If you don't know his face, or haven't heard his stand-up specials (2009's The Top Part and 2012's New in Town), you might still be familiar with John Mulaney's work. As a writer on Saturday Night Live, he co-created the character Stefon, the wild New York club kid with the off-the-beaten-path suggestions for tourists; Mulaney is responsible for writing the jokes that caused actor Bill Hader to crack up and break character on-screen.
The 30-year-old comic hopes to bring his own brand of clean cleverness to the little screen this fall; he's currently preparing a pilot for NBC. Though the show has yet to be picked up, Splitsider was able to sit in the live studio audience for a taping and called it "great."
Bay Area fans have the opportunity to see a new hour of Mulaney original stand-up this weekend at Cobb's Comedy Club, and it's best to see him now, before he's making Seinfeld money and demanding Larry the Cable Guy ticket prices.
SF Weekly: So you're working on an NBC pilot right now?
John Mulaney: Yeah I'm at the office now here in Los Angeles.
I read that it's really funny. So does this mean it's been for sure picked up, we'll see it this fall?
No no, no guarantees yet. We have to wait a little more to find out.
What can you tell us at this point about the show?
It's about a character named John Mulaney that I play who's a comedian. It's very original, very 1987, and it's loosely based on my life from a few years ago when I lived in Brooklyn with a couple roommates and was a comedian in New York.
And it's going to be a multi-camera show, with a live studio audience, rather than a single-camera show, which is the format that most of the recent cool comedies (Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, Arrested Development) chose to go with. Why'd you decide to shoot it that way?
All my favorite shows have been multi-cameras since I was a little kid. From I Love Lucy to The Cosby Show, Golden Girls, Seinfeld, Cheers, everything. All of those shows are in my DNA. Growing up, they were my favorites. And then, I love performing in front of a live audience, a lot. And I would miss it if it was done without one.
So have you always wanted to do your own show? Were you thinking of this when you were working at SNL?
Yeah, I was thinking about it for the past couple years. It was always something I wanted to do, because I grew up on shows like that. And SNL, it's in front of a live audience with multiple cameras, so it's kind of how I work in television.
So at SNL, you were mostly behind the scenes as a writer. Did you decide there you wanted to be on camera more?
You had so much freedom there, and you can do so much as a writer there, that it's really rewarding to be a writer there. But I'd always go do stand-up whenever we had a break. I did two specials while I was there. Basically I wanted to do both together -- so, write for myself on something like this pilot.
You're performing this weekend in San Francisco. Is it tough for you to make the time to perform right now while you're working on your pilot?
It was. The week is busy, but I'm really excited to go to San Francisco for the weekend. I haven't been to San Francisco in over a year, I think, and it's my favorite city to do stand-up in. I recorded my first album there, I love doing the Punchline, and Cobb's this time. I'm really excited.
What can people expect from the shows here this weekend, is it going to be new material?
Yeah, it's a new hour that people haven't seen on my last special or the last time I was in San Francisco. So I'm excited to be doing a new hour for everybody.
Were you doing stand-up before SNL or vice versa?
Yeah I started doing stand-up when I was about 20, summer of 2003. And I went to New York to do stand-up for a summer while I slept on my friend Nick Kroll's couch.
Oh right, you two were in college together?
Yes, we had a sketch show together, and we did open mics, and after I graduated college I moved to New York.
So about comedic influences -- some people speculate you may be the "next Seinfeld." What do you think about that comparison? To what degree did Seinfeld's comedy influence your work?
I love Jerry Seinfeld, a lot. Guys like that, comedians that I've watched a lot, like him and Bill Cosby, live really large in my head. I'd be very intimidated to meet either of them. I think both of them, and Roseanne, did just excellent, excellent shows based on the senses of humor they had as stand-ups. If we could be one-tenth as sharp and good as that show I'd be very happy.
Do you have a favorite sketch you worked on while you were at SNL?
I really loved writing with Bill Hader, we had a lot of fun together. Like Stefon, and Herb Welch, and Vincent Price. I think my favorite thing I ever worked on was a thing called "British Movie," which was a fake British film trailer that I did with Bill, and Fred [Armisen] was also in. That fake film trailer really came together exactly how we wanted it to. Also this sketch I wrote with Fred that was The Wizard of Oz with a character that'd been deleted from the film. For some reason those stick out as my favorites.
