ONE OF MY FAVORITE John Mulaney anecdotes comes from his buddy and former SNL coworker Bill Hader. When Mulaney was new to SNL's writing staff, Hader and Seth Meyers brought him in to work on a new Vincent Price sketch, Hader explained on Kevin Pollak's Chat Show. Mulaney didn't say much at first—until Hader and Meyers, trying to nail down a zinger Vincent Price could say to onscreen cohort Liberace, heard a voice from the back of the room: "He should say, 'Save your sassy asides for your windowless bars.'"
That's the perfect encapsulation of what made Mulaney such an asset to SNL—and what turned him into one of the best stand-up voices around. His work in both arenas is so effortlessly smart, blindsiding you with odd pop culture references, weird turns of phrase, and groaningly funny puns.
Just watch any of the wildly popular clips of Stefon, Weekend Update's city correspondent, whom he created with Hader, and know that when he wasn't trying to make Hader break character, Mulaney was the man responsible for DJ Baby Bok Choy, club promoter Baloney Danza, and the human fanny pack ("It's that thing when a midget hangs around your waist and holds your passport in his mouth"). Or flip to the last track on his first stand-up album, The Top Part, and delight in his story of torturing the denizens of the Salt and Pepper Diner by playing the song "What's New, Pussycat?" on the jukebox over and over and over again.
I think the frustration viewers and critics have felt about Mulaney, the series he created for Fox, since it debuted last October has everything to do with Mulaney's earlier greatness. Here is a talented writer and performer, surrounded by a crackerjack cast (including iconic comedic actors Martin Short and Elliott Gould), playing things so safe and relying on the threadbare tropes and structure of a three-camera sitcom. And even in that comfort zone, the jokes only land about a third of the time, and Mulaney hasn't proven that he can anchor a show all on his own.
Contrary to public opinion, I'm actually hoping it gets picked up for a second season. The raw material is just too good, and there are enough moments of brilliance (usually involving Short's wonderfully egotistical and out-of-touch game-show host, Lou Cannon) that Fox should rescue Mulaney from single-season oblivion.
But even if the show does get canceled, there's no doubt that Mulaney will land on his feet. His stand-up career is still thriving—both of his two shows here at the Aladdin Theater on Thursday are already sold out—and his comedic voice is too unique for him not to turn out okay. Hey, at the very least, that should put him in the running to host The Daily Show, right?