Nostalgia’s a funny thing. For many of us, it involves a record that helped facilitate a break-up or Mom’s meatloaf. But comedian/writer John Mulaney gets nostalgic for the days when he was bullied for “being Asian” (an ethnicity he’s clearly not), as he explains during his new Comedy Central stand-up special New in Town. Mulaney’s humor often blends riffing on childhood growing pains, subtle problems with shows like Law & Order: SVU and a genuine appetite for why people choose to say the things they say. He’s reflective and curious, with and underlying tone of “Isn’t that a bit weird?” instead of anger or mean-spiritedness.
For the last several years, Mulaney’s quietly moved up the ranks of the Saturday Night Live writing staff, where he’s recently struck comedic gold with Weekend Update’s “city correspondent” Stefon, a character that plays off the charmingly weird aspirations of those who love to be in the know and relish underground culture. Mulaney himself is not underground at all. In fact, he looks like your best friend from growing up who you’ve lost touch with, and has stayed as nice as you remember, too. Hive recently spoke with Mulaney about New in Town, the first joke he remembers telling and Perry Farrell channeling Stefon.
Your new special/DVD is called New in Town. But you’ve been in New York for awhile. Is this “town” a metaphor for something?
Yeah, I think the figurative town …no, it’s just my first big special so it’s an intro to a lot of people. And I have a joke in it where I guy tells me somewhat dramatic things in his life and the fourth was that he was new in town. Which is not what he should’ve closed with, based on all the other information he’d gave me. “New in town” then was just an introduction to me. “The town of the audience.” That’s my short answer.
In your stand-up, you like to bring up painful childhood memories. What’s the first joke you remember telling in your youth?
I remember being at a party … my parents had a barbecue-party, where adults stand around. And I’d watched Dr. Ruth on television and I stood in one place and said “gather ‘round.” I told everyone that I wanted to be a sex therapist. They asked me why and I quoted what Dr. Ruth said. “Sex is a gift of life that brings joy to the body.” It definitely got a good reaction.
How old were you?
I was very young. Like four.
A four year old making sex jokes.
Yeah, I was more doing a character, deadpanned. A deadpanned, Dr. Ruth sex therapist character.
“I don’t floss period. I can’t even pretend that flossing is something that I do at any point of the day. I can get very superstitious or OCD-ish, so I try not to have too many things that prevents me from doing work.”
It sounds like you started strong out of the gate with that one.
Very strong out of the gate. Very cutting edge. In a different era, people would investigate what that meant. But people just seemed to enjoy it and move on with their barbecue.
In junior high school and high school, did you think of yourself as funny? Were you the class clown or the strong and silent type?
No, I was always demanding attention and trying to be funny. I really liked that. I had a group of friends and we just did bits all day long. I remember my friend’s dad saying to us one day, “The four of you just amuse yourselves all day long. I don’t know why you’re in school.” It was like a seven-year-old rat pack, but not drunk. We just dicked around all day.
When crafting stand-up sets now, are there certain procedures you go through? Do you have to floss before or something weird like that?
Nothing interesting like that.
What if that was your thing, that you had to floss every time before writing jokes.
“I do a very interesting thing. I floss.” No, I don’t floss period. I can’t even pretend that flossing is something that I do at any point of the day. I can get very superstitious or OCD-ish, so I try not to have too many things that prevents me from doing work. It’s hard enough to just sit down and work. I have peaks and valleys all day long, depending on how much caffeine I’m drinking. I’m pretty good in the morning, but I don’t do much in the morning. I just walk around and delay taking a shower.
Over the last few years, you’ve been writing for Saturday Night Live, which allows you to hob-nob with famous actors, musicians and athletes. Do you generally feel comfortable around these people?
I’ve never hob-nobbed in my life. I will talk to people when they’re hosting. It’s a nice environment because people come in and they spend all day and night there when they are hosting. So you do get to spend time with them when they’re working on sketches you’ve written.
I was under the impression that there’s always these amazing after-parties after each show. That’s where I envisioned major hob-nobbing happening. Jokes, drinks clinking, stuff like that.
If you have a great show, yeah. No, we have a nice after-party after every show. But it’s funny, it’s a lot of us with our parents.
Regarding the Saturday Night Live character Stefon that you created with Bill Hader, do you do research in clubs? Are you a club-goer?
I do not. They’re all make believe. I did once read a restaurant description that said “this place asks the question ‘blank.’ I like the idea of a place asking a question like that. We’ll use that structure a little in Stefan. But I’ve probably been to two clubs since I moved to New York in 2004. Dark, loud, weird clubs. I’ve never been to too many cool things so I have to make them up.
Spin Magazine posted a theory that Perry Farrell has essentially become Stefon by the way he’s described his new video. He described the explicit version as where “… people get made love to and murdered in backrooms while the band plays on” and in the video, there’s “Siamese gargoyles, séances, card games and a man in a white fedora who was also on the cover of In Through the Out Door.”
The guy from the Led Zeppelin album is in their video? That’s great. My favorite thing is “card games.” Like to have Siamese gargoyles, séances, and then just over in the corner, someone is playing cards. To have the most ordinary thing happening in the corner. Good for Perry Farrell, that’s great.
He’s channeling you or maybe he’s a fan.
Maybe, though, being 11 and listening to Jane’s Addiction, I channeled them.
Have you seen the Tumblr site called Fuck Yeah John Mulaney?
I have seen that, yes.
Did you start it?
Umm, no. I don’t think I’ve ever said “fuck yeah John Mulaney” in my life, except now. I’d start a blog called C’mon John Mulaney, Get It Together.
New in Town premiers on Comedy Central, Saturday January 28 at 10pm EST and arrives on DVD/CD on January 31 via Comedy Central Records. Watch a preview clip here:
|John Mulaney – Bullied at School|