A year ago, most people outside of the Saturday Night Live writer’s room or the comedy-club circuit probably wouldn’t have recognized John Mulaney if he walked past them on the street. (Granted, a few hardcore Kroll Show fans might have wondered, “Hey, was that the other ‘Oh Hello guy?!'”) Today, the 32-year-old comedian is likely to get more than a few oh-I-know-you stares thanks to his self-named TV series on Fox, a wonderfully goofy meta-take on both Mulaney’s life and sitcoms in general, featuring wacky neighbors, bits of his stand-up act and Martin Short as his horny, egomaniacal boss. Imagine if the guy who created Stefon with Bill Hader suddenly took over the lease on an one-bedroom flat several doors down from Jerry Seinfeld’s fictional apartment, and you’d have an idea of how this underrated show uses its creator’s sensibility to enliven an age-old format.
Since it’s been a banner year for the comic, we got him on the phone to ask him about some of the best things he discovered in 2014. We expected a laundry list of new books, movies and possibly a few online comedy sites; instead, Mulaney namedropped some podcasts, big-upped Stevie Nicks and praised a Canadian reality TV show featuring twin-brother realtors. Read on.
So in terms of stuff you saw and heard in 2014, what really stuck out?
Have you seen Property Brothers? I think those guys are great.
The home-improvement show?
Yeah, they’re these Canadian brothers, Drew and Jonathan Scott, who help people buy and fix up their dream houses. I mean, imagine the odds of twin brothers who happen to be a realtor and a contractor being discovered for their own reality-slash-home-renovation show. [Pause] The odds are extremely high. And in general I think, HGTV and whatever vague Canadian city the channel takes place in is having a very hot year.
Do you have a favorite brother?
Which is the one with the long hair?
I believe that’s Jonathan. . .
I’m giving a shout-out to Drew. He’s the realtor, so he has to wear a suit and get the price down; Jonathan is the contractor and gets to like knock down walls with the couple, add pillows, give them a kitchen splash. . .that kind of stuff. Drew has to actually negotiate sales and work on counter offers. Jonathan just gets to be like, “Hey, do you wanna swing a sledgehammer?” He gets to have way more fun. So I’m picking Drew.
Was there a particular house they worked on that made you think, “I could live there?”
Well, it’s always the same house.
It’s always a house that some couple wants, quote, “the downtown.” And that’s usually the point where you find yourself going, “What part of Canada is this, exactly?” I have yet to figure it out. It took me a while to even know it was Canada, but they kept saying “supper.” That was the giveaway.
Since the show’s been on for a while, how did you end up just getting into it now?
Well, this was the year that my wife and I discovered HGTV overall. It’s a great channel: They have all these shows that are located in some vague Canadian city and feature who people who refuse to understand that places can be renovated or even cleaned. Every time somebody walks into a house — which is a lot — they shoot the scene with horror music scored over it, and the couple is complaining that the place is dirty and there’s an outlet that doesn’t work. At which point someone will say, “You know, you’re with a contractor who will fully renovate the house, right?” It’s that journey every single time. Unless you’re watching House Hunters International, in which someone is just people trying to find $400 apartments in different cities.
Were you and your wife consider going on one of those shows?
We don’t live in Canada. And I don’t think you can go on those shows if you’ve seen them before, because you have to be confused by the process. “Wait, you mean you fix these houses up every week. . .every day?!” [Laughs] The Property Brothers have proven time and time again that they are capable of doing this. So if we went on, they’d go, “It look horrible now, but. . .” “Yeah, you guys can fix it, sure. We know.” We’d totally spoil the fun. Have you seen the show Intervention?
You could only be on Intervention if you’d never seen it before. Otherwise it would be like, “Oh, I know why you’re doing a documentary on me huffing paint.”
When it came to music you liked this year, you mentioned. . .Steely Dan?
I used to go see them at the Beacon with my friend, and it was great, because no one dances at a Steely Dan show so you can sit down the entire time. [Pause] Do you not think Steely Dan is a good answer?
No, we just expected something a little more current.
Oh, ok. [Pause] Stevie Nicks, then.
You’re a big podcast fan, right?
Yes! This year, I really got into “The Champs,” a podcast in which the hosts, Neal Brennan and Moshe Kasher, will only have minority comics on. They’re both very white comedians but they only have non-white comedians on. Seaton Smith, who’s on my show, just did an episode; the George Wallace episode is amazing.
There’s also “You Made It Weird,” a marathon two-hour long podcast each episode. Pete Holmes hosts and “makes it weird” by bringing up embarrassing things that stand-ups purposefully don’t talk about onstage. When I was on it, he brought up a sex story I’d told him in confidence about how I felt like God was mad at me. He asked like it was a normal question that I hadn’t just told him. At brunch. In a quiet booth.
Finally — well, not finally, because I listen to a number of them, but “finally” for this year — there’s Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast. I started listening to it because B.J. Novak was on there after his book came out. It’s Ellis interviewing film directors, actors, writers, musicians. He has a wide range. Actually, the most starstruck I’ve ever been living in New York was when I saw Bret Easton Ellis in front of the American Felt Building on 13th Street. I was so shocked, it was like seeing Calvin and Hobbes or Dracula in person.