So did you know that your Wikipedia page is still a stub?
It just means that it's not a fully-developed Wikipedia page.
I was going to ask you. But if you go to Wikipedia, at the bottom it'll say, "This page is still a stub."
(Navigating to and then reading from his own Wikipedia page) "...still a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it." What does that mean?
Maybe you could email them about it?
"A stub is an article deemed too short..." Huh. Why is it too short? It's got a couple of things there.
(Still reading) "John Mulaney is an American comedian" -- true. "Former writer for Saturday Night Live" -- true. "Early life: from Chicago" -- true. "Went to St. Clement School and St. Ignatius College Prep" -- true. "Attended Georgetown University where he studied English Literature" -- both true, both unimpressive. "In addition to writing for SNL, Mulaney has appeared on the show's Weekend Update segment" -- I did twice. "He and SNL actor Bill Hader co-created recurring SNL character Stefon" -- that is true. They talk about SNL a lot.
(More reading) "Other projects and appearances: Mulaney also made regular appearances on Best Week Ever on VH1" -- very true. Multiple, multiple times. "Mulaney has also appeared multiple times on Late Night with Conan O'Brien" -- true. "He has also appeared once on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" -- untrue, I have appeared twice. "In 2009, he released a stand-up comedy album entitled The Top Part" -- true. "In 2012 he released another stand-up comedy album called New in Town." These are very dry facts. It's like a police report.
Well okay, I think it's better than a stub. You get a sense of the person.
Yeah definitely, there are links and stuff.
I guess I got to expand it a little, huh? What should I add to it?
Well you could add maybe a couple of photos.
There's a photo of me at Bumbershoot, in Seattle.
Maybe a more recent photo, or a Stefon photo too. Maybe some more hotlinks. Or maybe talk about more people you've worked with.
Why should I list other people? It's my stub, dammit.
Well it's your stub, it's your prerogative. I'm not trying to tell you what to do.
I'm pretty proud of my stub. Maybe I just want to keep it the way it is.
You can see how long you could keep it a stub, after you get super famous.
I feel like expanding it any more would be bad for karma. You want to keep it a stub, until you have "Legal Troubles." That's the best thing for a Wikipedia page, when there's a whole section of "Legal Troubles." Also, "Recent Controversies" is my other favorite Wikipedia section.
What do you have, just "Early Life?"
I just have "Early Life" and "SNL." Oh boy. It covers my early life. In my later years, it'll be good to look back on my early life on Wikipedia.
Well I'm just saying, Jerry Seinfeld's page is like, really long.
Let me see here, wait, let me see. Is it longer than mine?
It's a whole lot longer.
"Personal Wealth," "Car Collection." Yeah those wouldn't be interesting in my case. I have a rented Prius.
Oh yeah, are you moved to LA now, or do you still reside in New York?
No I still live in New York. I am just here in LA for a month.
Do you like it? Or do you prefer NY?
I actually prefer Northern California. And that's not pandering. I really like San Francisco and even Monterey. There's not enough TV shows made in Monterey. At this point in the interview I'm reading Jerry Seinfeld's Wikipedia page while we talk.
I'll probably make a note of it in the article.
Yeah just don't make me sound insane. You brought it up.
I totally did. I was kind of hoping this would happen though. What other projects are you working on?
Well I'm working on the pilot right now. I wasn't able to do as much touring for a while, so I'm really happy to be at Cobb's. You guys have good weather this week.
Any plans to do a new album soon?
I have plans to, I just need to schedule it.
Any festival plans or anything?
No festivals right now. I might create a festival after my Wikipedia page gets fleshed out. Or I could do a Wikipedia festival, just so they flesh my page out.
Well you could call it like Stubfest or something.
Yes, StubHub is sponsoring my stub tour.
Is there anything you wished I'd asked you here today but didn't? I feel like that sounds like a lazy question.
Did you ask me about my Wikipedia page yet? Because that was the only one I was hoping. I hope the headline for this article is, "Seinfeld Not Appearing This Week."
We might consider that. Well thank you so much for talking to me. I'm looking forward to your shows.
Thanks a lot, I really am excited.
John Mulaney performs on Friday, May 3, at 8 p.m. and 10:15 p.m.; and Saturday, May 4, at 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. at Cobb's Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., S.F. Tickets are $25, and there's a two-drink minimum. 928-4320 or cobbscomedyclub.com.