Everyone starts somewhere, but not everyone gets a good story from their humble beginnings. John Mulaney does. During a segment on Netflix’s How I Got Started (picked up by Entertainment Weekly), the comic, Big Mouth voice, and recent kids special star delved into his backstory, which included a detour as a temp at Comedy Central. And while his temp life sounds as awful and dreary as anyone else’s, he did emerge with a good anecdote involving Dave Chappelle.
Young Mulaney cut his teeth as the assistant to the Head of Development, though he was also sometimes the assistant to the head of Comedy Central itself. While working the latter position, he wound up being the person who fielded a famous call: the one where Dave Chappelle’s team called to let the top brass know that he’d high-tailed it to South Africa, ditching his hit program Chappelle’s Show at the peak of its popularity. At the time the big execs were mid-meeting.
“They were like, ‘You have to interrupt the meeting and tell them,’” Mulaney recalled. “I was like, ‘So, Dave Chappelle’s gone.” Initially the Comedy Central heads misinterpreted his words, thinking he meant that he was merely late, which he often was, usually by three or four hours.
But this wasn’t the usual tardiness. Once they realized Chappelle was gone-gone, Mulaney says they almost flew him out to Los Angeles in order to get the physical copies of what little Chappelle shot of the aborted third season, then back to New York.
It made for a good story, but ultimately it reminded Mulaney that he was wasting his precious time. “So that was interesting,” he said, “but it felt like a hindrance to being a comedian.”
You can watch Mulaney talk about it above, with the relevant bit beginning around the 2:30 mark. You can also nip into the whole thing, hearing him talk, again, about overcoming youthful alcohol and drug issues, and even citing as an influence on his stand-up style no less than Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.