean you have to have a message, but it’s good to have your jokes rooted in a take on something that you really believe is true. It also makes it easier to perform that joke 200 times over 200 nights. Because you can tell yourself, “I still think this thing is stupid and this joke still makes sense to me.”
|John Mulaney – Bullied at School|