UPROXX Interview: John Mulaney On ‘Mulaney,’ Louis C.K.’s Advice, And ‘SNL’

Of all the new shows to premiere this fall, the one that we most want to succeed is Mulaney, which premieres this Sunday on Fox at 9:30 p.m. A large part of that has to do with the show’s star and creator, standup comedian John Mulaney, who you might have noticed we’re pretty big fans of. I spoke to Mulaney in June at the Austin Television Festival about his show, the advice he received from Louis C.K., and his favorite SNL sketches.

UPROXX: Obviously, the show is named after you, so how happy are you that you have a nice last name like Mulaney, and not something like Mulgeech?

Mulaney: I’ve never thought about it as a nice last name.

UPROXX: It could be much worse.

Mulaney: I wonder if I would have changed it. Probably not, because no one really changes their name anymore.

UPROXX: Was it always the plan for the show to be called Mulaney?

Mulaney: There were other names bandied about, but they all had my name in them.

UPROXX: Were they all puns? Or Mulaney’s World?

Mulaney: I was talking to [Andy] Samberg about one called Mulaney Can’t Hang. It’s so lame, but also kind of funny. They were all like that, I guess all titular. What a fun word. I only know it from that Upright Citizens Brigade sketch.

UPROXX: The show was originally going to air on NBC, and when they passed, Fox snagged it. But was it always going to be a multi-cam?

Mulaney: I always wanted it to be multi-cam from the beginning. In the first seeds of the idea, I wanted a live audience, multi-cam show. That was very important for me.

UPROXX: How come?

Mulaney: I really, really liked them. I have such fond memories of watching them, like Cheers and The Cosby Show. They were huge for me. The Golden Girls and Family Ties. I watched every show on TV, and I just love those live-audience moments. I watched a lot of Nick at Nite when I was a kid, and I just really took to it. I like single-cam comedies that have come out in the past 12-15 years, and I just thought it would be cool to try to go back to that with my sensibilities. This might sound like a lofty goal, but I did want fans of my standup, fans of my contemporaries, fans of SNL to see that this type of show maybe could be kind of cool, but also a throwback to the shows I grew up with.

UPROXX: When did you start talking to Lorne about your post-SNL career, leading to this?

Mulaney: I had a couple of offers to do things on cable channels. I had done a special for Comedy Central in 2012, and I had been at SNL, I was in my fourth year. I had so much fun there, but I was thinking about what I’d do next, though, and I was talking to him about some of these table opportunities. I didn’t talk about this with him, but internally, I kind of knew that…I was doing a lot of, and I’m putting this in quotes, “alternative rooms.” I was always the squarest person in the cool room, and alternatively, sometimes the weirder person at the mainstream table. So I thought rather than go to a place to do a show that’s more curated and nuanced, or something, where I don’t think I could make a show like Portlandia that’s anywhere as good as Portlandia, but I did think I would maybe be good at something that was a live performance show, like this sitcom. So I kind of thought, wouldn’t it be funny to take a swing at being on the weird side of mainstream?

UPROXX: Mulaney has an unexpected timeslot on Sundays, a night I typically associate with animated shows.

Mulaney: Dan Mintz is one of our writers and a really funny standup, and he’s on Bob’s Burgers. I remember years ago, we were talking about what it was like to watch The Simpsons on Sunday nights. He put it really well: “You’re going back to school and your crappy life, but you have The Simpsons that night.” So it’s pretty special to be there.

UPROXX: Obviously you know Nasim Pedrad from your time at SNL. What made you want to cast her for your own show?

Mulaney: I wrote for her on SNL occasionally, and always enjoyed it. She was both really funny and really precise. I would write these Arianna Huffington sketches for Weekend Update. She’s incredibly hard working, but there’s a really funny edge to her, and we talked a lot about her and the character and her relationship to the character. Don’t worry, it wasn’t too gross and actor-ly.

UPROXX: Did you use the word “process”?

Mulaney: No, we never did. But yeah, she has a very funny edge that we were able to put into the character. I just think the world of her.

UPROXX: Have you spoken to someone like Jerry Seinfeld or Louis C.K., standup comedians who got their own loosely-biographical shows?

Mulaney: I’ve never met Jerry Seinfeld, but I talked to Louis. It was probably when I was doing the first pilot for NBC. Just sort of letting him know what it was like at that point. I’m trying to think if he had specific advice, or if he just…y’know, he had been through it a couple of times, so he had good advice about having the show be funny and making sure it has a flow to it, that it’s instinctively funny and not just comedy writing. There are a lot of great jokes you can sit down and write, but that’s just a written joke, versus the comedy of the situation. Ideally, you’re pulling as much comedy out of the situation as you can.

UPROXX: Will there be season-long arcs, or just standalone episodes for now?

Mulaney: I want it to be pretty episodic in the beginning, because that’s a bit of what I grew up on, that it would reset every week. However, there are runners coming up with threads for each character.

UPROXX: Will the standup you do on the show be new bits?

Mulaney: There’s some older stuff, because we got stories out of it. It’s only older to people who have seen it, so it’s probably new to most everyone. And then, yes, new material. We’re already generating new standup in the first six.

UPROXX: I know it’s billed as “semi-autobiographical,” but how “semi” is that?

Mulaney: It’s pretty loosely autobiographical. I’ll say that these things didn’t happen to me in my 20s, trying to make a living as a comedian, but it’s how it felt. It’s a little heightened, a little insane, and at times, frustrating and fun.

UPROXX: When people recognize you on the street, which do they yell more often: “Law and Order” or “oh, hello”?

Mulaney: I get “too much tuna” and “oh, hello” a lot. “Too much tuna” even more than “oh, hello.” And that’s only in certain neighborhoods in certain cities [laughs]. There are whole swaths of the country I can walk through without people yelling “too much tuna.”

UPROXX: Earlier you said that you enjoy writing for Nasim. Is that pretty common for SNL writers, to find someone who you find it easier to write for?

Mulaney: Everyone kind of cross-pollinates during an SNL week. During my first season, I had a night or two writing for almost everybody. But yeah, you get exposure working with everybody really quickly. Nasim and I were also both pretty new at the same time, so when you’re just as hungry to get stuff on…When we first started doing the Ariannas, that’s when I realized she’s excellent and has so much power. She’s a tiny, cute woman with a lot of power, and I just enjoyed writing for that specifically.

UPROXX: Looking back at your time on SNL, is there one sketch you’re most proud of?

Mulaney: Maybe I just have high self-esteem, but I have a lot that I really enjoy. Y’know, I worked with Bill Hader a lot of that time, and writing stuff like Stefon with him was enormously fun. I also had a lot of fun writing things that died during dress rehearsal. Sometimes I remember the crazy ones that died even more fondly than the ones that did really well [laughs]. I had a sketch with Fred Armisen. It went to dress once, and went to the table read three times. It was kind of a big production. It was this Wizard of Oz thing. There was a fifth character that was cut out of the movie that Fred played. The Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow each want something, and this guy wanted a new apartment. It was such a dumb bit in the middle of this beautiful production. I always think of that one really fondly.