Q&A: John Mulaney

A&E talked with writing and stand-up young gun, John Mulaney.

Spencer Doar

What: John Mulaney

When: 7 p.m. (sold out) and 10 p.m., Saturday

Where: Varsity Theater, 1308 Fourth St. SE, Minneapolis.

Cost: $20

Ages: 7 p.m. 18+, 10 p.m. all ages


John Mulaney always wanted to live in New York, and the dream has been realized in a big way: Not only is he there, he’s writing for the show known for that “live from New York” shout. Only a few standup specials and writing credits deep, Mulaney has a pilot in the works with NBC, which ought to bolster his shooting star career trajectory. A&E grilled the comic about drinking, writing and jokin’ around:


Tell me about the pilot you’re working on for NBC.

It’s loosely based on my life a few years ago, and there’s not too much of a crazy premise — I’m not like a doctor and a lawyer who has to switch between the two. I just play myself when I lived with two roommates in Brooklyn. It’s been written that I write jokes for a game show, but it’s actually a game show host that’s kind of an amalgamation of people that I would write jokes for — for award shows and things like that.

It’s an old-school, multi-cam, in-front-of-a-live-audience show. It’s very original as of 1987 or so.

What was your impetus to do something like this?

I wanted to do a half-hour show like that with NBC. I really like those shows. There are still good multi-cams out there, but there used to be so many more. I just think it’s a great form. It’s kind of how I watched all comedy when I was kid. It’s in my DNA. From doing standup and SNL, I really appreciate doing it in front of a live audience.

What do you think about people who say that SNL is better now than it used to be?

I don’t know if it got better — I appreciate that people have liked it in the past few years. I think it’s a very weird show that’s been around for a long time, so people are going to go through phases of not liking it. A lot of people remember when they were younger, and they liked everything better when they were younger.

Are you a big practical joker?

Only selectively will I ever do a prank or a practical joke — I’ve never used that word. I never, ever wanted to get in trouble when I was younger. I was the best of the bad kids. I was the lawyer or something. I did bad things and then was the first to run away. I was never interested in pulling off big pranks unless the damage would be worth it.

What were you like growing up?

Shorter. I was a nice boy, just a person. I was sort of popular but not too popular. I wasn’t that interesting.

So, the average of all averages?

I mean, I was kind of weird, like, I carried a briefcase to school. I wanted to pretend that I lived in a different era. But I went to a pretty friendly school, and people didn’t pick on me too much. I had a class of about 30 kids in a Catholic school in Chicago. For some reason, if you carry a briefcase to school, other people start carrying briefcases. So I was accepted.

How big of a drinker were you?

I try to think about it now. I was just a prodigy; I was an Andre Agassi of it. I got started very young. Like Agassi, by 23, I was ready to give it up. He of course kept playing into his 30s. I might have a resurgence of drinking — if I started drinking again and won Wimbledon, I think that would be worth it.

Do you intentionally emphasize aspects of your voice?

I sound different now because I woke up not too long ago. I usually sound like the annoying carnival barker that I am.

You’ve been cropping up different places — how’d you get involved with Nick Kroll’s show?

I met Nick Kroll when I was 18. I was a freshman in college, he was a senior, and he was the director of the improv group in college. I auditioned for him, and he cast me. The first time I met him, I thought he was Hispanic, and it turned out he wasn’t — still a wonderful guy.

We’ve worked together a lot over the years. We used to host a standup and sketch show in New York for like two or three years. Those are characters we’ve done in different YouTube videos. He talked about doing a couple of shorts and a prank show called “Too Much Tuna.” So I guess I do like pranks now that I think about it. I like pranking people with tuna.

It’s all a matter of perception.

That is truly, literally, a practical joke, giving someone a large tuna sandwich. It’s practical because it’s easy to do and then they might enjoy the sandwich. But it’s a joke since it’s just too much tuna.