Best comedy 2013: John Mulaney interview
We chat with the former SNL scribe—and one of the best local comedy performers—about his forthcoming sitcom on Fox
Tue Nov 5 2013
Comedian John Mulaney
As a comic, John Mulaney recalls the broad appeal of Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby. And as an SNL scribe for five seasons, he cocreated one of the show’s best-loved characters—the willowy, club-obsessed Stefon (played by Bill Hader). Which is why we can’t wait to see Mulaney, the Lorne Michaels–backed sitcom that—after NBC passed on its pilot—was picked up last month by Fox for a six-episode run. With the new production about to kick in, and Mulaney headlining at the Town Hall during the New York Comedy Festival, we talked to the comedian while he was riding high—literally. Our conversation took place on a double-decker bus just after the Time Out New York cover shoot, during which he’d almost lost his scalp to a traffic light.
RECOMMENDED: Best comedy in NYC
Time Out New York: So does a constant fear of death keep a photo shoot on a moving bus sufficiently interesting?
John Mulaney: Yeah, it distracts you from the fact that you’re having your photo taken. If we were parked somewhere, I’d start off self-conscious, and gradually you’d be able to take a decent photo. But I was like, I’m not even worried how I look, I just don’t want to get hit in the head!
Time Out New York: When we talked a couple of years ago, you mentioned that you were afraid of being boring.
John Mulaney: I don’t think I’m afraid of it; I think that’s just the way it is. And I mean boring like “kind of plain.” I’m a very straightforward person. But that’s fine for a comedian. Because a lot of times you’re talking about everyone else. I have a lot of stories about being a kid because it was the last time I was interesting. I’m like an elderly man in the 1940s: I go to bed at 11. I TiVo Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and Charlie Rose. I don’t even watch Charlie Rose. I see who’s on—it’s normally something political—and I turn it off.
Time Out New York: You were one of Dave Chappelle’s openers at the massive Oddball festival this summer. How does your delivery change for that large a crowd?
John Mulaney: As a rule, with 18,000 people, I’d say: louder and faster. I remembered [Mike] Birbiglia gave me a piece of advice when I was first emceeing that he had been given when he was first emceeing. He did his set, walked off, and the headliner just went, “Louder and faster.”
Time Out New York: A lot of people were hoping you’d take over the “Weekend Update” desk when Seth Meyers left.
John Mulaney: Things don’t exist until they exist. I didn’t think about it, because Seth was doing “Update” when I was there, and it was so great. People would ask, “Don’t you want to be on the show?” And I was certainly not opposed to it, but it’s really fun to be writing and producing your own sketches. You almost have more control.
Time Out New York: Mulaney will be a multicamera show shot in front of a studio audience. Why not go with the single-camera trend of most hip sitcoms these days?
John Mulaney: I was reading that oral history book, Top of the Rock, and it dawned on me: When I think of my favorite memories watching TV, it’s those shows—Cosby, Seinfeld, Golden Girls, Family Ties, All in the Family, The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy. And I just thought, Oh, that’s exactly what I’d like to do. I’d also do stand-up in a theater and I’d think, Oh, this is cool that there are both 22-year-old comedy fans who look like Lee Harvey Oswald and some parents who are in their fourties, fifties, sixties. I like that idea that what I do might be mainstream. Might be.
Time Out New York: What was readying the pilot like?
John Mulaney: It was really fun. It’s nice when you’re nervous and everybody’s like, “Yeah, you should be nervous.” Because a lot of times you’re anxious and people say, “Relax. Shut up.” And that just feels like, Well, I guess I’m also crazy.
Time Out New York: Was it strange when Fox picked up Mulaney?
John Mulaney: Honestly, as of this date, I am still shocked that this is happening. I don’t quite believe it. I’m still in New York, still buying the cheaper dog food as if I’m a semi-unemployed man.
Time Out New York: So, what does a headlining show at the Town Hall during NYCF mean to you?
John Mulaney: It’s a really big deal. I’m amazed I’m able to do it at this point. I’ve done festivals in the past where I’d be a guest, it was like, Wow, maybe someday I could play Town Hall—but that’ll be a long way off. So it’s very exciting.
John Mulaney headlines a sold-out show at the Town Hall Sat 9 at 7pm.
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