John Mulaney’s worst nightmare is coming true.
His SEINFELD-esque Fox sitcom premiered last night to terrible ratings (about 2.3 million viewers) and even worse reviews. One website even questioned if it was “the worst new comedy of the fall season.”
No wonder the comic and former SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE writer was so nervous about putting his name in the title.
“The review if people don’t like it will be ‘MULANEY is not funny’ — which is the exact sentence I have been trying to avoid my whole career,” he told me at a media event this summer in Beverly Hills.
“But it is nice to have [my name] up there. I checked with my parents first. ‘How do you feel about this? You are two established lawyers who have nothing to do with this…’”
With such a disappointing start, it appears MULANEY may be the first high profile cancelation of the new season. The comedy — based on the life and stand-up of its star, follows an aspiring comedian as he comes of age in New York City.
NBC passed on an earlier version of the show, despite its close working relationship with executive producer Lorne Michaels.
Perhaps that should have been an indication of just how bad it was. “It must be so hard to know what to pick up,” the comic told me.
“To pass on a show called MULANEY — as proud as I am of it and as funny as I think it is — part of me is like, ‘I understand. You don’t know what bets to place.’ Here’s more of what Mulaney had to share about the show, his life and SNL:
How nerve-wracking was it when you finally did your show in front of a real audience?
That is why I like doing the show. There is something in its DNA that is similar to standup. So it was almost comforting to have the audience there. But it is a different beast. It is fun to learn how to do that as well. It starts as a feeling I have had before, which is that I am doing live comedy in front of an audience and obviously it is a half hour story.
There are more than a few similarities to SEINFELD…
As much as SEINFELD is a huge, huge influence, when I was writing this show, I didn’t necessarily think of SEINFELD tropes. I was more like, “Here is the type of character I want to play and the type of characters I want to interact with.” Then it was like, “Do I really want to be an architect instead of a comedian, just to be different from SEINFELD?” The last ingredient was that I would be a stand up. I thought, “There have been a lot of other show business people playing themselves on shows. Maybe I can give it a try.”
What were the things about your style of comedy that you had to build in to the show?
People ask, “Is this based on your life?” I always say, “This is not what happened to me in my 20s, but how it felt.” This is what it felt like for me, from the midwest, to come to New York, to be in this grind and to be working with show business personalities who you are constantly a little on guard with. In the most generic way it was, “Here is this really hopeful character with a weird old-fashioned standard of living getting knocked around.”
Do you think the success of LOUIE will help you out?
Louie has helped all comedy out. Just by expanding what people think you can do in standup and also just getting people interested in stand-up. Louis [C.K.] is just the best. Louis has helped all comedy.
Have you had to change your act now that you are married?
I had a lot of material about Anna. And I still do. Now that we are married, I only feel more confident in throwing her under the bus. [laughs] I do have some new jokes because the wedding was such an insane event. It’s like a Broadway-sized show that you throw.
What is your reaction to the recent casting switch-ups on SNL?
I wouldn’t speculate on that. There are so many talented people audition every summer and so many talented people are cast. Anyone who is cast on SNL is really good. It is a bummer when anyone has to leave the cast and it stung, but they always go on to great things. If you are disappointed right now and you were let go, you are [still] talented and you are going to do fine.
When does an SNL writer know that it is time to go?
It is different for everybody. I still think of sketch ideas and want to send them to friends that are there — or just go back and do them. I’d love to have another writing night there sometime. A lot of people come back….
They let you just drop in and help out for a few weeks?
They will let you, yeah.
Were you ever freaked out by the celebrities that came through SNL?
I think it was maybe in 2011 that Elton John hosted. I wrote a lot of monologues and when you write the monologue, you spend a lot of time with the host because it is the most personal thing for them. I was with Elton John for a lot of the week and he is really nice guy. That was one of my favorite weeks. That is the weird thing about SNL. It is on our turf. It would be like going into your childhood bedroom and Joe Dimaggio is sitting there.
MULANEY airs Sunday nights on Fox.
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