By Kathleen Perricone
Few other stand-up comedians have made a dent on the national comedy scene as big as the one John Mulaney has– and at such a young age. A near perfect debut album for Comedy Central and a scribe gig at Saturday Night Live leaves little question as to why that is.
In just a few short years, comedian John Mulaney has accomplished more than most comedians twice his age. At 26, he’s already headlined the country’s top comedy clubs, been a regular talking head on VH1′s Best Week Ever, scored a plum gig as a writer on Saturday Night Live — and on March 24, Comedy Central Records is releasing a collection of his distinctive storytelling on everything from drag queens and childhood pranks to his favorite TV shows.
The album, The Top Part takes its name from a throw-away line in one of Mulaney’s most notorious jokes, which raises questions about the King Solomon story in the Bible, in which the monarch settles a dispute between two women over a baby by deciding to cut it in half and giving each a piece. As the fable goes, the true mother is determined when the other woman agrees with the demented strategy and says she’ll take whatever half she can get — and according to Mulaney, the woman is so whacked-out, she actually refers to the baby’s head as “the top part.”
“That Bible story was just one of those things that had bothered me since I was very little,” explains Mulaney from his SNL office on the 17th floor of 30 Rock. “And [the top part] it is my favorite thing in the joke, but I don’t think it gets such a laugh.”
But cricket-filled moments like that don’t happen much during a John Mulaney set. His infamous takes on the obvious in pop culture, like Donald Trump’s “fine golden hair” or how bartenders on Law & Order inexplicably remember every customer they’ve ever served, are the self-proclaimed rat bastard’s bread and butter.
Here, Mulaney raps to Punchline Magazine about his new album, his gig on the world’s most famous sketch show, and naturally, drag queens. Check out his Comedy Central special on April 3 at 10 pm.
How cool is it to have your very own CD coming out?
It’s been really incredible to be involved with Comedy Central Records on this. I was really flattered when they asked me to do it. I certainly knew I had enough material to do one. It definitely struck me as quite a big deal and exciting that there was even an offer to do one with them. Comedy Central is just a great place for stand-up.
Which jokes on the CD are you most proud of?
There are jokes I really like, the one about drag queens and Goth people. I find them real satisfying because they came from real opinions. I wasn’t sure if they’d work as jokes. When something like that happens, when you have an opinion on something for a long time and then it translates well, it’s very cool.
What’s the inspiration behind the drag queen joke— about how they act more like assholes than women?
I was walking near Fifth Avenue the night of the day of the Gay Pride Parade in New York. It must have been the Summer of ’07. There was a really tall drag queen standing on the street and a car drove by that honked at someone else in traffic, and the drag queen waved and yelled ‘Thank you!’ like the car was honking at her. It was really funny to me. The parade had been over for hours, but she felt like she was a celebrity. Anyway, it got me thinking about how some drag queens I’ve encountered will display a big ego and act like they’re famous.
Are there any jokes that people want to talk about when they meet you?
Definitely the Law & Order one. That one caught on. I think people laugh even when they haven’t seen the show. (Watch the bit below).
Where did that one come from?
I think I first started talking about Law & Order in Columbus, OH in 2005. I was staying in a condo with another comedian named Andi Smith. I was the emcee and she was featuring. We played some game where we gave each other a slip of paper with a word on it and you had to write about that word for three minutes or something. I got ‘police’ and wrote down something about how on Law & Order, the police interview people and they keep going about their business, but in real life, getting questioned by police is a really tense thing. I tried some early version of it that weekend and then gradually made it in to the too-long bit you hear today.
How do you go about writing jokes? Do you make notes on things as they pop up or do you just sit down and brainstorm?
I’ll kinda make notes all the time. Things will come up throughout the day. Then I try to make a point to sit down with all that stuff and write it out. There was a period of time when I was doing a set a night at minimum, sometimes a couple shows a night, every night of the week so I’d work out a lot more stuff on its feet. One of the good things about coming up in New York when I did — and I still am — there was lots of shows where you could try a lot of new stuff. I almost feel weirder if I’m going into a set without doing anything new. It’s really satisfying when people connect with an opinion you’ve had for a very long time, and that you absolutely believe to be true, that seems very like, ‘Oh wow, people feel the same.’ That’s the special thing.
How did you get involved with SNL?
I auditioned for the show and was hired to write. What’s awesome about the show is that, among the writers, everyone really works together and in lot of different pairs and groups. It was really crazy to come here the first week of August when I was hired. It’s obviously so exciting and the people were so welcoming.
How crazy is your schedule? Take me through your week.
Well, we have Sunday off. Throughout Monday and Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, there’s a lot of writing. And then a read-through on Wednesday. Then you’re rehearsing and rewriting until Saturday.
Which skits have you worked on?
I’ve been lucky enough to get some on. One sketch I liked a lot was this Of Mice and Men one we did with James Franco. I wrote that with a writer named Marika Sawyer. It’ been an extremely fun time. I love it!
How did being on Best Week Ever help jump-start your career and get you noticed nationally?
Well, it helped in that I got to do my own jokes on a weekly television show. I noticed that after about a year of doing it I was recognized more and more when I went on the road. That was definitely a nice thing as I started to headline. I had a lot of fun doing that show and due to the tight amount of time to do different bits I got better at writing more economical jokes.
At seven years old, you were in a sketch comedy group called the Rugrats. Do you remember your first joke?
I did a George Bush impression that was 99% stolen from Dana Carvey. We also did a sketch where it was supposed to be a foreign movie so we were all talking in gibberish and there was a translator, and someone asked someone, ‘Where did you get those shoes?’ and they went like, [gibberish for 10 seconds] and then the translator was like, ‘Penny’s.’ I remember thinking it’s really funny to give a short answer. It was the first time I’d ever heard that kind of joke, and I was like, ‘Yep, that’s good.’
For more info on John, check out johnmulaney.com.