Joey Grihalva

John Mulaney Is A Rising Star

He performs tonight at the Pabst and absolutely killed the audience his last time in town.

By - May 29th, 2015 12:25 pm
John Mulaney at Turner Hall Ballroom in 2013. Photo by Erik Ljung.

John Mulaney at Turner Hall Ballroom in 2013. Photo by Erik Ljung.

At the height of my comedy fandom I was living in Montreal and always made sure to attend the Just for Laughs Festival, the biggest in the world. One summer there was a lot of talk about John Mulaney’s one-man show. I’d heard his name through the comedy podcast circuit and knew him as a writer on Saturday Night Live. I checked out a clip of his stand-up on YouTube and wasn’t very interested; something about his tone and rhythm put me off. Plus, there are so many fantastic comics at Just for Laughs it’s hard to choose. A couple years later a friend in Montreal insisted I see Mulaney live, and I promised to give him a try.

A few months after I moved back to Milwaukee, in March of last year, Mulaney played Turner Hall and I made good on that promise. I figured they’d have the tables out and it would be a modest crowd. But when I arrived there were rows of chairs from front to back and the audience reached capacity. I’ve been to a number of comedy shows at Turner and that one had the best energy. Mulaney absolutely destroyed with his quirky and clever personal stories. One tale about his mother’s relationship with Bill Clinton had the audience in an uproar. That was the most pleasantly surprising night of comedy I’ve ever experienced.

Mulaney grew up on the north side of Chicago in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. His parents are lawyers and like so many upper middle-class kids, he got into drinking and drugs at a young age. He kicked those habits about a decade ago, but never kicked his love of comedy. Mulaney would watch any comedy he could find on TV, eventually narrowing in on Monty Python and the Caddyshack films as his major influences. He went to Georgetown to study English and Theology and connected with Jewish theology. Mulaney has the unique point of view as the most Jewish-Irish-Catholic comedian I can think of, which, let’s be honest, has probably served him well in show business.

While Mulaney was at Georgetown he interned in NYC at Comedy Central under Jesse Klein. He went on to write on Demetri Martin’s show Important Things With Demetri Martin and the pilot for Michael & Michael Have Issues. Mulaney came up in the NYC comedy clubs and after just one year comedian Mike Birbiglia took him on the road for 30 days as his opener. Birbiglia encouraged him to be more earnest with his stand-up. On a Tuesday in August 2008 Mulaney found out he was auditioning for SNL that Thursday. He didn’t write any new material or do any impressions and was hired simply off the strength of his stand-up act. He worked at SNL for almost 5 years and created “Stefon” with Bill Hader, one of the most beloved characters in recent history.

Lorne Michaels (head of SNL) believed in Mulaney so much that he developed a sitcom around him. NBC passed on the project but it was picked up by FOX in June 2013 and debuted last October. I’m not a fan of network single camera sitcoms; they tend to be formulaic and cheesy. As much as I love Mulaney’s stand-up, I had low expectations for his show, and the few scenes I caught on TV affirmed my position. Mulaney was cancelled after only 13 episodes.

On the WTF with Marc Maron podcast Mulaney admitted that when he started in comedy he wasn’t looking forward to the work and wished he had already done years of stand-up so that it was behind him. Mulaney is now at a point where he has a TV show behind him and can focus on what he does best: work a room. Milwaukee will have two opportunities to see his latest act tonight at the Pabst Theater. The opener will be Max Silvestri, another talented comic who also supported him at Turner last year.

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