John Mulaney

This young old SNL writer and stand-up loves his hard jokes and a cool Ice-T.

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John Mulaney

John Mulaney Photograph: Brian Friedman (b-freed.com)

Despite all appearances, stand-up and Saturday Night Live writer John Mulaney is not what he seems. "I look like I'm 21," he explains. "But I'll see a hypersexualized poster for The Tudors and I'll be like, Ugh, relax! I feel like a 70-year-old man inside."

The notion of an old soul trapped in a young body (he's actually 28) helps explain Mulaney a lot. He's been performing comedy since he was seven. He loves Jack Benny, made a Comedy Central Web spoof called I Love the Thirties and helped create the fey, aging Upper West Siders of The Oh, Hello Show , which he performs periodically with Nick Kroll. It also goes hand-in-hand with his accessible stand-up premises—some of his most famous jokes revolve around the stock characters on Law & Order—and his reserved performances, which rely more on well-crafted words and intonation than on boisterous behavior. And whether or not the maturity he projects has anything to do with it, Mulaney has been steadily proving himself funnier and more confident with the passage of time.

Mulaney had already toured extensively with Mike Birbiglia and worked on Important Things with Demetri Martin before he was hired by SNL at the age of 25. Since then, he's regularly collaborated on pieces with peers Simon Rich and Marika Sawyer as well as senior staffers such as Seth Meyers. Mulaney has also ranted as himself on Weekend Update a couple of times, but his best-known bits have come from a collaboration with Bill Hader called Stefon. Performed with twitchy puckishness by Hader, the dark twink character can't stop himself from recommending absurd clubs with names like Ounce and Slash, which boast features he always has to explain, including "puppets in disguise": "It's that thing when ALF wore a trench coat so he could go out in public...?"

And though he's happy to be working on SNL, when the show is on break Mulaney tours clubs and colleges to get more stage time of his own. "I like performing stand-up better than anything," says Mulaney. "I can get the most of my sensibility across and it feels very close to me, so it's a direct validation of being funny." So now, with his own episode of Comedy Central Presents and a comedy album (2009's The Top Part) under his belt, the comic is winding up for another hour special.

Mulaney assures fans that his new material, which he'll continue to hone at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre on May 23, provides specific takes on a broad range of topics, but there's one thing he seems inevitably drawn to: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. "It's so embarrassing and yet it's inescapable," says Mulaney. "It has Ice-T! What, am I going to ignore that?" Though he may indulge the 70-year-old man inside him by turning in early after watching reruns of his favorite program, something tells us Mulaney is far from hitting retirement age.

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