When legendary late-night host David Letterman received the 2017 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Oct. 22, he saluted the artists honoring him onstage, including stand-up comedian John Mulaney. Letterman’s words on Mulaney could not have been more accurate: “This is the future of comedy, ladies and gentlemen.”
Mulaney began as an office assistant at Comedy Central after graduating from college. He auditioned for “Saturday Night Live” in 2008 and became a writer for the show. Mulaney remained on the “SNL” writing team for six seasons, and is best known for co-creating the popular recurring character Stefon, played by Bill Hader. Mulaney’s work on the show won him his first Emmy in 2011.
Despite his success behind the scenes, Mulaney truly thrives on stage. Mulaney worked as a stand-up comedian even when he was writing for “SNL.” He performed on different late-night shows, like “Conan” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” before getting his own stand-up special, “New in Town,” in 2012.
“New in Town” exposes many people to the comic’s likable, self-deprecating brand of humor. Mulaney tells stories about his life in a way that makes people seem like they’re in a sitcom.
“People are always 13 feet tall in my stories, because that’s how they feel to me,” Mulaney told The Washington Post. Mulaney tells his stories with a polite persona that causes more laughs when juxtaposed with his critical, observational humor.
Having proved his many talents on “SNL” and in his stand-up career, Fox ordered a script for a semi-autobiographical sitcom called “Mulaney” in June 2013, expecting his type of humor to be a natural fit.
Mulaney created, produced, wrote and starred in this show, but it failed miserably. The show was torn apart by critics. Time Magazine described it as a highly constructed diorama of a show with many superficial elements of classic television comedy: “What it doesn’t have is an original voice, organic character relationships or near enough laughs.”
It turns out, however, that having his sitcom fail turned out pretty well for Mulaney.
“I don’t like to say I’m glad it didn’t work,” Mulaney told The Washington Post. “But I’m glad it didn’t work. It was like, the best thing that ever happened.”
The show was canceled in May 2015, and Mulaney soon followed the cancellation with his second stand-up special, “The Comeback Kid,” released in November 2015 on Netflix.
“The Comeback Kid” was critically praised and nominated for an Emmy in 2016. The confidence Mulaney gained from this special’s success spurred him to star in the comedic stage-show, “Oh, Hello.”
“Oh, Hello” began as an act created by Mulaney and comedian Nick Kroll, Mulaney’s friend since college. The show centers around two elderly Upper West Siders who love tuna and mispronouncing words a little too much. “Oh, Hello” rejuvenated Mulaney and he set out to perform a new comedy special called “Kid Gorgeous” in sold-out arenas across the country.
Mulaney’s stardom continues to rise. His career will come full circle on April 14 when he hosts “SNL” for the first time. “Kid Gorgeous” premieres on Netflix on May 1, and he also appears in the upcoming Netflix comedy special “Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity.”
If the cherubic, 35-year-old comic truly is the future of comedy, then comedy’s future is very bright.