During his time working as a writer for “Saturday Night Live,” Georgetown alum John Mulaney (COL ’04) built a solid reputation as a stand-up comic. He’s done double duty as an “SNL” writer and an actor on the satirical current events segment, “Weekend Update,” as well as appearing on other shows, including VH1’s “Best Week Ever” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”
In 2009, Mulaney released a comedy album, The Top Part, that solidified his reputation as a rising star in the standup field. Mulaney’s sophomore album, New in Town, will be released Jan. 31 after airing on Comedy Central Jan 28.
New In Town is the culmination of a vision Mulaney has been developing since the release of The Top Part. Since releasing that album more than two years ago and refocusing on performing and writing new material, he has kept the dream of a second album in the back of his mind. The material on the album comes from an hour-long special that Mulaneyperformed in August.
The idea for the special came to him in January 2011. However, busy with projects for his position at “SNL,” performing and other priorities, it was hard to find time to write the material necessary for a 60-minute show. “Even though I’d been working on stuff for over a year and a half, most of the jokes that ended up in the special were written in the six months leading up to it!” Mulaney said.
In spite of the time it took to prepare for this special, Mulaney isn’t going to kick back just yet. “I just wanted to get a new hour out there so I could move on to the next one,” he said.
That doesn’t mean that he’s churning out album after album of the same thing, though. Mulaney sees definite change between The Top Part and New in Town. He believes that his first album, while entertaining, was disorganized and lacked a central theme, while New in Town is more focused and refined. “My first album was a lot of fun, but it was kind of just a bunch of jokes about different things, some personal, some not,” he said. “The stuff on this new special and album gives me a chance to really make fun of myself and my life and what a stupid idiot I am.”
At times, his jokes poke fun at life on the Hilltop he once called home, though he holds Georgetown in high esteem and notes that those quips are more about his own collegiate debauchery than particular elements of the university. According to Mulaney, his jokes are “more often about [his] terrible decisions while [he] was there than, say, jokes about what it is like to have a world-class Jesuit education.”
As he navigates the waters of a new career as a professional comedian, he also benefits from the connections and relative schedule flexibility afforded by his writing position at “SNL.” But he hasn’t been able to transfer all of the skills he gained as a writer to his new work in standup.
“Writing-wise, stand-up and sketch writing — the kind for … comedy scenes [on ‘SNL’] — have always been kind of separate in my mind,” he said. However, the nature of working in a performance-oriented environment such as that of “SNL” means that he can devote the necessary time and mental energy to both. “What is nice about the schedule at ‘Saturday Night Live’ is that we are immersed six days a week when we’re there, but when we don’t have a show, we get the week off to do what we please. That is normally when I turn on the stand-up part and try to craft jokes and go on the road,” he said.
Performances on “Weekend Update” may have helped him to form a fan base that has come to be useful now. “The times I have been on ‘Weekend Update’ certainly helped me in that people saw them and maybe found me special or came out to see me do shows,” he said.
That may perhaps be fitting, since it was from a chance rendezvous with a stranger that Mulaney derived the title for his new album, New in Town. “It’s a line from a joke I have about a guy I met on the street. He told me four horrible things that were happening in his life and the last one was, ‘I’m new in town!'” he said. “Without going into the other stuff he said, it was not the most dramatic one to close with.”
Mulaney also had high praise for the Comedy Central network, which backed the “New in Town” special. “Comedy Central is great and they take stand-up very seriously. It was a lot of fun to work with them,” he said.
When the New in Town album is released Tuesday, Mulaney will be in Hollywood, a city he considers to be “filled with decent people with good intentions.”
Asked if he had any parting words for those deciding whether to watch “New in Town”, he delivered an enticing promise, displaying the wit only a stand-up comedian can muster on a moment’s notice. “Towards the end of the special, a treasure map flashes on the screen for a brief second,” Mulaney said. “Only by watching — or by buying the reasonably priced DVD — can you see the map and locate the chest of gold ducats.”