John Mulaneys career was built on his writing for Saturday Night Live, where he worked from 2008 to 2012, and his Broadway show Oh, Hello—a 2016 to 2017 collaboration with Nick Kroll that started as a recurring sketch on Kroll Show—has certainly raised his profile considerably. But its stand-up comedy that first got Mulaney noticed by mainstream audiences—and stand-up that welcomed him back with open arms after the disappointing performance of his short-lived, eponymous Fox sitcom, which aired for 13 episodes, was canceled in 2015. (His first Netflix special, released later that year, was titled The Comeback Kid—ostensibly a reference to Bill Clinton, though Mulaney is conscious of the double meaning.)
With his second Netflix special, Kid Gorgeous at Radio City, premiering May 1 on Netflix, Mulaney spoke about returning to S.N.L. as a first-time host, whether another Oh, Hello could be on the horizon, and if hed ever consider a second network TV series.
John Mulaney: Thats very nice of you to say! Colin Jost deserves equal—and a ton—of credit for that. I was so happy he wanted to re-submit it, and I was emotionally moved rehearsing it. The props and set department and costumes did such an amazing job, and the tank they built . . . I mean, everything was just clicking from right when we started rehearsing. And I flashed back to when it was first at the table [read]. It did not make a dent back then. So it was very cool.
You actually returned to S.N.L.a few weeks prior to that, when Bill Hader hosted. After writing Stefon for so long, did you enjoy the opportunity to actually appear on camera during one of his appearances?
Yes! Bill asked me to do it, and I said, “We can put it in, but if it doesnt work, Im cutting it.” I did not want to mess with the Stefon tableau as it has always been. I tried to be as objective as possible, but I was thrilled that it seemed to work well.
Did you select your own wardrobe for your appearance?
No, the costume department got me that latex outfit. They told me it came from a latex rental place; you can rent latex clothing and then, I assume, return it, so someone else can rent it. I guess thats a real business. Although I would think that perhaps Saturday Night Live just owns it now, for the eventual museum dedicated to [Mulaneys character] Shy [laughs]. But if youre into latex but dont know if you want to make the investment, please know that you can rent it.
Do you have a writing regimen when it comes to putting together a special like Kid Gorgeous?
Well, the regimen keeps changing. This was a tour I started a little slowly in February 2017. We had just finished Oh, Hello; I had some stand-up material, but I was really working stuff out onstage. This was the most Ive ever crafted an hour while onstage and while on the road, and it had an energy to it that I absolutely loved. In the past, Id be someone whod be compiling material, testing it in short sets. This was an hour that was written and put together onstage, for the most part.
Given how much pop-culture material you have—your digression about The Fugitive in The Comeback Kid, your riff on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from Seth Rogens Hilarity for Charity special—you must feel obliged to have a notebook whenever youre watching anything, just in case.
It takes a while, actually. For a comedian, Im slow to notice things [laughs]. I watch TV purely to watch TV. I watched HGTV for maybe two years, and then I said, “I have a take on this.” And it was in The Comeback Kid. And a lot of movies I reference are not new movies. Its just that things sit with me. Ill be in traffic, and Ill realize something about Home Alone 2, and then it becomes a real grievance. But, no, Im kind of glad I dont have a brain when Im watching Ink Master with my wife. Im not thinking, “How can this be a bit?” Im absorbing it, and then maybe later itll come to me.
Regarding your wife, how does she feel about being a part of your comedy? Or is she just resigned to it at this point?
I hope she doesnt resign [laughs]. I only do jokes that I think she would like or be cool with, and I think she likes or is cool with all of them. We have good communication about what Im allowed to say.
Was the success of Oh, Hello—which started as a limited-run show Off Broadway—staggering to you?
Yes. It was like, “Hey, what if we took these stupid characters and we went to the moon?” And then were on the moon. I mean, Ive been a theater geek for a long time, but seeing how many shows dont get the opportunity that we got—that gave me a ton of gratitude. Even just talking about it now, the idea that we were on Broadway is absolutely hilarious.
Has there been any talk of doing Oh, Hello Again or some semblance of a sequel?
Oh, yeah. We talk about it a lot.
You also have a lead role on the Netflix series Big Mouth, a show for which the cult seems to be growing all the time.
Ive found that, too! Thats whats great about Netflix. And I dont mean to sound like a company man [laughs]. But it really does keep premiering to someone new every day, and that was cool on tour to see it grow and grow.
Do you know anything about when Season 2 is going to premiere?
Im sorry, I dont [laughs]. Someone can fill you in, and if you want to pretend I knew, thats fine. They never told me I couldnt say anything, so: I think theyre done, but animation takes so long that I think its gonna be the fall.
Having returned to S.N.L. as a host and re-experiencing that adulation, do you ever think about doing your own sketch show?
[long pause] My own sketch show—I dont think Ive ever thought about that. I mean, if I ever think about a sketch, I still think to myself, “Oh, you know what we should do this week?” Or Ill see someone and think, “Oh, who should play [Anthony] Scaramucci?” Im still thinking about S.N.L., even though I was there a decade ago.
Do you ever think about doing another sitcom?
[long pause] I dont want to say “no,” because I guess I do think about it. So Ill say “yes,” but it would just have to be done the way I want. Ive been extremely lucky, in that Oh, Hello and doing stand-up are so . . . Theyre not really in my control, because Im not always right. But they were purely driven by comedy, and absolutely nothing else was a consideration. Sometimes TV shows have . . . other people involved [laughs].
On that note: the original pilot episode for your sitcom, Mulaney, was filmed for NBC in 2013. Someone who attended wrote a piece titled “John Mulaneys Pilot Taping Was Last Night, and It Was Great.”
I recall the piece!
Ive always wondered what happened between the NBC pilot, and the Fox pilot that made it . . . perhaps not as great.
Well, the one thing I learned running a show was that you have to delegate whats not your job. And one thing I do think is not my job is to critique the show. A lot of other people did that, and with a high word count [laughs]. I dont know; its hard to dissect why it didnt work. We had a ton of funny jokes on that show. There were a ton of funny moments. But we showed up, and people said, “Nope!” I mean, it was just shot out of the sky.
I dont mean to suggest that there werent funny moments in the show, by the way.
No, no. I dont mind. Its a head-scratcher! Im not one of these people whos like, “The audience is wrong!” But it was funny. I dont know. But everything worked out very, very well. Im glad I was not in network television for more than a year and a half in that particular project. That closed, and I went and made The Comeback Kid, and then I did Oh, Hello. So Im extremely happy with how everything worked out.
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